State health officials are failing to protect more than 200,000 medical marijuana users in Arizona from contamination and disease that can be spread when edible products are produced at state-licensed kitchens, the Auditor General’s Office reports.
In a new study released last week, the auditors say the Department of Health Services does inspect kitchens when a new operation to prepare edibles is set up. But that’s the end of it.
State Health Director Cara Christ, in a formal response, does not dispute the findings.
She contends, however, that the 2010 voter approved law allowing patients with certain medical conditions to obtain 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks does not allow her staff to conduct the kind of unannounced inspections that would turn up hazardous practices and procedures.
The department cites requirements in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act requiring “reasonable notice’’ before dispensaries can be inspected unless there is an allegation that a facility is not in compliance.
“Marijuana kitchens are linked to the dispensary in which they are located and the same restrictions apply,’’ said agency spokesman Chris Minnick.
But Marc Owen, a manager of the audit staff, said that argument does not hold up.
Owen told Capitol Media Services that the health department already had the power to conduct inspections of food preparation facilities long before there was a medical marijuana law. And he said the fact that there are now kitchens preparing edible forms of marijuana does not change that.
Christ said her department does not intend to comply with the audit recommendation and start inspecting the 36 kitchens it licenses.
Minnick acknowledged that the food kitchens hold a separate license. But that, he said, does not give inspectors drop-in rights.
“Surveyors must enter