Whose Weed Will Pass the Test?

The Emerald Tribune

Most cannabis for sale right now in California is tainted with pesticides, mold, or residual solvents. As we approach the rollout date for legal cannabis, it’s time to consider how much cannabis being grown right now might not be fit for sale.

California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but it took the state almost 20 years to write laws governing and controlling the thousands of dispensaries, deliveries, growers, manufacturers, and other aspects of the medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, the state has yet to provide any rules or guidelines for acceptable use of pesticides on cannabis, nor has it completed its regulations for lab testing. The same goes for cannabis in the new recreational market. Regulatory silence has created a situation where the majority of cannabis available for sale in California is not safe for consumption.

Cannabis advertised as "clean medicine" is often tainted with chemicals

Cannabis advertised as “clean medicine” is often tainted with chemicals

Most of the cannabis for sale as “medicine” in medical dispensaries is contaminated with pesticides, mold, fungus, bacteria, or residual solvents. This phenomenon has flown under the radar for many years, because relatively healthy patients can smoke dirty weed with few major health effects. This is not true for those with compromised immune systems, such as patients dealing with cancer or AIDS. At least one patient’s death has been linked to contaminated weed.

“80% of Cali-grown weed sold at Hempcon tested positive for high levels of contaminants.”

Multiple news agencies, testing labs, lawyers, and other third parties have investigated this phenomenon, and the results are shocking. Around Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, one news crew discovered that 93% of samples tested would fail under the rules of other legalized states. 

Hempcon was held in August 2017 in Oakland, and featured growers and manufacturers from around California. 80% of Cali-grown weed sold there tested positive for high levels of contaminants.

One intriguing investigation sampled many national brands from 675 different dispensaries. This team tested powerful concentrate companies like FlavRX, Caviar Gold, and The Clear, plus edibles giants like Korova, Kiva, Bhang, and Cheeba Chews. All of these huge national brands failed. Investigators found that 50-75% of products were tainted with myclobutanil, carbaryl, and malathion. These are all substances known by the state of California to cause cancer.

Major national edibles brands were found to contain unsafe levels of pesticides

Major national edibles brands were found to contain unsafe levels of pesticides

Myclobutanil is becoming a very dirty word in cannabis. Sold under the brand name Eagle 20, it is a systemic fungicide used to treat powdery mildew and other fungal infections in plants. According to the federal government, it is fine for use on agricultural food products, like grapes and apples. But when ignited, combusted, and inhaled into the lungs, Myclobutanil breaks down into a toxic substance much like cyanide.   

“There are no official guidelines or requirements for organic cannabis cultivation in California.”

The big problem with Myclobutanil is that it is systemic. That means that even a little spritz onto one leaf can contaminate the entire plant. And if that plant comes into contact with soil, water, or any other elements used to grow more plants, the infection continues. Farmers who use 100% organic methods may still fail lab tests due to contamination from a neighbor. Myclobutanil sprayed onto a mother plant can contaminate clones for years.  

Myclobutanil and other systemic pesticides can show up in clones years after spraying the mother

Myclobutanil can show up in clones years after spraying the mother plant

Last year, Steep Hill Labs reported that 84% of samples they tested at their Berkeley lab over the course of one month contained unsafe levels of pesticides. Myclobutanil alone was discovered in 65% of the samples.

“Many farmers simply use pesticides from the agricultural industry”

With the rollout of legalization just a few months away, pesticide use for cannabis is completely unregulated. There are no official guidelines or requirements for organic cannabis cultivation in California. Many farmers simply use pesticides from the agricultural industry, like Myclobutanil. These chemicals have been approved for use on foods, but have not yet been demonstrated as safe for smoking.

The California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation has released a set of proposed limitations for contaminants. The proposed recommendation for Myclobutanil is 0.02 parts per million (ppm) for cannabis buds, concentrate, and edibles.

Can you tell if a concentrate is fully purged just by looking at it?

Major concentrate brands were found to contain residual solvents and pesticides

Other states and Canada have had to recall dirty weed from their shelves. One such recall in Oregon was due to pyrethrins, a class of insecticides. The proposed limit for pyrethrins in California is .07 ppm for edibles, and .05 ppm for cannabis buds and concentrate.

It stands to reason that most of the weed currently in the ground, being grown for 2018, is dirty. Even if the Cannabis Bureau releases hard rules for organic growing and lab testing in the next few months, it will be far too late for the majority of retail-ready commercial cannabis.

Many chemicals advertised as organic may be misleading

Without federal or state guidelines for pesticides, cannabis farmers are on their own

The dollar value of California’s cannabis market in 2018 has been estimated at $7 billion. Even at a conservative estimate of 50% contamination beyond the proposed allowable limits, that leaves us with $3.5 billion worth of dirty cannabis. Where will it all go?

Oregon currently has the strictest testing requirements, and that state has struggled to keep clean medicine moving from cultivator, to lab, to dispensary. After relaxing their testing rules so that only 33% of cannabis products were tested, they are now back to 100% testing, following significant consumer backlash.

There are only a few wet lab facilities in California that can perform the necessary tests

There are only a few wet lab facilities in California that can perform the necessary tests

If the Cannabis Bureau institutes their proposed lab testing requirements, California will have the strictest regulations in the nation. It doesn’t seem likely that the EPA and other federal agencies will issue guidelines for pesticide usage, so the responsibility falls onto farmers and small business owners to educate themselves. In 2018, smart money will be on growing and manufacturing the cleanest cannabis products possible.

You can learn more about the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation’s proposed lab testing rules at their website

What do you think about lab testing requirements for California cannabis?

Drop a comment below and let us know what you think! 



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