Inside a sterile facility, the lab technician holds up a petri dish to show the intricate pattern of bacteria that are quickly multiplying.
“Looks like something is already growing,” she says, surprised by how much has amassed in less than a day and a half.
In any other context, the dish would be a sight to behold, with an attractive swirl of shapes that resembles an oil painting. But the bacteria growing inside are Citrobacter freundii, a human pathogen that can lead to serious infections, particularly in the elderly and weak.
The bacteria, along with high levels of yeast and mould, were discovered in marijuana purchased recently from a cannabis dispensary in Toronto. In the span of a day, The Globe and Mail purchased several hundred grams of dried cannabis from nine dispensaries across the city, most of it marketed as medicinal. We then tested the products for harmful contaminants – chemicals, moulds, bacteria – in a federally certified laboratory, using the same guidelines prescribed by Health Canada for licensed marijuana growers and retailers.
Of the nine samples The Globe tested, one-third of them would not pass the safety standards set out by Health Canada for the regulated medical marijuana industry. Three samples tested positive for bacteria, in numbers that exceeded federal standards, and one of those also tested positive for potentially harmful mould. Six samples would have been deemed safe to consume by the federal government’s standards for medical marijuana.