(Beyond Pesticides, November 17, 2015) Last Thursday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper issued an executive order directing state agencies to address public safety concerns related to pesticide-contaminated cannabis. The next day, the state of Oregon adopted new rules strengthening its requirements for laboratory testing of cannabis for pesticides. The state-level action on pesticide-tainted cannabis is viewed as responsive to an ongoing public health threat. However, safety advocates say steps are needed to ensure that cannabis users, particularly medical patients with cancer, seizures, or other immune compromising diseases, are safe from toxic chemicals.
Governor Hickenlooper’s Executive Order
As a result of a number of quarantines on pesticide-laced cannabis in Denver, a warning letter and testimony delivered by Beyond Pesticides, and a recent lawsuit against a major Colorado grower, pressure has been building on the state to address this issue. In the executive order (EO), the governor acknowledges that because of cannabis’ status as a schedule 1 narcotic under federal law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has “neither assessed the potential health hazards posed by treating marijuana with pesticides, nor has it authorized the application of any pesticide specifically for use on marijuana.”
The EO notes that it is a violation of both state and federal law to use pesticides in a manner inconsistent with a pesticide label, and proclaims that off-label pesticide use that contaminates a crop “constitutes a threat to the public safety.” It further directs state agencies tasked with overseeing state cannabis policy to use “all existing investigatory and enforcement authorities established by law to protect against threats to the public safety posed by contaminated marijuana including, but not limited to, placing contaminated marijuana on administrative hold and destroying contaminated marijuana pursuant to existing law.”
Governor Hickenlooper’s move raises the issue in the public eye, and encourages state agencies to conduct inspections and take enforcement action when pesticide contamination is detected, rather than leaving individual localities, such as Denver, to take the lead on oversight. However, despite the governor’s acknowledgment that off label pesticide use is illegal on cannabis crops, his Statewide Marijuana Pesticides Policy Statement allows the use of certain pesticides under arbitrary conditions, such as when the label allows use on “unspecified crops and/or plants.” This is contrary to the policy position taken by Beyond Pesticides and health advocates.
Beyond Pesticides has notified states that have legalized marijuana use that, because no pesticide has ever been registered for use on cannabis by EPA, the only allowable pesticide products for cannabis production are those classified as exempt from federal registration under 25(b) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Colorado is currently in the process of updating its rules and may make this contradictory policy official. Beyond Pesticides has notified the state that it would consider any allowance of registered pesticides to be a violation of FIFRA.
Oregon’s New Regulations
Last week, the state of Oregon updated its rules governing pesticide use to require the mandatory testing of nearly 60 pesticide compounds that are of particular concern. All growers will be required to undergo this testing, and failure will result in the untested batch being destroyed. This is a change from prior rules which allowed laboratories to determine on their own what pesticides to include in a screening. The Oregonian reports that some labs had stopped testing for a common pesticide that is included in the new rules because failed samples hurt its business.
While the state’s list includes a number of toxic pesticides, The Oregonian also reports that growers are already looking for products outside of the list, and it is likely that the products they are searching for are not those exempt from federal registration. Moreover, the new rules raise the current allowable level of .1 parts per million for any pesticide residue and creates individual action levels for each pesticide compound. Oregon has yet to create a list of allowed pesticides on cannabis like Colorado and Washington State have done. Thus, it remains to be seen whether this list of pesticides to be laboratory tested will result in safer practices, if growers are already looking to potentially more toxic alternatives.
The Organic Approach
While recent moves in Colorado, Oregon, and previously in California represent steps in the right direction, they also contain significant pitfalls and loopholes that allow contaminated cannabis to market where it threatens public health. Beyond Pesticides continues to encourage states to take a stronger approach to regulating this budding industry, so that it blazes an agricultural path that protects its most sensitive at-risk users. Three elements must be passed and enforced in order to do so. They are:
1. A prohibition on the use of federally registered pesticides on cannabis;
2. Allowance of pesticides exempt from federal registration, but not those that are only exempt from tolerances and;
3. Requirements for an organic system plan that focuses on sustainable practices and only 25b products as a last resort.
Implementing these three requirements will ensure the sustainable growth of a new agricultural industry, and lead to the protection of public health. For more information and background this important issue, see Beyond Pesticides’ report Pesticide Use in Marijuana Production: Safety Issues and Sustainable Options.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.