A rendering of the aspergillus mold. Credit: Centers for Disease Control

Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection took a step back from its previous decision to increase testing thresholds for mold and yeast in cannabis, following public outcry over the state’s attempt to quietly make the change in 2020.

“The consensus of the experts was that the TC [total mold and yeast count] standard is appropriate and safe in the context of the rest of Connecticut’s medical marijuana testing requirements, namely the inclusion of requirements pertaining to Aspergillus,” said the DCP’s assessment of those public comments in a Mar. 16 amendment to state regulation.

The state increased the amount of allowable mold and yeast in cannabis in mid-2020 from 10^4 colony forming units per gram to 10^6 CFU/g. The change in enforcement also included a zero tolerance for Aspergillus bacteria, but they were also made without a formal change in regulatory language in mid-2020.

Aspergillus has been shown to be harmful if consumed, especially for medical cannabis patients that may be immunocompromised.

Amid a public outcry, the state opened a public comment period at the beginning of 2022 to vet the change in testing thresholds. In the notice for public comment the Department stated that it was seeking a change to 10^5 cfu/g. Three months later the state announced that it would officially adopt the 10^5 threshold.

While there is no federal standard, the United States Pharmacopeia, a nonprofit advisory organization that informs federal policy from the Food and Drug Administration, recommends that mold counts in cannabis products not exceed 10^4 CFU/g, with a zero tolerance for Salmonella and E. Coli. Both Maine and Massachusetts, which operate legal adult-use markets, follow the same 10^4 threshold.

“A general limit of 10^4 cfu/g would only concern the presence of microbes without delineating specific types, some of which are harmless or beneficial, while others, including the Aspergillus species, are proven harmful,” said the state’s regulatory memo. ”Accordingly, the department is retaining the TC Standard as originally proposed.”

The shift from 10^6 to 10^5 represents a 90% decrease in threshold levels, but Connecticut’s standards are still 10-times higher than its neighbor to the north, Massachusetts.

“It’s a sad and entirely unsurprising result from an agency that has a documented history of anti-patient decisions in the medical cannabis program,” said medical cannabis patient and activist Lou Rinaldi. “Why even bother soliciting public comment, only to thumb your nose at it?”

Although the state decided to stay with the 10^5 limit, it did reject a public suggestion that the state allow producers to remediate cannabis that fails testing.

“The department learned that the reliability and effectiveness of remediation varies widely based on the method used,” said the memo. “Given this variability, and that the request to implement remediation was not substantially reiterated by other commenters, the department is not adopting [public commenter] WI’s suggestion at this time.”

Criticism over mold content in medical cannabis in Connecticut has been a recurring theme in public meetings of the state’s Social Equity Council, regardless of the meeting’s announced topic. This is likely to continue based on the response to the new regulatory decision.

“The outcomes here are plain as day. Corporate MSOs (multi state operators) have a green light to cut corners with their industrial-scale cannabis production, never needing to worry about failing a lab test,” said Rinaldi.

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Zack cut his journalistic teeth covering high school sports in the south before spending a decade covering local government, politics and the courts in the Boston, Massachusetts area. He's previously written...