Corrected Version: Growing Pains: Regulating the Use of Pesticides on Marijuana

In 46 states, marijuana smokers still have to worry about being arrested and jailed for their use of marijuana. The latest Uniform Crime Report released a few days ago found more than 700,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges during 2014 — a marijuana arrest every 45 seconds. Of those arrests, 88 percent were for simple possession for personal use – just average Americans who enjoy smoking a joint when they relax at the end of the day, just as tens of millions of Americans enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.

And when our personal freedom is at stake, ending arrests has to be the priority for all of us.

New Challenges with Legal Marijuana

But as we move forward to fully legalize marijuana in more and more states, a number of consumer protection issues come to the fore in those states to assure the marijuana and marijuana products we are offering to consumer are safe, free from potentially harmful molds, pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants, and are accurately labeled.

As with any plant, marijuana is prone to pests and disease, and pesticides and herbicides are routinely used to prevent bugs and mildew from destroying plants, which could cost the grower millions of dollars.

Because marijuana has for decades been considered illegal contraband, there is almost no research available dealing with the potential harm to the marijuana consumer from these potential additives. The closest body of relevant science involves the potential risks from food treated with additives, and from tobacco treated with additives.

And because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the agency charged with protecting Americans and our environment from potentially dangerous pesticides, has essentially rebuffed state authorities when they have approached the agency for advice and assistance in getting this right. The states are largely having to develop their own list of which additives are safe to use on marijuana, and which are not.

And not surprisingly, there have been some growing pains. As with other legal industries, some in the marijuana industry have used their increasing influence to delay and water-down potential regulations intended to protect consumers, and advocated for less stringent protections.

But that is just part of the usual give-and-take between those who represent the industry, and those of us who represent consumers. Over time these and other similar issues can be resolved in a manner that protects the health of the consumer, while still allowing a robust marijuana cultivation industry.

Problems in Oregon

A recent investigative piece in the Oregonian found that many of the marijuana products being sold to medical patients in Oregon, (they have only recently begun selling for recreational use) with the required lab certificate indicating they had been tested and were safe, in fact were adulterated, sometimes in far greater amounts than is allowed for those same additives on food or tobacco products. This was especially a problem with extracts and concentrates.

“A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market,” the Oregonian concluded, calling for far more detailed and stringent state regulations to regulate the testing facilities themselves, to assure reliable results. Those new, more comprehensive regulations are expected to be promulgated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the state agency designated to regulate the new legal recreational marijuana industry, in 2016, as they officially roll-out the new recreational stores.

Similar Experiences in Colorado

In Colorado, recognizing the problem of different labs coming up with conflicting test results from the same marijuana, the legislature recently passed, and the governor signed, legislation creating statewide marijuana lab standards for marijuana potency, homogeneity and contaminants. And the state Department of Agriculture recently proposed a draft list of about 75 pesticides deemed to be safe for use on marijuana, based on their previous approval for use on food intended for human consumption, down from the current list of 200 acceptable pesticides. The state is finally acting, prodded by the city of Denver that had begun adopting its own standards, and requiring a few growers and retailers to recall some contaminated products.

The Cannabist and the Denver Post report that the pesticide regulations were delayed by a year, and ended-up being less restrictive than originally proposed, because of pressure from the marijuana industry in CO, fearful some of the pesticides currently in common use would be prohibited, putting their crops at risk. The marijuana industry “was the biggest obstacle we had,” in devising pesticide regulations, according to former Colorado Agricultural Commissioner John Salazar.

Two growers based in Denver – Mahatma Concentrates and Treatments Unlimited – are now under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for excessive pesticide residue on their products, and in at least one case, the products have been recalled.

Washington Tries to be Proactive

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (recently renamed to include our favorite herb), the agency that has licensing, regulatory and enforcement authority over recreational cannabis growers, processors and retailers, seeking to be proactive, initially attempted to seek guidance from the EPA in 2014, but were advised the federal agency does not consider marijuana to be an herb, spice or vegetable, but rather a controlled substance, and would provide no guidance.

Eventually the state regulatory agency issued a comprehensive listing of 309 pesticides that are permitted to be used in the production, processing, and handling of marijuana. According to a statement issued by the Seattle and King County Public Health Department, “These pesticides were selected because their use on marijuana plants would not be in direct conflict with federal law (they are allowed on other food products) and they are considered to pose minimal risk to health when used as directed.” Marijuana retailers are required to document all pesticides used on marijuana products that they sell and provide that information to customers and regulators upon request.

