(Beyond Pesticides, July 25, 2017) With the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in dozens of states, the question of pesticide use in commercial cannabis production and resulting residues in a range of products is a burning issue. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) injected itself into this question when last week it issued a notice of intent to disapprove the planned registration of four pesticides for cannabis production by the state of California.
Given cannabis’ narcotic status by the federal government, EPA does not register pesticides for use in marijuana production. However, states and previously EPA have considered using a Special Local Needs (SLN) permit under the nation’s pesticide law, the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (Section 24c), to allow this unregistered pesticide use to meet an “existing or imminent pest problem.” While reports suggest that EPA’s rejection is likely politically motivated based on the current administrator’s opposition to cannabis legalization in general, the agency’s determination is consistent with Beyond Pesticides’ letters to states and EPA, which encourage the burgeoning industry to root itself in organic production, without the use of toxic pesticides. “The cannabis industry has the opportunity to develop with organic soil management and fertility practices that prevent pest problems and the need for pesticides,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Under review by EPA were four pesticide products submitted by the California Department of Pesticide regulation for planned use on cannabis. The manufacturer of the products, General Hydroponics, was seeking guidance from the agency on specific use directions for pests and diseases of cannabis. Although the products in question contain active ingredients that are of lower toxicity than conventional pesticides, federal approval of these pesticides would provide a pathway for the registration of more toxic products on cannabis.
Over the past several years, cannabis production has been marred by consistent reports of contamination with illegal pesticides. States where the substance is legal have experienced large recalls over contamination. In 2015, the Governor of Colorado issued an executive order declaring pesticide-tainted pot “A threat to public safety.” The pesticide most often cited for illegal use on cannabis is a fungicide called Eagle 20, which contains the active ingredient myclobutanil. Myclobutanil is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor that can turn into cyanide gas when ignited. It is also listed as a reproductive toxicant under California’s Proposition 65: Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.
Federal approval of registered pesticides under state SLN regulations could quickly lead to approval of products containing myclobutanil, in addition to other toxic pesticides, including insecticides like neonicotinoids and synthetic pyrethroids. Rather than approve the use of toxic chemicals, advocates urge states to step up enforcement to ensure that consumers, and particularly medical patients with underlying conditions, are not subject to toxic exposure.
EPA’s denial of these four registrations provides an opportunity for the industry to flourish based on organic principles. As Cary Giguere of the Vermot Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets told Bloomberg BNA, “It’s a minor hindrance. It isn’t slowing the industry down, it’s not slowing states working with the industry down.” Beyond Pesticides has long encouraged limiting the allowance of pesticides on cannabis to products that are allowed under organic production and exempt from federal pesticide registration (25b minimum risk).
This regulatory approach has only been completely realized in the state of New Hampshire. Given EPA’s position on SLNs for cannabis, other states may follow New Hampshire’s lead on allowed pesticides, and go further to foster organic practices by requiring growers submit a system plan. By mandating the submission of a systems plan, states ensure: a detailed description of the practices and procedures that will be undertaken by the certified producer, substances to be used as production inputs will be listed, a narrative description of how practices will be monitored, and recordkeeping requirements to confirm the plan is followed. This process will assist in orienting producers towards a pest prevention strategy, rather than a reactive approach that may result in toxic or illegal pesticide use when pest or fungal outbreaks occur.
For more information on safety issues and sustainable solutions to the use of toxic pesticides on cannabis, see Beyond Pesticides’ report.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Bloomberg BNA