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Daily News Blog

07
Sep

Pesticide Residues in Cannabis Threaten Medical Use Market, According to Industry Insider

(Beyond Pesticides, September 7, 2018) As the marijuana industry gears up for exploding markets created by the increasing number of states that permit medical and/or recreational cannabis use, the quality of marijuana products is emerging as an important issue for patients and consumers. Beyond Pesticides identified this concern back in the winter of 2014–2015, and pointed to the importance of organic production practices for the emerging industry.

As of July 1, California’s mandated testing of cannabis became effective, and initial results are in. New Frontier Data CEO Giadha Aguirre de Carcer is pointing to those results as a threat to the medicinal cannabis market. She notes that 84% of 2016 product batches tested were found to harbor pesticide residue; and that in the recent California round of assays, 20% failed established standards due to contamination from pesticides, bacteria, or processing chemicals, and in some cases, inaccurate labeling.

Ms. de Carcer, speaking to attendees at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference in Toronto recently, said that cannabis producers must reduce the pesticide contamination in their products, at the very least because of consumer concerns that will translate to the marketplace. At that conference, she said, “Those are troublesome figures. . . . When we talk about people taking cannabis for medicinal use, we probably should do something about that.” Beyond the health implications of toxically tainted marijuana products, consumer concerns about purity of those products will no doubt affect the success of the developing industry, which Ms. de Carcer predicts will be a $20 billion market by 2025.

The risks of pesticide contamination of cannabis include: exposure from inhalation, ingestion, or absorption of pesticide residues on the crop, exposure to workers cultivating the plant, environmental contamination, and impacts on wildlife. Such risks are especially unnerving for those patients using cannabis products medicinally, because their health is already compromised. As Mariellen Jurkovich, owner of the Humbolt Patient Resources Center in Arcata, California, has said, “If you are buying [just] any cannabis . . . you are risking your health,” Jurkovich said. “You are risking a chance that these things could be filled with very toxic chemicals.” The sensical option for human and environmental health is for this industry to choose organic production as its standard.

Meanwhile, the regulatory landscape for pesticide use in cannabis production is relatively straightforward since cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance by the U.S. government. At the federal level there is a fundamental legal issue, as Beyond Pesticides has identified: “Because cannabis is not considered an agricultural crop under federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not evaluated the safety of any pesticide on cannabis plants. EPA has established no restrictions for pesticides used in cannabis production, no tolerances, nor any exemptions from tolerances for allowable pesticide residues on cannabis. As a result, EPA-permitted pesticide labels do not contain allowances for pesticide use in cannabis production. Beyond Pesticides maintains that because of the federal status of cannabis (as a Schedule 1 illegal drug), EPA cannot legally register pesticides for use in the production of the crop. Therefore . . . pesticide use on cannabis is illegal. . . . [Further,] several states 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 has not registered any pesticides for cannabis production and registered pesticide use is illegal.”

All of that said, Beyond Pesticides also noted in its Winter 2014–2015 issue of its journal, Pesticides and You, that EPA has acted to muddy the waters: when some states asked for clarification and guidance on the matter, the agency said that although cannabis does not fit into any general category (e.g., herb, spice, or vegetable), “it may be legally used on marijuana under certain general types of crops/sites when there is an exemption from tolerance;” tolerance is the standard set by EPA for allowable pesticide residue in food. In the wake of that, some states deemed it acceptable for producers to use broad-spectrum herbicides and fumigants outdoors (as long as the pesticide label does not specify the food crop to be planted after the application). Subsequent to that development, Beyond Pesticides began to evaluate use and exposure issues associated with pre-planting uses on soil, whereby plants can take up the toxic compounds; these issues have generally been ignored by EPA and the states.

The lack of clear federal regulation has resulted in state regulations that are, at best, a patchwork of rules providing inconsistent, and often inadequate, protection for consumers and the environment. (See a snapshot of the status of regulations at the state level as of 2015.) Absent federal review (because of the classification of cannabis as a narcotic under federal law), any state permitting of a pesticide not evaluated for its potential health impacts concerns health advocates. A few states (Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia have adopted regulations that focus on less-toxic approaches to cannabis cultivation, with some focus on ensuring growing practices that avoid or prohibit the use of pesticides. Critically, the federal “limbo” provides an important opportunity for states to incentivize this developing industry to anchor its production practices — and perhaps its identity — in protocols that do not rely on toxic pesticides.

Somewhat ironically, in July of 2017, EPA issued a notice of intent to disapprove California’s planned registration of four pesticides for cannabis production. Although reports at the time suggested that EPA’s rejection was likely politically motivated (because of the then-current administrator’s opposition to cannabis legalization generally), this guidance from EPA was, nevertheless, consistent with Beyond Pesticides’ letters to states and EPA, which encouraged the cannabis industry to establish itself as an organic industry that eschews the use of toxic pesticides.

Beyond Pesticides is gravely concerned with the direction of this burgeoning sector. As of 2015, Executive Director Jay Feldman noted that “five states and DC have adopted rules that require marijuana to be grown with practices that prevent the use of pesticides. State officials have an opportunity to restrict all pesticide use at the front end of a growing market, require the adoption of an organic system plan, and set a course to protect health and the environment.” In states with medical and/or recreational legalization — or for those that may move in that direction — Beyond Pesticides strongly recommends the adoption of laws governing cannabis production that prohibit federally registered, though toxic, pesticides, and require the adoption of organic practices.

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

Sources: http://news.morningstar.com/all/benzinga/BenzBZW12229670/contamination-threatens-medicinal-cannabis-market-new-frontier-data-ceo-warns.aspx and https://www.mercurynews.com/2018/07/27/first-tests-are-in-and-one-in-five-marijuana-samples-in-california-isnt-making-grade

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