The Washington State Department of Health is currently formulating quality assurance standards for marijuana products, including guidelines for pesticide testing. The Seattle Times reports that marijuana growers and processors in Washington state that meet new state standards for things like labeling, safe handling, and pesticide screening, can now apply to obtain an “enhanced seal of approval” from the state.

Washington does already require screening for mold and microbes, but the state isn’t mandating that companies also undertake the expensive process of screening for pesticides. Rather, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board is hoping that the incentive of carrying that new label will be sufficient to make it worth their while.


Obviously there is a critical need for comprehensive new research on the safety of pesticides on marijuana, which could then inform revised regulations to further protect marijuana consumers from marijuana adulterated by dangerous pesticides, insecticides or other contaminants. And the newly legal marijuana industry emerging in a handful of states has a moral obligation to carefully adhere to current regulations, as well as those yet to come, to assure the products they produce are safe for human consumption.

Admittedly, we had no such protections from the marijuana we smoked for decades that was cultivated on the black market, and most of us came through that experience without any detectable harm. But with legalization, we now have the opportunity to bring this market under the same protections we provide for other legal substances that are deemed fit for human consumption, and to provide consumers with the assurance that the marijuana they are smoking is free from harmful contaminants.

The experience in this initial group of legalization states in dealing with pesticides and other contaminants will provide a base of scientific data that other states can adopt and build-on going forward.

Like any other industry, there will occasionally be a bad actor who intentionally flouts the rules and puts at risk the health of those who consume their products. But those will, over time, be identified and forced out of the legal industry; and they are surely the exception. Most industry players want to operate in a responsible manner to build their brand’s reputation for quality and safety.

As we move forward, there will continue to be new challenges, but it is wonderful to be at a place where we can begin to address these consumer protection issues, something that was simply not possible so long as marijuana was a prohibited substance, and marijuana smokers were considered criminals.


Due to a technical glitch, the earlier post of this column was not complete. This is the entire column. My apology for any confusion. Pains: Regulating the Use of Pesticides on Marijuanawing-pains-regulating-the-use-of-pesticides-on-marijuana-4/

13 thoughts

  1. 1. Notice that “herbicides” are listed among the contaminants we’re concerned about, sorta interesting that some Grower wants to kill plants right next to where they want to raising living flowering plants. Which plants do they consider alien or improper to let grow right near Their cannabis, and why use an “herbicide” rather than just clip’em one by one with an anvil pruner (Dr. Klippinger) like us artistic liberal cannabis users do.

    2. Supposing it was determined that cedar oil deterred certain pests, well wouldn’t it be convenient (and interesting) to have a cedar plant or two grow right near the household personal cannabis plants? Isn’t it common knowledge that near-by phytodiversity is healthier for a plant than mono-crop all-the-same-species, maybe the very weeds they want to get rid of would actually help the Weed deter bugs.

    3. As Keith says we $moked the black market marijuana for decades not knowing what had been sprayed, and most of us didn’t die, now consider if we remove some flagrant flaming
    Cross-Aggravating Factors like carbon monoxide, high burning temperatures (heat shock, nutrient waste), 4221 Combustion toxins etc. by dropping 700C Joint $moking altogether and substituting the easy-learn distant-flame vapetoke method (with 25mg flexdrawtube 1-hitter), entry air temp. under 200C for the first 19 seconds, we could cease aggravating those contaminant hazards and reduce their impact, allowing for society to agree on a more relaxed moneysaving government testposture and more freedom like all us Conservatives say they want.

    4. Rather than rely on concentrated bureaucrat monocropping operations, how about we encourage individual households to READ UP the excellent grower advice websites, and other gardening stuff too, and raise their little legal allotment of cannabis, not as a thing in itself but with other plants too, as part of tomorrow’s new multi-adventurous everywhere-gardening surge (which will among other things soon inspire some brilliant beginners to bring out a Basil strain that can outhigh/outhex 86% of flauerbwd cannabis now on the market).

  2. @Keith,
    What an excellent post! (Partial or otherwise). Thank you for bringing the subject of cannabis and pesticides up so we can all get the “technical glitches” out before Foxaganda or the general networks can understand them… (Don’t hold your breath!)

