Do I need to be worried about tainted or chemically sprayed cannabis? Is pot safe?

It's getting cleaner and safer. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a marijuana plant, and there is a lot of marijuana you would not want to ingest. Plants go bad with root rot, bud rot, mold, mildew, spider mites, thrips, aphids, white flies, caterpillars, fungus gnats, slugs, snails, and even something called the tobacco mosaic virus. In addition, people often apply horrible things to plants—sometimes to try to salvage them—like pesticides, solvents, and roach killer.

When the Oregonian famously investigated local pot being sold by medical growers last June, they found 14 chemicals in a set of randomly sampled strains, six of which the federal government classifies as having possible or probable links to cancer. The reason this is happening in Oregon and elsewhere is a combination of relaxed (or nonexistent) state rules, erratic lab practices, and unreliable test results.

Today, as early sales of marijuana are ongoing, the Oregon Health Authority is working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to write rules for product safety. The state is also licensing testing labs and promulgating testing requirements. All of these are good ideas. The hard part for regulators is writing these rules nearly from scratch. The pot industry lacks uniform dosing, potency, and contamination standards, and it operates without the scrutiny (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) of federal regulators like the FDA and EPA.

Because people have been exposed to bad products, there will be consumer safety and product liability lawsuits for marijuana in Oregon, just as there would be with tainted tomatoes. Customers of one of Colorado's largest pot shop chains, Livwell (which is also a massive grower), just hauled that company into federal district court on a class action lawsuit. The suit concerns Livwell's alleged use of Eagle 20, a petroleum-based fungicide.

For a long, long time, everyone had their own way of growing marijuana and dealing with not-so-great conditions like growing indoors. Ethical growers wanted to provide a clean, wholesome product, and others just wanted to dust the mites off of plants and make money. Now, as weed becomes a regulated industry, tort claims are inevitable. We can understand those lawsuits as a sign of legitimacy. Unlike, say, heroin users, marijuana users can sign off as wronged when they consume a tainted product and they can argue that tax-paying, regulated businesses should act responsibly.

My firm always advises clients that lawsuit prevention is way, way cheaper than lawsuit defense, and better for their reputations, too. From a consumer perspective, especially before the testing rules come in, people should be asking questions about where the pot they buy is sourced, and how it is grown. The general idea is that pot should be clean and safe, like tomatoes.