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Daily News Blog

31
Aug

Cannabis Certification Program Restricts Pesticides and Residues

(Beyond Pesticides, August 31, 2016) Last week, a Denver marijuana company went through its first inspection for the Colorado-based Organic Cannabis Association’s (OCA) new “pesticide-free” certification. This voluntary certification program was developed by OCA following an indefinite postponement of the Pesticide-Free Marijuana Bill, HB 16-1079 by the Colorado Senate and the failure of  the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) to implement meaningful regulations to protect  users within the state from pesticides that are not regulated  for use in cannabis production by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the states. While the certification program is characterized as “pesticide-free,” it is focused on residues on the finished product, allowing the use of pesticides that do not appear on the narrow list of those restricted by the state of Colorado. The certification is a a step in the right direction for consumers who wish to protect themselves from unwanted pesticides in their cannabis products, however it is important to note that it  does not equate to a USDA organic inspection, as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and is unable to qualify for certification under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).

foliage-1157792_960_720While discussing his inspiration for developing such a program, OCA founder John-Paul Maxfield, told Modern Farmer that “pesticide-free certification is crucial in helping the cannabis industry catch up with food” and “allows consumers to choose their cannabis with the same values they apply to food.” The certification is a process validation to certify that the final product has zero residual pesticides. However, it does not mean that no pesticides were used over the entire cultivation process of the cannabis.  This may raise concerns for consumers who typically adhere to an organic diet or support organic methods of agriculture, as the Organic Foods Production Act and NOP takes a whole systems approach to crop production, as opposed to just testing for pesticide residues in the final product. In order to receive organic certification, growers must develop an Organic System Plan and focus on preventative, not reactive, measures to pest management and control.

In an earlier article in Westword, Mr. Maxfield stated that in order to comply with their certification, cannabis plants must have “zero residual pesticides at harvest” and may not use any products banned by the CDA. In addition, growers that adhere to using products approved by the Organic Material Review Institute (OMRI) will receive higher marks. While CDA’s list of approved products has improved since its inaugural draft, it still raises some concerns as it contains products beyond the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act’s (FIFRA) list of 25(b) exempt pesticides, a standard Beyond Pesticides has continuously advocated for as states legalize marijuana. One chemical of particular concern is the allowance of the problematic  synergist  piperonyl butoxide  (PBO), which is often mixed with pesticides to increase their potency. PBO is a highly toxic substance that is linked to a range of short- and long-term effects, including cancer and adverse impacts on liver function and the nervous system. It is commonly used as a synergist in pyrethrin-based pesticide products, many of which can be found on Colorado’s allowed pesticide list. Unless future clarifications state otherwise, it is conceivable that the “pesticide free” program could allow the use of products that contain PBO during the growing phase, as long as the product tests negative for the chemical at the end stage of the growing process.

As of March 30, 2016, CDA adopted rules that establish criteria to identify which pesticides are allowed for use in cannabis cultivation in Colorado. As rules for recreational cannabis in Colorado do not mandate laboratory analysis, if testing is not conducted, cannabis products must display a label statement that reads, “The marijuana contained within this package has not been tested for contaminants.” In a recent attempt to protect human health and safety in Oregon, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) issued statewide detainment of 14 horticultural products used in marijuana production and is currently sampling and testing these products. Failing the test and using any of the since-banned products, warn regulators, could lead to products being confiscated and destroyed. This move by Oregon to curb illegal pesticide use on marijuana follows  widespread cannabis recalls  in the City of Denver,  and actions from Colorado’s Governor  to declare pesticide-tainted cannabis “a threat to public safety” is a step in the right direction after ODA released a concerning list of pesticide products available for use on marijuana earlier this year.

As states continue to legalize the production of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, regulations governing its cultivation may allow the application of pesticides untested for use in the plant’s production, raising safety issues for patients and consumers. In the absence of federal regulations governing pesticides in cannabis production, the use of pesticides not registered by EPA is understood to be illegal. Several states, including New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine, have codified this understanding by adopting policies that prohibit all federally registered pesticides. Other states have taken the position that state policy is unnecessary, since EPA, due to cannabis’ narcotic status by the federal government,  has not registered any pesticides for marijuana  production and unregistered pesticide use is illegal. As OCA’s pesticide-free program progresses and more cannabis growers look to change their practices, it is important that these standards reflect a systems-based organic approach.

Taking the Organic Approach

This independent certification system represents an effort to provide growers with a premium market for “pesticide-free” marijuana, but fails to systematically change regulations at the state level to regulate cannabis production.

While state level efforts in Colorado, Oregon, and  previously in California  represent steps in the right direction, they also contain significant pitfalls and loopholes that allow contaminated cannabis to market where it threatens public health. Beyond Pesticides continues to encourage states to take a stronger approach to regulating this budding industry, so that it blazes an agricultural path that protects its most sensitive at-risk users. Three elements must be passed and enforced in order to do so. They are:

  1. A prohibition on the use of federally registered pesticides on cannabis;
  2. Allowance of pesticides exempt from federal registration, but not those that are only exempt from tolerances and;
  3. Requirements for an organic system plan that focuses on sustainable practices and only 25b products as a last resort.

Implementing these three requirements will ensure the sustainable growth of a new agricultural industry and lead to the protection of public health. For more information and background this important issue, see Beyond Pesticides’ report  Pesticide Use in Marijuana Production: Safety Issues and Sustainable Options.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source:  Modern Farmer, Denverite

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