Information is displayed on one of several monitors at Cannabis Yukon in Whitehorse on Oct. 16, 2018. One local customer is not too happy with the way the Yukon Liquor Corporation handled his moldy weed complaint. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Score or spore?: Whitehorse man alleges he bought moldy weed

“What I’m upset about is their response to this”

A Yukon resident who says he bought moldy marijuana from Cannabis Yukon said he is less concerned with the alleged fungus than he is with the way the Yukon Liquor Corporation handled his complaint.

The buyer (who asked not to be named because it would affect his employment) said he bought the weed October 19. As soon as he opened the packaging, he said he noticed a funky smell, but started smoking it anyway, to test it out.

“It made me feel like I wanted to throw up right away. It was a gag reflex and my throat closed right away,” he said.

He contacted the store via email on Oct. 20. After a phone call, email exchanges, and an in-person meeting with Scott Westerlaken, marketing and social responsibility coordinator with the YLC, he said he was given contact information for the B.C. supplier. He was then told to get in touch with the supplier about reimbursement for the $80 worth of cannabis.

“I’m not so mad about the product being unusable. I can just buy more or get more. What I’m upset about is their response to this. A grocery store would replace moldy bread,” he said, pointing out that if you bought a defective product at Wal-Mart, the store wouldn’t send you to the manufacturer for a refund.

Westerlaken confirmed to the News on Nov. 15 that he did meet with the buyer in October. He said that, as far as he knows, it’s the first complaint of moldy weed the store has had.

He said that when he met with the buyer to inspect the cannabis, he wasn’t able to detect mold.

“I couldn’t smell mold but I believe the customer has more experience with cannabis than I do,” Westerlaken said.

Westerlaken said the YLC followed up with Broken Coast producers in B.C., and Tweed, a producer in Ontario (the buyer had purchased from both). He said both companies told him they hadn’t had any complaints, and said the product had left their facilities in sealed packages, after having been inspected by third-party companies which certify products meet Health Canada guidelines around contaminants including mold.

Anandia is one of those companies. The B.C-based outfit runs microbial analysis on cannabis for suppliers.

Anandia couldn’t confirm whether it runs tests for any of the producers that supply Cannabis Yukon, but, speaking generally, Emily McGloin, senior technician in Anandia’s microbiology lab, said moldy marijuana can be the result of improper storage.

Westerlaken said that YLC cannabis is stored in a secure vault, with no direct sunlight, at a controlled temperature.

“Producers estimate that product can last for 12 months or longer in the right conditions, and we expect to see best before dates on some products in future,” he wrote in an email. “We have only had product in Yukon on site for approximately one month, and are confident that our storage conditions are appropriate.”

“(Cannabis) spoils just like a piece of cheese or whatever,” said McGloin. “If there’s moisture or humidity or warmth, that tends to promote the growth of microbials.”

Dr. John Coleman, COO of Anandia, agreed, saying the conditions required for cannabis growth are often a perfect storm for bacteria as well. Cannabis production facilities have to be highly controlled, he said, because everything from the soil the plants are grown in, to the air in the facility, can be a mold source.

He said the warm, wet environment, combined with the airflow and the trichomes (the sticky hairs on cannabis) mean marijuana plants are “ripe for capturing bacteria and mold spores.”

Coleman said that of the roughly 150 to 200 batches Anandia tests each month, mold or mildew is found in 12 per cent. Those batches cannot be sold, though they can be treated with radiation and re-tested. Because of this, he said packaging is the most likely culprit when it comes to mold.

“As a very young industry what we want to do is take opportunities to learn and improve and you don’t want to censor problems, but rather identify and fix them,” he said.

Westerlaken said he doesn’t know what kind of follow-up the producers might be doing on their end.

He said he also doesn’t know what the follow-up is for the YLC at this point, considering there are no testing facilities in the Yukon.

He did confirm the buyer was told by the YLC to follow up with the producers regarding a possible return or refund.

Westerlaken said Cannabis Yukon follows the same policy that’s followed elsewhere in the country when it comes to returns and refunds of cannabis.

“Generally all sales are considered final,” Westerlaken said in a phone call. “We will consider returns and refunds in certain circumstances.”

He outlined those circumstances in an email. They include the recall of a product, if a customer receives a product they didn’t order or the order is incomplete, when an online order has been damaged or tampered with, when the package was shipped but not received, or “in the event that a customer believes the product is defective due to mold or other quality issues, staff will inspect the product for visible signs of the defect and may process the return.”

Westerlaken said that though the buyer was turned away without a refund at first the YLC is “still in the midst of what we are sorting out in this case” and said the YLC didn’t feel it was appropriate to speak about a specific customer.

“When there is no visual or obvious defect, but a customer notes that the product tastes moldy when consumed, we will record the concern, product information, lot control number and notify the producer, which continues to have obligation for quality assurance and recalls if required or warranted,” he wrote.

As for the buyer, he said he’s doubly frustrated because he spent more for the government marijuana than he would have spent had he stuck with the suppliers he used before legalization, including online sales, dispensaries, and his B.C. Compassion Club Society membership.

“I’m not going to be returning (to the store),” he said.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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