CannaNews, DOPE Magazine
“The path to cannabis’ legalization and its acceptance as a legitimate medicine in this country has been long, tortuous, and unconventional, but now the industry faces a conventional threat that has hobbled many agricultural crop producers in the past: the use of pesticides. The threat that pesticides pose is twofold. First, pesticide-tainted cannabis, especially in its concentrated form, might harm users’ health in the short- and long-term. Second, is public perception–regardless of the facts–that the cannabis on store shelves is laced with pesticides that can compromise human health, which, in return, could lead to financial losses all along the cannabis supply chain.
This has been seen before within Washington’s apple industry. It suffered crippling losses in the early 1990s when the use of the pesticide Alar, a known carcinogen, became widely known. Washington regulatory agencies, including the state Department of Health, the state Department of Agriculture, and the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, are developing standards for pesticide use on cannabis crops, but that’s only half the solution. It’s critical that the state develops, and enforces, strict standards on the use of unsanctioned pesticides and ensures that testing and labeling of all cannabis products sold in the state is thorough and transparent.
Testing is expensive, and the state is developing the procedures to ensure that products can be tested and that violators can be penalized. “The increased scrutiny by the AG department and the state-certified testing laboratories will also increase the shelf price of cannabis as those expenses are passed along. This is just another downstream effect that consumers must bear in a regulated market,” said Gordon Fagras, the CEO of Trace Analytics. “What’s critical is that producers know exactly what pesticides are banned and what strictures will follow if they’re found using a banned substance.”
This is not a theoretical problem: At least two producers in Western Washington were recently cited by the Liquor and Cannabis Board for using pesticides that are on the list of banned substances. One of the producer’s samples showed trace of myclobutanil, a pesticide designed to control infestation. Evidence shows that when the substance is heated it can release cyanide, and we all know what cyanide can do. Washington State’s Department of Health has to define “trace” amounts. Fagras added, “It is critical to understand the lab process and how we look at these compounds. In taking a rational approach to this discussion, we have to apply action levels or minimum residue levels in the final product. This will allow us as a lab to account for what may be incidental exposure from such things as nearby farms, overspray by a nearby indoor grow, nutrient lines, or extraction machine contamination from running pesticide-laden material through a closed-loop system, just to name a few.”
Trace Analytics has taken on what was an 11-month research and development period, running thousands of samples and working with industry residue experts. It has not been an easy task to create a scientifically correct and robust testing method, which requires a significant investment in equipment and man-hours.
“It is imperative that we approach this situation carefully. Our intent is to clean up the market, discard the bad players, be transparent, and inspire confidence to the consumers and safety for the patients. In a rush to get this done correctly we have to be careful not to burn down the entire industry, commented Tracy Sirrine, a member of the board of the Clean Cannabis Association, a Washington nonprofit.
Trace Analytics is not alone in finding a solution to safe cannabis testing and product awareness. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians has acquired the proper instrumentation and staff and will continue to expand its own testing laboratory in order to meet the challenges the cannabis industry faces. The tribe understands the importance of medicating with cannabis via inhalation, ingestion, or through the skin that is free of harmful chemicals, particularly pesticides. Cannabis is unique because it can be administered in different ways.
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians believes that clinical-grade cannabis can be grown without the use of pesticides. They understand the need for a quality lab to be able to detect these compounds at very low concentrations. Growers need to be transparent in what they spray on their crops because they are going to be vital in moving the industry forward. Manufacturers’ cannabis-based nutrients need to clearly label the pesticides in the products they sell. The entire nation is watching how this industry unfolds, and putting consumer health and wellbeing over profits will only help the cannabis industry in the long-run. “It’s a pioneering venture,” said Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud. “No one in the U.S. has a cannabis institute, so this could be a place for cannabis science and research, and foremost for treating people with good medicine.
The lab ties in to the project as a quality assurance mechanism to provide standardization.” Those producers were discovered because someone reported them, which is a scattershot way of identifying bad actors. After several visits by LCB agents, and expensive tests, the pesticide was identified. The producers were ordered to destroy the mother plants that the strains were derived from, but, interestingly, the product that had already gone out the door was not recalled. The fact is that we don’t know just how dangerous these pesticides are because of the lack of research on the matter. “That is why Trace Analytics is trying to push support and resources for research to determine what and how much is harmful,” said Fagras.
Because marijuana is illegal on the federal level, research in the United States is largely banned, but that is where the tribal sovereignty can be helpful in advancing the science and testing. Plus, because much of the cannabis consumed in this country is burned before ingesting, we need groundbreaking research into what substances can be safely used in producing a crop of cannabis. In order for cannabis to be treated as a serious and predictable business, it has to operate like other businesses that produce products that are traceable especially when it comes to the discovery of tainted products. Punitive penalties must be levied and existing product must be recalled. It’s especially critical for people who rely on medical grade cannabis to control the symptoms of their disease. Medical grade cannabis needs to be clean to be most effective.
As the cannabis industry evolves in Washington, strict regulation is critically important to ensure that we promote wellness over profits while sternly punishing those who seek to cut corners. There cannot be a business-as-usual approach to the growth, production, and sale of cannabis. We may never understand why producers went to the shelf for these chemicals while not understanding the downstream effects they could have on healthy individuals or patients with compromised immune systems. The growers and processors have an unwritten commitment to public trust and safety, and I hope the public and regulators alike demand a transparent solution.”