Pot Pesticides: What Are You Smoking?

By Sam Mendez, executive director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project

Boris Gorodnitsky, president of New Leaf, a marjiuana producer fined by the state for trace amounts of unauthorized pesticides. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Boris Gorodnitsky, president of New Leaf, a marjiuana producer fined by the state for trace amounts of unauthorized pesticides. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

As legal marijuana becomes more established in Washington and Colorado, people are turning to new issues in the area. One of the most pressing issues is pesticides; which ones are and aren’t safe for use in cultivating marijuana, what levels are safe, and what the laws are around them. Since marijuana is still a schedule one narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act and thus illegal under federal law, pesticide regulation will probably have to come from the state level.

Like so much of the marijuana industry, many of the rules around pesticide use is still unwritten. The Seattle Times wrote, “Because marijuana is still illegal in most places, there’s no official ‘safe level’ of pesticides.” That same article detailed how 19 products were recalled last month in Colorado due to tests that showed they contained two banned pesticides. The Colorado Department of Agriculture regulates this issue, and it has specifically allowed and banned some pesticides. The department has published an alert as recently as late-January, so the issue is quickly evolving. A bill in the Colorado legislature that would further tighten regulations on pesticides passed both houses just last week and it appears to be on its way to being enacted as law.

No recall has occurred in Washington, but the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board did fine two of the state’s largest producers, who were also temporarily barred from all sales pending an investigation. Like in Colorado, the Washington Department of Agriculture regulates pesticide use on marijuana in the state, and it has a list of allowed pesticides.

Why should users be concerned? Take Myclobutanil for example, which was detailed in the Seattle Times. Myclobutanil is a fungicide that has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use on grapes. When heated to a certain point however, myclobutanil turns into cyanide gas, and is therefore forbidden by the federal government for use on tobacco. Regulators still don’t know exactly what concentration level is dangerous to humans, but who wants to take the chance?

Perhaps further muddying the waters is the question of testing facilities, and how exactly product is tested for pesticides. The Seattle Times reported that some testing laboratories, albeit for microbes such as E.coli and mold and not specifically pesticides, were too industry friendly. finding four labs that approved 100% of all product that it tested. The state will have to ensure that its methods of testing for pesticides are both accurate and sufficiently enforcing its rules.

Back in Colorado, legislators are debating another bill that would create a state labeling system for marijuana products and pesticides, much like the federal organic label for produce (which, naturally, does not apply to federally illegal marijuana). That bill was just passed last Friday out of the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee, and was then sent onto the Finance Committee for further deliberation.

Expect further developments on this issue, as it is far from over.

2 thoughts on “Pot Pesticides: What Are You Smoking?

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