Labs warn of dangerous, contaminated pot at dispensaries

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Recreational cannabis is legal in California but is it safe? As of today, the State Bureau of Cannabis says there are just 57 labs statewide to test millions of pounds of weed and they can't test it all yet. (KGO-TV)

Recreational cannabis is legal in California but is it safe? As of today, the State Bureau of Cannabis says there are just 57 labs statewide to test millions of pounds of weed and they can't test it all yet.

That means some of the pot on shelves now may not meet state standards that go into effect in the next couple months.

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At the Harborside cannabis dispensary in Oakland...sales are brisk. All of the products on these shelves are laboratory tested for safety and potency.

"We test because, while cannabis itself is very safe, it can be contaminated with things that are not safe," said Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo.

According to the cannabis industry association, just 5-percent of cannabis products for sale in the state are tested for safety. And some experts believe as much as half the pot being grown is contaminated with potentially dangerous chemicals or bacteria.

"Pesticides are one of the things, but there are a variety of pathogenic molds and fungus that can also grow on cannabis. it can be dangerous to human beings, especially people who have compromised immune systems," said DeAngelo.

Harborside founder and "Pot"-trepenuer Steve DeAngelo also co-founded the nation's first pot safety testing lab... called Steep Hill in Berkeley.

"The current supply of cannabis in the retail market is, I would say questionable," said Steep Hill's Tony Daniel.

Up until now, pot agriculture has been unregulated. That changed January first. The state now requires testing for 66 pesticides, harmful chemicals, and dangerous fungi.

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The state has given growers and sellers until July first to sell the pot they already have -without testing - raising concerns about what is safe.

"A very significant percentage of what we test, would fail in a regulated market," added Daniel.

Anthony Torres is a Senior Researcher at Steep Hill, he showed us a nasty mold covered petri dish and explained, "What I have here is a plated sample from cannabis that is contaminated with a few different types of fungus."

Torres says they are finding many of the compounds that will ultimately be banned by the state in samples.

"So - this looks pretty bad - right? Pretty bad growing on a plate, can you imagine what it would look like growing in your lungs?" he added.

Unfortunately, we may know what such an infection would look like. Doctors at U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento believe a cancer patient died from a rare fungal infection last February. Researchers were able to trace the illness back to the pot that was supposed to make the patient feel better.

RELATED: CHP worried about increase in crashes due to pot legalization

Even the chemicals that would have prevented those dangerous fungi from growing could harm you. Fungicides and pesticides that may be safe to use on food, may not be when they are smoked.

Torres explained that one of them is particularly bad, "Upon combustion, myclobutanil forms cyanide gas - which can make it into your bloodstream and it's very toxic," he said.

The State Cannabis Bureau has established a timeline for testing all pot. The goal is to test everything by the end of this year.

"Yes, eventually everything will be labeled with testing results. Currently if products are not tested, they will have a sticker on them that will say so - they will say untested," said Daniel.

Back at Harborside, Steve DeAngelo says your best bet for buying tested cannabis is at a licensed dispensary. He says you shouldn't be afraid to ask for proof.

"If they can't do that - then you might want to go somewhere else," said DeAngelo.

State regulators admit the lapse in testing may come as a surprise to consumers...Because no regulations could exist before January first, the Bureau of Cannabis says labeling product as "not tested" was the best it could do inform shoppers of the risks, and still have product available on day one.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel

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