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Daily News Blog

15
Aug

The Ultimate Buzz Kill – Officials Find Pesticides in Marijuana… Again

Marijuana plant image

(Beyond Pesticides, August 14, 2023) Marijuana regulators in the state of Washington issued administrative holds on 18 licenses due to pesticide-contaminated marijuana, forcing producers and processors to cease operations until now. This shutdown of legal marijuana businesses serves as a window into a broader historical backdrop of pesticide issues within the marijuana industry. Within Washington, pesticide concerns have been growing since a study in 2018 of legal marijuana farms in the state had 84.6% (of 26 samples) with significant quantities of pesticides including insecticides, fungicides, miticides, and herbicides. Last year, a national study identified a list of contaminants in 36 states and the District of Columbia and found 551 pesticides within cannabis products. For over a decade, Beyond Pesticides has sounded the alarm about the highly-concentrated levels of pesticides in marijuana products, calling on state officials to require organic marijuana, especially in the context of medical marijuana.

The absence of federal regulations for pesticides in cannabis production has raised significant concerns about exposure risks for recreational and medicinal use, exposure risks to workers, and potential environmental contamination impacting wildlife. Since marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, the EPA does not regulate pesticides in cannabis. Despite this federal policy gap, states have taken various state laws and regulations to restrict pesticides in marijuana.

During the years following the scientific breakthroughs catalyzed by chemical warfare in World War II, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was extensively used to combat mosquitoes and insects harmful to crops, particularly fruits. Unfortunately, this pesticide had unintended consequences, leading to significant bird and insect mortality. Rachel Carson’s influential book, “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, exposed the devastating impact of DDT on the environment, effectively catalyzing the environmental movement. As a result of this awakening, a nationwide prohibition on the agricultural use of DDT was implemented in 1972. Today, the legacy of DDT extends beyond the four-decade-old ban. Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), is a remnant chemical when DDT breaks down in the soil. The EPA classifies DDE in Group B2 probable human carcinogen, the same category as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp.

Earlier this year, a chemist from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board detected elevated levels of DDE in 59 samples of marijuana products. After the board requested recalls for the toxic levels of the pesticide, Okanogan Gold, Bodie Mine, Kibble Junction, and Walden Cannabis issued recalls. Unfortunately, many of the impacted products had already been sold by the time of the recall.

This story may sound familiar, as it has been told many times in Colorado, Oregon, California, and Washington. The Colorado Department of Revenue, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, emphasized that the use of unapproved pesticides in marijuana cultivation poses a threat to public health and safety. Beyond Pesticides maintains that even low levels of pesticide residues in marijuana raise serious issues because they are not subject to regulatory review, taking into account multiple chemical exposures, aggregate and synergistic hazards, and health outcomes, such as endocrine disruption, that are not evaluated by state regulators. This is particularly problematic with marijuana, grown with chemical-intensive rather than organic practices, given the crops’ multiple routes of chemical exposure through injection, inhalation, and dermal absorption. Beyond Pesticides has said that, since pesticides in the U.S. are not registered for use in marijuana production, states must not allow their use and default to organic is the only allowable production system.

A similar concern arose in California when the state implemented rigorous cannabis testing protocols. Sequoia Analytical Labs, a cannabis testing facility in Sacramento, faced allegations that its lab director falsified analysis reports for hundreds of cannabis batches sent to retailers. The alleged fraud went undetected for some time, leading to the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s unannounced inspection, during which the lab director admitted to the falsifications. Sequoia subsequently surrendered its 2018 cannabis testing license, hoping to regain it for 2019.

Advocates say these incidents demonstrate a need for comprehensive regulation within the rapidly evolving legal cannabis landscape. The federal classification of marijuana as a Class I illegal substance creates a complex legal environment, with states striving to establish effective legislation and regulation in the face of this federal challenge resulting from a lack of regulatory oversight.

To address these concerns, several states, including Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon, have taken steps to list “allowable” pesticides for marijuana cultivation. In California, comprehensive testing requirements for cannabis have been put in place, covering various pesticides and contaminants. The dynamic nature of the regulatory framework in these states, coupled with events such as the recent Washington recalls, may necessitate further adjustments.

A genuinely precautionary approach to the cannabis industry should extend beyond detecting prohibited contaminants. Given the absence of federal testing for pesticide effects on cannabis consumers, producers, and the environment, states should establish rules for sustainable production practices that safeguard public health and the environment. Beyond Pesticides recommends a systems-level approach to cannabis production, mandating compliance with national organic standards. Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides says, “The only safe path forward to pesticide-free marijuana products must require organic certification.” An organic approach would be prudent, precautionary, and a positive step forward for the cannabis industry. For more information on Beyond Pesticides’ coverage of cannabis and pesticides, visit the Daily News archival page on the topic.

For more information on safety issues and sustainable solutions to using toxic pesticides on cannabis, see Beyond Pesticides’ report.

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

Source: Pesticide Use in Marijuana Production: Safety Issues and Sustainable Options, Washington shutters pot businesses due to old pesticide, Washington legal cannabis farms get back to work after pesticide concerns halted operations

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