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With Legalization of Marijuana, Chemical-Intensive Production Practices Questioned

(Beyond Pesticides, January 13, 2013) As medical and recreational production of marijuana in the U.S. increases, new and complicated questions have risen over how to limit consumers’ exposure to pesticides through marijuana consumption. Many growers are facing limited institutional knowledge and economic forces that could lead to the unnecessary use of pesticides. States are also still wrestling with the adequate regulation of production and testing practices. Exposure to pesticides from marijuana consumption may also be more harmful than exposure through food consumption when consumed through inhalation. As marijuana consumption becomes more widely legalized, many are calling for stronger safety standards for marijuana production.

Alan Schreiber, Ph.D., President of the Agriculture Development Group, believes that the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington will lead to immense demand for pest prevention research. Currently, growers of marijuana lack institutional assistance from federal agencies or state agricultural extension services, which have limited understanding of marijuana production. There is a concern that the lack of field research and increased demand may lead to heavy pesticide use.

In Washington, the state will allow the equivalent of 46 acres to be grown for recreational use, a factor that Dr.. Schreiber says will drive most production indoors. Indoor cultivation will allow for the harvest of six crops per year. This type of production system could create a “green bridge” for pests to continuously shift from older to younger crops, which would lead to intense pest pressures.

“Virtually everything they have done in the past will not be permitted going forward,” Dr. Schreiber told the Capital Ag Press.

There is also confusion about what standards will apply to the production of marijuana. As an agricultural commodity, Worker Protection Standards (WPS) will apply. If it is considered a food crop, as it is used is some edible formulations, some pesticides such as tetramethrin cannot be used in greenhouses where plants are grown for food. There are also no pesticides tolerances currently set for marijuana by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because it’s illegal to grow under federal law.

States that have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical uses are still trying to determine how to best regulate pesticides used in its production. Colorado currently follows tobacco pesticide regulations to apply to marijuana production, and the packaging of the product must also label for the crop’s potency and any toxic pesticides or fungicides used in its cultivation. In Washington, over 200 pesticides have been registered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) under chapter 15.58 RCW for use in the production, processing, and handling of marijuana.

Only some states out of the 20 states and the District of Columbia that allow medicinal marijuana use require testing for pesticides and mold. Oregon has recently mandated testing. However, questions still remain in Oregon about how often these tests should be performed and what levels of pesticides are acceptable, because there are no federal tolerances set for marijuana use. Maine currently only allows 25b minimum risk pesticides (under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) to be used in medical marijuana production. In September the operator of four of Maine’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries was fined $18,000 for using pesticides on plants in violation of state law and program rules.

Pesticide use in marijuana production has clear human health implications. During a recent presentation at Humboldt State University, Jeffrey Raber, Ph.D., reported that a study he conducted found that up to 70 percent of the pesticide residues on a marijuana bud can transfer to the smoke being inhaled. This exposure scenario is unique in that marijuana can’t be washed before it is consumed and the body has no filters for things that are inhaled, unlike food that is digested. The Eureka Times-Standard reported Dr. Raber saying that about 10 percent of tests conducted on medicinal marijuana in his lab registered positive for pesticides, and in random samples more that 35 percent failed pesticide tests. This could indicate that as marijuana undergoes increased regulatory scrutiny exposure to pesticides through inhalation could decrease.

“I think all that says is we really, really need some serious regulations within California to help us clean up our supply, especially in the medical patient context,” Dr. Raber told the Times-Standard. “These are people that are immune-compromised, they’re undergoing chemotherapy, they’re very sick with antibacterial loads. We can’t be subjecting them to more of these types of potentially harmful contaminants when they’re looking to this as a medicine source.”

Current illegal production practices of marijuana have been linked to rodenticides being found in the tissue of the fisher, a cat size carnivore that is a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). A study conducted by scientists from University of California, Davis found that the fishers’ habitat did overlap with illegal marijuana farms. The study notes that in 2008 alone law enforcement officials removed more than 3.6 million marijuana plants from federal and state public lands in California, including state and national parks. The study also found piles of bright green rodenticide pellets around the marijuana plants and along plastic irrigation lines.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also used toxic pesticides to control illegal marijuana production. In 1985, the DEA used glyphosate in an operation designed to kill 10,000 marijuana plants grown illegally on federal lands in the Midwest. The DEA has also used 2,4-D and paraquat in the past to stop marijuana production, which Beyond Pesticides has consistently opposed, given the threat to human health and the environment.

As support for medical and recreational marijuana increases –a new poll says that 55 percent of Americans want marijuana to be legalized nationwide, stronger pesticide regulation of marijuana production will be needed. A survey conducted by MMJ Business Daily found that 43 percent of marijuana patients said they considered the availability of organic cannabis to be “critical” when they decide where to shop for medicine. Organic standards for marijuana production are important, especially for medicinal use, as inhalation is a very direct exposure scenario.

Currently, the only way to avoid eating food grown  with harmful synthetic pesticides by eating organic. For this and many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. For more information on organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture program page.

Source: Capital Ag Press

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides


One Response to “With Legalization of Marijuana, Chemical-Intensive Production Practices Questioned”

  1. 1
    Kit Lofroos Says:

    Thank you for writing about this issue. I think that consumers ought to be able to knowingly choose from organically, sustainably-grown plants or from pesticide ridden ones. This is an opportunity to fight for labeling now, before Big Corps. begin to grow & spray in CA.

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