This just in! Pesticides are bad for us! You don’t say….
Reports of recent recalls of marijuana and quarantines of crops in Colorado have created quite a buzz all across the nation and seems to be placing a black eye on the cannabis industry. Suddenly there’s quite a bit of attention being paid to the use of pesticides in the growing of our favorite new agricultural crop. In an article published in the Denver Post last winter it was reported that “Marijuana and pesticides hit CDA’s radar in 2012 when a former employee … complained to the state…” Pesticide use is just now hitting the radar? In 2012? I guess you could say that legalization of recreational use in several states over the last couple of years has shown a bright light on a problem that has long affected the industry but apparently nobody thought could be happening.
The reality is that Medical marijuana production has long gone unregulated
Regularly tainted with numerous pesticides, fungus and molds as well as dangerous bacteria. After all, it was 20 years ago when California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis and was quickly followed by six more states over the next four years including Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. It’s hard to believe we are only just now trying to implement these crucial regulations on the production of the crop.
People who have been using cannabis for medicinal purposes have also regularly been exposed to pesticides like Eagle 20, Safari 20 and Forbid 4f, all of which have been banned on the legal market, simply because there was no regulation for cannabis as a crop.These types of pesticides are systemic and have been found to stay in the strain for a long time and studies have shown that they become very concentrated with extraction and can also release cyanide when exposed to high heat. Finally, after almost two decades several states are implementing pesticide usage regulations for cannabis, although long after legalizing growth and use. Once again, and as with cannabis business banking, lack of federal guidance has been the defining factor.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with regulating pesticides
In the U.S. Products must be registered with them and labels must indicate approved usages. The EPA also sets tolerance levels for how much residue that is allowed to remain on crops when they are sold. The problem is that cannabis is not considered a “crop” in the eyes of the EPA. We also have the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) that attests “the label is the law” and basically states that it is unlawful to use a pesticide in a manner that is inconsistent with its label. There are no pesticides approved for use on cannabis….
So, applying a pesticide to a crop that it is not specifically approved for is technically illegal. The way around this is to use only those pesticides that are exempt from the EPA’s tolerances and also have broad descriptions for usage so as not to be in violation of the product label, and stick to pesticides that are considered acceptable for use in organic practice.
Several states including Colorado, California, Washington and Oregon have all recently adopted new guidelines for pesticide use on marijuana crops. Colorado’s newest list, which is available on the CDA’s website, is 19 pages long and went into effect as of March 30th, 2016 but will not extend to the medicinal crops until July! Each state, in an effort to remain as compliant with the EPA and FIFRA as is possible, has created a list with these restrictions in mind, however the lists vary greatly from state to state. Washington and Oregon have lists that are over 20 pages long and include over 200 pesticides, while California’s is a lean single page and Nevada allows just 22 pesticides for their medical marijuana market.
These strict guidelines leave the states with very little wiggle room in terms of interpretation and could lead to regulation that is possibly more strict than for many other crops and rightfully so.
Given that cannabis is still considered by the Feds to be an extremely illegal drug, they view the state’s right to legalize as experimental, if they are going to allow these programs to continue they need to see the states putting forth rigorous efforts to protect public health.
Can pesticides be used both safely and legally at the same time?
Generally when pesticide residues have been studied, such as on food crops, it was for oral ingestion where it first passes through the digestive system, consideration was not made for inhalation where it goes straight to the blood stream. In a study performed by the Cannabis Safety Institute it was found that pesticide use is not only very widespread in the cannabis industry but also residues from those pesticides significantly exceed the levels of any agricultural crop and “provides strong evidence that the production of Cannabis extracts leads to the concentration of pesticides in the final product.”
It makes you wonder if we not only need to be concerned with the use of banned pesticides, but also even the majority of the allowed ones- at concentrated levels such as ones you might find in a cannabis extraction wouldn’t they also be more harmful than previously thought when considered for a food crop? People aren’t just smoking marijuana in its natural form, extracts are becoming more and more popular. Just as the various forms of extraction will concentrate the THC, it will in turn also concentrate the pesticides.
Before legal cannabis there really were no pesticide residue tests performed
Not only because there were largely no regulations, but there were no labs to take samples to in order to perform the tests. But now, in testing that has been done on samples it was found that not only were pesticide levels significantly greater than the tolerances allowed to be in any commodity but they contained pesticides that were not allowed for use on any consumable product. WE need to be aware and concerned with all contaminants that are in the products we are consuming not just pesticides. Marijuana is routinely laced with harmful natural elements such as bacteria and mold. Not to mention fertilizers and hormones that are used in the growing process and their effects. For example, Paclobutrazol, which is a PGR (plant growth regulator) that is not registered for use on food crops at all, has been found in excessive levels on cannabis, carries the risk of liver damage, infertility, and even cancer. To be fair many of the instances when this was used it was used unknowingly because the manufacturer of the fertilizer did not register it and list it on the label as required by law.
There has been little testing on the long term effects and dangers of these chemicals when consumed in the way that we do with cannabis
Could these unknowns endanger the burgeoning cannabis industry in the US? Derek Peterson, CEO of cannabis-focused agriculture company, Terra Tech believes so “If we keep opening up opportunities for people to use dangerous things on plants, it becomes an embarrassment and we invite more scrutiny from the federal government. It would be a huge step backward.” Just because the label doesn’t tell us it shouldn’t be used on cannabis specifically shouldn’t common sense tell us so? An entirely new agricultural industry can’t be run on common sense alone. These problems are all the more reason why we need an all encompassing guide to follow as legalization moves forward across the nation. States are trying to implement regulations to follow but they also vary greatly from state to state. Each new state that legalizes is going to be faced with the same task with no consistent guidelines to follow. There are, however, national organic standards that everyone could follow as a reference for the state guidelines. Organic and sustainable farming practices have been used successfully for many years with various crops and there is a wealth of information available to those who choose set their standards at this level. It can be done successfully and profitably.
On the upside, all of this attention means people care and there will be change. Change is already happening, not just because the states are mandating it, but because the individuals involved know it’s important. At The Emerald Cup, an annual Cannabis Competition held in California every year, entrants will be tested for contaminants more rigorously this year than in any other year and results will be posted for all to see. The aim: change the tainted ways of the past and encourage better quality control. This is still a relatively new industry using a 12,000 year old crop. All of the news reports about pesticides and recalls do not give a black eye to the industry but instead just prove that there is room to improve and to grow, learn from the mistakes (rather quickly I might add) and set standards for those following in the footsteps of the pioneers. Entrepreneurs of the cannabis industry are nothing if not willing to fight, improve and grow.
Cannabis agriculture has an opportunity here: Be a global role model.