    The last time we had this debate I went full force on “cannabis requires NO pesticides!”
    Then, I got stoned in a Home Depot garden section and started googling pesticide names… ( because clearly, who else would care to take the time to read and google pesticides in a Home Depot garden section unless they were reaaally high on some Jack Herrer or some Train Wreck? )

    So I figured out that there are natural, cellulosic oil based pesticides ( that is NOT petroleum based ones built out of toxic fossil fuels) that in RESPONSIBLE amounts are quite innocuous, IF consumers… And growers charming away the spider mites… remain vigilant as to their quantities.
    What does that mean?
    That means we all as members of NORML need to fund consumer advocacy groups who get stoned in the garden section of Home Depot and actually read the crap we buy.

    Also, we as new growers of gardens need to realize some REALLY basic common sense, like KEEP other plants OUT of the GROW ROOM! And if youre growing hemp? Rotate your fields with other crops to keep from cross pollinating with other strains. The monoculture of regrowing genetically homogenous plants in the same fields year round has no sustainability compared to more diverse gardens that yield more nutrients and non-synthetic antioxidants. Oh, and compost, ( Even though I’m still a slacker when it comes to rotating a proper compost pile…) Fortunately, hemp knows this fact about the average human being and therefore loses enough leaves annually in order to compost itself if we allow them to. If you have no idea what Im talking about, just travel to Colorado and please purchase some legal, well cultivated marijuana like the rest of us.
    Hopefully, this will be my final conclusion. ? (Until legalization hits Texas!…)

  3. It’s rare, but I have seen weed that was spiked with various adulterants. Legalization should put this down to zero. Seems like one of the advantages of legalization to me.

  4. For now, in most states here in the land of freedom, the only way you can be sure of getting a safe cannabis product is to grow it yourself. Unfortunately, that would make you a manufacturer which could get you several years in prison…

    Our laws are just unbelievably stupid in this country thanks to people like Joe Biden! Yes, good ole Joe was a big player in the war against cannabis consumers and had a role in creating the position of drug czar. I can only hope that if he gets into the presidential race that this ratty past of his becomes common knowledge before the uninformed vote for him.

    As stupid as it seems, many will vote for him because they think he is handsome. Many will vote for him because the like the sound of his name; “President Biden”.

    Apparently, a lot of people think they can trust him; especially compared to Hillary. But what can they trust him to do? Well, for one thing, his opinion of marijuana is not that different than Chris Christie. What does that say about his trust factor?

    If Joe Biden becomes the Democratic presidential nominee I may, for the first time in my life, vote for a Republican candidate. OMG – I sure hope that doesn’t happen…

  5. In a truly free market, the provider of a service aligns his interest with his customers to ensure his own continuance in said business. This is because if he fails to do so, his customers will go to somebody that does.

    In an unfree market, wherein one entity holds a monopoly, they become immune to customer feedback, since it doesn’t matter, they have your “business” anyway since competition is forcibly prevented.

    In other words, government (a forcible monopoly) is the WRONG way to ensure quality of product.

    A truly free market is the answer.

  6. A victimless crime, like a personal home grow being called manufacturing, is actually unconstitutional because there are no witnesses to any wrong doing. The 6th Amendment says: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him”. That Amendment also says: “…to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor” which even with the mountain of evidence that NORML and others are compiling is being violated. It’s not my imagination that I have rights, those are the words of our Constitution.

  7. @Todd – Our elected officials tend to interpret the constitution in the way that suits them. If necessary, they just change it. Many are no better than criminals when they do such things; in my opinion!

    The way our countries laws are currently created and enforced does not really match the intentions that created our constitution and the Bill of Rights in the first place.

  8. Actually, the EPA has issued clear guidance to the states outlining the process they need to follow to lawfully use registered pesticides on cannabis. The letter from The Office of Pesticide Programs by Chief Jack Housenger last spring explains that for pesticides to be approved for use on cannabis that they must show a food or tobacco product with similar usage patterns and exposure for which pesticide approval has been granted.
    There are no products with like exposure and usage patterns to that of THC concentrates, that now make up 60% of the recreational market. Concentrates are washings of the plant’s surface for the purpose of inhaling deep into the lungs.There is no food or tobacco product in which we use the pesticide laden surface washings for any purpose, let alone inhaling deeply into the lungs.
    Worse yet,the processes in which concentrates are made have a 5 times greater affinity for pesticides than THC. (Voelker, 2015)
    In the absence of a product with a similar usage and exposure data set the states must do the studies themselves to prove the pesticides’ safety. That would take millions of dollars and decades to get sound evidence.
    SO….. states will be following suit and do as Colorado did this week by slashing the proposed pesticides allowed to be used by two thirds.
    States that do not comply with the EPA’s advisory criteria, will undoubtedly face medical-legal challenges of unprecedented degrees.
    Gil Mobley, MD
    Fellow, American College of Emergency Physicians
    Diplomate, American Board of Emergency Medicine
    Certified- Medical Review Officer, MROCC

