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March 29, 2017

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Tight Nevada testing rules constrict supply of medical marijuana

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Steve Marcus

A man displays medical marijuana after making a purchase at the public opening of Euphoria Wellness, 7785 S. Jones Blvd., the first marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015.

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens

People wait in line to purchase medical marijuana during the public opening of Euphoria Wellness, 7785 S. Jones Blvd., the first marijuana dispensary in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. An opening on Monday was only available to preregistered patients. Launch slideshow »

With Southern Nevada's first dispensary now open after months of red tape, medical marijuana cultivators are facing growing pains as they grapple with the state's strict testing standards.

Laboratory tests, required before medical marijuana can be sold, that growers have failed have led to pounds of marijuana being destroyed, constricting supply and delaying at least one dispensary from opening.

Dispensaries report several batches of cannabis failing to meet the required levels for pesticides, mycotoxins or heavy metals, although the Division of Public and Behavioral Health could not provide specific data.

While the lost crops are painful to growers who can lose tens of thousands of dollars for each failed batch, industry advocates say it's a sign Nevada's toughest-in-the-nation standards for marijuana quality are working.

"This is medicine. It is going to the people that are the highest of risk, the elderly, cancer patients people who have compromised immune systems," said Kathy Gillespie, co-owner of the cultivator Nevada Pure. "Why shouldn't it be similar standards to what you would feed your kids?"

In Nevada, independent laboratories check the quality of the cannabis, a regulatory hurdle not always erected in other states.

In California, no state law requires medical marijuana testing, although some growers do have their cannabis tested because of customer demand, said Savino Sguera, lab director of DB Labs in Las Vegas.

"No one's ever done this with cannabis before. We're breaking new ground," he said of the eight different types of tests that his office runs, looking for molds, funguses, fertilizers and bacteria like salmonella.

Many of the failed batches have been disqualified for excessive pesticide use. "A lot of these cultivators were growers in California and they haven't had to scrutinize what they've been selling," Gillespie said.

Testing standards for the months-old industry are shifting as regulators and a panel of marijuana business representatives meet regularly to fine-tune the rules, including adding new banned pesticides. "Everything is in flux right now," Sguera said.