Pot and pesticides, Part I

Susan France

Boulder Weekly brings you this report in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News. Learn more at rmpbs.org/news.

In Colorado and other states where recreational or medical pot is legal, there is a tremendous amount of money riding these days on healthy cannabis crops. But unlike, say, a corn farmer, growers in the legal-marijuana industry don’t have a clear understanding yet of which pesticides and fungicides are safe to use for workers or consumers.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates pesticide use on other crops, it has not tested any for use on marijuana because the plant remains illegal at the federal level.

The result is a regulatory void in which, theoretically, anything goes, according to a joint investigation by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News and the Food & Environment Reporting Network. And given what is known about the chemicals commonly used on marijuana plants, that means a potential publichealth hazard for the people who smoke or consume legal marijuana, as well as those who work at the grow operations.

“If we’re going to create a legitimate market, let’s protect those people who are going to be growing and harvesting and processing, just like we would for people who are growing and harvesting apples,” said Andy Baker-White, chair-elect of the American Public Health Association.

Pesticides have long been a staple of black-market marijuana growers. Legal or otherwise, pests and mold remain a problem. In Colorado alone, the marijuana industry employs 23,000 people as budtenders, managers or growers.

“We are all trying to play catch-up to an actual agricultural industry,” said Pat Currah, a grow facility manager for Green Dream Health Services, a dispensary and grow operation in Boulder.

“It’s an ignorance thing, and it’s no surprise we aren’t trained, we don’t all know what we are doing.”

One mold infestation that is quickly growing infamous among those working in the cannabis industry is called “powdery mildew.”

“It grows fast,” said Frank Conrad, director of Colorado Green Labs, a private cannabis testing facility in Denver. “It will cover an entire room and destroy the value of that crop.”

One response from the industry has been to use Eagle 20EW, a pesticide that has the active ingredient called myclobutanil. Myclobutanil is known to be safe for human ingestion and is frequently used on food products like grapes, but it’s not approved for use on tobacco or on marijuana.

“If it’s burned and generates hydrogen cyanide, that’s an entirely different problem,” Conrad said. Eagle 20EW was frequently cited as a chemical used on pot plants that Denver officials quarantined earlier this year. The issue, then, is what and how to spray.

In July, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) posted a 21-page list of pesticides on its website of those labels that might be safe to use on cannabis.

“We have spent an exorbitant amount of time finding those products with a low enough toxicity to not pose a public health threat,” said John Scott, the CDA’s pesticide program manager. But he added that more research is needed before anyone can guarantee that these products are safe or effective. Which leaves workers and consumers in a precarious position.

Part II of this report will run next week. This article was produced in collaboration with the Food & Environment Reporting Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization producing investigative reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

To read the full report in depth, go to http://tinyurl.com/q5ob8cj.

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