  9. There are a few people within the cannabis culture who single-minded want legalization. Not because it’s the party but because it’s a ride in the pink Cadillac. Fine, that’s not so bad, just not good enough.

    Cannabis freedom is everything, anything less is still oppressed by law. It’s the law of 1937, The Marijuana Tax Act, that continues to be in control. Every single legalization effort though great, are limp, weak, half-measures directed at the symptoms rather than the cure.

    Human symbiotic relationships with plant-life are way above and beyond freedom, they’re essential to survival. Who really can know or prove what influences cannabis has helped mankind adapt to?

    I often wonder who first asked for government permission to use cannabis. Probably some legal-eagle who when high decided something this beneficial needs to be illegal, or at least taxed and regulated.

    Thanks Keith, for the addendum.

  10. @Rod,
    Good points on symbiosis. If I may correct you on one point, however, the Marijuana Stamp Act of 1937 was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 I believe by the Supreme Court. The rule of evil was then reintroduced under Nixon’s second term (Slogan: “Drugs: Public Enemy Number One.”) Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. THAT is the bad law we are going to have to redraft entirely into something more like a “Customs Supplementation Act,” so we can turn the Drug Enforcement Agency into the “Drug Education Agency.”

  11. Thanks, Julian you’re right, of course. I was painting with broad strokes and generalities.

    My elemental point was innocent though……As long as there exists a federal prohibition on marijuana, it’s influence will continue to be profound. There’s always an attempt to skirt around the fear of what the feds might do.

    Primarily, which President will revoke our growing collection of legalized marijuana states?

    I recently read a trusted report which stated,”MMJ cannot compete with big pharma and it’s infinite cash flow into the political coffers.” Naturally, we keep on voting for the better medications hidden inside cannabis. So then we face the status-quo of being criminals in our own homes.

    Let’s keep working towards the solution.

  12. @Rod,
    Fear not, my friend, though for perhaps a few months time anyone who says we have suffered nearly 78 years of violent prohibition of a peaceful, medicinal marijuana plant would be correct.
    As for your “primarily ” comment, even as I commented on Ted Cruz and his response to me over civil asset forfeitures, thats not my first pick for President… And even while Hillary is warming up to Julian Castro and trying to agree with Bernie Sanders on every drug policy, Bernie has the lead. Even while I dont agree entirely on Bernie’s immigration policy, he leaves room for improvement, while Rand Paul, our Republican “pro-cannabis” counterpart, has cornered himself into a libertarian dream where public education and income tax appatantly dont matter.
    So Bernie it is. And if he cant win, put the hellfire on Hillary.
    And as to your “trusted report” comment, have faith in camnabis; remember that the simple synergy of the various cannabinoids in a single cannabis plant render it patently unpatentable. What Dr. Mecholoum, the father of marijuana research describes as “the entourage effect” is precusely what keeps pharmaceutical companies from running away with the Department of Human Social Services US patent on cannabinoids “as neuroprotectants,” GW Pharmaceuticals in Great Brittain already purchased some of those patents years ago off of our tax paying dollars and yet Colorado still legally supplies more life-saving medicine to Americans who suffer from seizures. Bottom line is the “one molecule” patentability of Big Pharma is no match for the herbal, whole-plant medicine from over 40 different cannabinoids contained in the average cannabis plant.

    Let’s break it down to simple math;
    CDC records on deaths from overdose in the US per year;
    Tobacco; 440,000
    Prescription Meds: 120,000 and skyrocketing
    Alcohol related deaths: 110,000
    Caffeine: 10,000
    Marijuana: 0

  13. The USDA Organic Seal is what I’d like to see on any weed I buy. For now, the next closest thing I’ve seen is the Clean Green Certified program, see & For all those that don’t care if their weed is grown with poison and sewer sludge, let them buy “conventional” weed just like they buy “conventional”/inferior food & other products. The best we can hope for is probably just truth in labeling.

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