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Daily News Blog

07
Dec

Pesticides Contaminate Medical and Recreational Marijuana

(Beyond Pesticides, December 7, 2018) As medicinal and recreational marijuana continue to be legalized in various states, concerns about the safety of the burgeoning industry — how the substance is grown, harvested, processed, distributed, sold, and used — have emerged. Colorado’s recent experience is a case in point: in early December, the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) announced two recalls on cannabis products out of concern about their contamination by pesticide residues.

In both cases, the recall announcements from the Colorado Department of Revenue, in conjunction with the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said that the state agencies “deem it a threat to public health and safety when pesticides that are not on the list of approved pesticides for marijuana use as determined by CDA are applied in a manner inconsistent with the pesticide’s label.” Three off-label pesticides were listed in the recall announcement. Pyriproxyfen was found in samples tested from Colorado Wellness Centers LLC (dba Lush), and bifenthrin and diuron were found in samples from Crossroads Wellness LLC (dba Boulder Botanics). None of those compounds is approved by Colorado for use on marijuana; two are listed as possible carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At roughly the same time came news out of California of a decidedly human glitch in that state’s recreational cannabis rollout: when the state’s new, mandated, and rigorous cannabis testing protocols became operational on July 1 of 2018, a lab director — at Sequoia Analytical Labs of Sacramento — allegedly began to falsify analyses of hundreds of batches of cannabis that went out to retailers. The alleged fraud continued for some months, without the knowledge of anyone else at the company, until — suspicious because of an unusual format of test reports that were submitted to it — the Bureau of Cannabis Control conducted an unannounced inspection of Sequoia’s laboratory. Reportedly, the lab director acknowledged that he’d falsified the reports, saying that some testing equipment was not functioning, and that he “just kept thinking [he] was going to figure it out the next day,” according to Sequoia’s general manager. The lab director was fired the day after the inspection, and the company voluntarily surrendered its cannabis testing license for 2018, although it hopes to regain it for 2019.

It is somewhat heartening that Colorado’s recalls represent a relatively cautious approach in response to the discovery of the three prohibited pesticide residues. John Scott of the CDA’s Pesticide Division, remarked, “No one’s done the risk assessments to determine that this specific parts per million on cannabis would still be safe. . . . That’s really the unknown and why we’ve taken the approach — a very precautionary approach.” He also noted that MED may issue more recalls if its enhanced mandatory pesticide testing for growers evidences the need. As increasing numbers of states were legalizing medical marijuana, Beyond Pesticides laid out the concerns — health and safety, and environmental — related to contamination of cannabis with pesticides, as well as a survey of what states were doing by way of regulation, in the Winter 2014–2015 issue of its journal, Pesticides and You.

There are multiple (and confusing) layers to the legal cannabis landscape. For starters, legalization of medical or recreational cannabis by states happens within a federal legal system that continues to designate marijuana as a Class I illegal substance. Legal, legislative, and regulatory scrambling in the states — to catch up to a growing industry with which legislation and regulation have not kept abreast — arises in part from this federal conundrum.

Beyond Pesticides has maintained that pesticide use on cannabis is illegal. Because cannabis is not a legal agricultural crop under relevant federal law (FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act), EPA has not evaluated the safety of any pesticide on cannabis plants. EPA has established no restrictions for pesticides used in cannabis production, and 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.

As Beyond Pesticides wrote in 2015, “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 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. A review of state laws conducted by Beyond Pesticides finds a patchwork of regulations with varying degrees of protection for consumers and the environment.”

Beyond Pesticides wrote to the Colorado Department of Agriculture in 2015 to detail its objection and highlight the nature of the problem with the agency’s March 2015 issuance of its memo, Criteria for Pesticides Used in the Production of Marijuana in Colorado — a document that set out the parameters of permitting for use of certain pesticides on cannabis crops. Subsequently, Governor John Hickenlooper issued an Executive Order “directing state agencies to address public safety concerns related to pesticide-contaminated cannabis. The next day, the state of Oregon adopted new rules strengthening its requirements for laboratory testing of cannabis for pesticides.”

Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon have all taken steps to list “allowable” pesticides for marijuana cultivation. California began in June 2018 to set out parameters for testing of cannabis; at this juncture, all cannabis for medical and recreational use must be tested for 66 different proscribed pesticides, as well as for other contaminants, such as E. coli,  feces, mold, insect and rodent parts, mycotoxins, terpenoids, and heavy metals. The regulatory matrix in the states is dynamic, and events such as Colorado’s recalls and California’s fraudulent lab reporting may spur further adjustments.

A genuinely precautionary approach would go well beyond catching prohibited pesticide (and other) contaminants in cannabis. Particularly absent thorough federal testing of potential effects of the use of pesticides on cannabis for consumers, producers, and the environment, states should provide clear rules for sustainable production practices that would protect public health and the environment. Beyond Pesticides recommends that states establish laws and/or regulations that mandate a systems-level approach to cannabis production. A requirement, for example, that growers and processors follow the dictates of national organic standards would be prudent, precautionary, and a positive trajectory for the cannabis industry. Read more about Beyond Pesticides’ coverage of cannabis and pesticides here and at its Daily News archival page on the topic.

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

Sources: http://www.kunc.org/post/state-taking-precautionary-approach-pesticides-found-marijuana#stream/0 and https://www.leafly.com/news/industry/sequoia-analytics-surrenders-license-for-faking-lab-data

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