In the wake of investigations this summer in Oregon and Colorado, which found that numerous marijuana products contain levels of illegal pesticides, state regulators, laboratories, manufacturers, and cultivators alike are acting fast to minimize risks to consumers and patients. The largest recall ever to occur in the cannabis industry happened on October 30, when two companies in Denver found potential pesticide contamination in tens of thousands of packages of edible cannabis products.
As of now, it is difficult to find information available on pesticide use and flowering, its effect on the body through combustion and inhalation, and its effect on medical patients with already weakened immune systems. Research suggests up to 69.5% of pesticide residues can stay in marijuana smoke. Of course, there is a need for more research, but it is safe to accept that pesticides already banned for use on foods by the USDA or state departments should not be allowed in cannabis production.
In Colorado, “Nearly six months after the city of Denver began a crackdown on unapproved pesticides in marijuana products, a spot-check by The Denver Post found that the chemicals were still being sold to consumers.” This presents a major problem to an industry still trying to change public opinion for wider legalization efforts.
The Oregonian and OregonLive investigation found pesticides in most of the 10 marijuana concentrates that were screened. “Many of the pesticides detected aren’t regulated by Oregon’s medical marijuana rules, which means products that contain these chemicals still can be sold.”
While state regulations on pesticide use continue to get hammered out, the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently working on identifying pesticides that might be safe to use on cannabis. That guidance is crucial for any industry in order to establish safe levels of pesticides allowed, as well as which pesticides are more dangerous to the consumer than others.
Just last week, two of the largest recalls in the cannabis industry occurred in Colorado due to potential pesticide contamination. According to The Denver Post, as many as 30,000 packages of edibles produced by two companies were recalled by the Denver Department of Health.
Alex Garton, a cultivator in Michigan, agrees with many proponents of organic methods, citing the need for close management of the plants without pesticides. “The best way to avoid pests is to keep the grow room clean,” he says. “Mites will come and go, as will temperature and humidity issues, but without using pesticides, there are some safe, natural products that are very effective.”
“I treat my plants with natural compounds that are permitted under the federal government’s guidance for use in vegetable applications for human consumption,” Garton adds. “Never use anything remotely resembling a pesticide on flowers particularly when maturing and in the flowering process.”
Adam Jacques, master cultivator and owner of The Growers Guild in Eugene, Oregon, agrees with the sentiment of caution shared by many in the industry. “I would say, nationwide, there needs to be a more in depth look at pesticides, even organic strawberries can have [the pesticide] Eagle 20 on them,” he says. “With cannabis, we can’t scrub and wash pesticides off like fruit that you take off the vine, and there is a real lack of research on residues and combustion.”
Jacques tests all of his cannabis products for pesticides, molds, microbials and pathogens along with potency profiles, most of which is not required by the state. Growers should take lessons from Garton and Jacques by forgoing any application of pesticides until there is more confident state-level guidance on the dangers associated with pesticides on cannabis.