13 December 2016

The Statesman Journal reports……

A small Oregon agency with big pull in the nation is facing a personnel shakeup.

A top official with the agency that certifies labs in multiple states for items such as water and marijuana testing is stepping down early next year. The move comes after he argued that the agency was overburdened by a flood of labs seeking cannabis-testing accreditation.

Gary K. Ward, administrator of the state’s environmental lab accreditation program, ORELAP, confirmed he is retiring Jan. 1, 2017, citing health concerns he says were caused because of lack of resources allocated to the agency by its leadership and the Oregon Health Authority.

The program is part of the Health Authority. It accredits more than 120 labs both in and outside of Oregon, according to Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie. Not only does it accredit labs to test marijuana potency levels, pesticide and THC levels, but also drinking water safety and other tests. The labs are in about a dozen states across the nation.

In a Dec. 2 email to colleagues signaling his retirement, Ward said he was leaving the post on the advice of physicians.

“After I retire, I will be available for part-time work performing some assessments as authorized by my doctors,” he told them.

Ward said in a memo to the Statesman Journal he faced “health problems caused by the refusal of (the Oregon Health Authority) and my management to give ORELAP sufficient resources to handle the cannabis and environmental laboratory accreditation.”

“Because of the lack of resources, the accreditations of both cannabis labs as well as drinking water labs were going to be seriously affected,” he said.

He said he had a stroke in September after a meeting with his management during which he says they told him he would be disciplined for “leaking” information to labs, information that reached newspapers and Gov. Kate Brown’s office.

Months ago, Ward had sent an email to labs that were waiting for accreditation, saying his program was facing “collapse” due to a “lack of resources and the last-minute rush of cannabis labs with applications,” the Associated Press reported. Around that time, there had only been three to four labs approved by the state to test marijuana samples.

Now there are 19 certified labs, according to the Health Authority, though not all of them are allowed to test for pesticides.

“I can’t address whatever medical issues he is raising,” Modie said. He said he couldn’t “even acknowledge” any disciplinary actions Ward was reporting.

“We wish him the best of luck in his retirement,” he said. “We’re looking to get his position filled as quickly as we can.”

He said a search was underway for a replacement.

As far as the resource shortages, “We appreciate Gary raising those concerns,” he said. Modie said the state had anticipated 30 applications for cannabis-testing accreditation, whereas they received 37. He said the state has “more than addressed” concerns Ward raised.

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