Much has been said about the problems being faced by legal marijuana businesses. There’s prosecution from the federal government, lack of banking access, and stigma that just won’t go away. But aside from these things, marijuana cultivators also have to contend with pests.
“It’s just like broccoli or spinach or peaches or anything,” said Gabriel Fairorth from Denver’s Herbal Remedies. “The plant is susceptible to certain pests.”
Since marijuana is still illegal federally, there’s no roadmap to help growers when it comes to the use of pesticides and herbicides regulated by the federal government. Scientists, chemists, and horticulturalists are of little help as well, since there’s no reliable research on fighting cannabis infestation. The fact that the plant is being used in many ways—smoked, eaten, rubbed on skin—also makes things more complicated. Though there are no reports yet of illnesses related to marijuana pesticides, worries continue to persist.
“We have an industry that’s been illegal for so many years that there’s no research. There’s no guidelines. There’s nothing,” said Frank Conrad, director of pot-testing lab Colorado Green Lab in Denver.
Different States, Different Approaches
Just last spring, Denver has quarantined thousands of marijuana plants from 11 growing facilities due to unauthorized use of pesticides. Some plants were released after safety tests, while others were voluntarily destroyed by their producers.
Meanwhile, an investigation by The Oregonian news paper revealed that pesticides above the legal limits were used on a variety of marijuana products in Oregon, ranging from buds to concentrated oils. There were even chemicals used that were not regulated by the state, so products containing these chemicals can still be sold.
Both Colorado and Oregon require testing for pesticides and other contaminants on all retail marijuana products being sold. However, testing regimens in Oregon are not yet standardized. Colorado has likewise not yet implemented pesticide testing requirements due to regulatory delays. Both Washington and California are still working on their pesticide rules.
The Federal Setback
While the US Environmental Protection Agency offers to approve cannabis-related chemicals through a “special local need registration,” that process could take years.
“It’s a lot more difficult than it sounds, and it’s expensive,” said Brian Smith, spokesman for the Washington Liquor Board.
Furthermore, no one really knows how marijuana growers can treat their plants, as the federal government isn’t doing anything about it.
“There is no federal agency that will recognize this as a legitimate crop,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a pesticide expert from the Colorado State University. “Regulators just bury their heads, and as a result, pest management information regarding this crop devolves to Internet chats and hearsays.”
But if there is a ray of light in this problem, that is the fact that regulators are at least looking into marijuana safety. According to Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the recent actions of states where weed is legal have been encouraging, even if they’re slow.
“The idea that it’s been on the black market and people are fine so therefore we don’t need testing is absurd. No one would want to be using a product that has molds or pesticides,” Stroup said.
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