As large-scale growing operations become better regulated, and consumers look increasingly for transparency about how products they're consuming are made, pesticides in cannabis are a cause of widespread concern for users.
Dispensaries in Colorado made headlines when they were recently forced to recall a wide range of marijuana products due to potential pesticide contamination: The Cannabist notes some of the more common pesticides included Myclobutanil, a fungicide, and the insecticides Imidacloprid, Abamectin, Etoxazole, and Spiromesifen, all linked with a range of side effects if inhaled or consumed in large quantities. These effects are particularly worrisome for medical patients, who fear their symptoms could be aggravated, rather than relieved, by tainted pot.
Apart from the recalls, there isn't much dispensaries can do under the current pot laws to regulate pesticides in cannabis. As long as the plant remains illegal under federal law, the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticide application on crops, can't force growers to comply with the law. In addition, there's a lack of research that relates specifically to cannabis: just because a chemical is safe to use on food, for example, doesn't mean it's safe to smoke or vaporize.The result is that many growers continue to use whatever pesticides get the job done efficiently, with little regard for their potential health impacts on consumers.
Under these conditions, unadulterated, chemical-free cannabis - or, at least, cannabis that's marketed that way - is becoming a hot commodity. Some growers are voluntarily nixing aggressive pesticides and old-school, energy-hogging, water-wasting growing techniques in favour of a healthier and more holistic approach to the plant.
According to a new chart by the Marijuana Business Daily, nearly 60% of wholesale cannabis growers claim their product is grown organically. An additional 17% reported half the cannabis they cultivate was using chemical-free growing methods. While that sounds like pretty good progress, and while the number of growers embracing a chemical-free approach is certainly on the rise, it's important to remember that growers also can't actually get an "organic" designation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, since the plant remains illegal. Thus, some growers can claim to use organic methods even through they don't meet government's criteria.
"With little-to-no oversight on this area of the industry," writes the Marijuana Business Daily, "there isn't much stopping growers from making this claim."
Fortunately, the laws are gradually falling in step with the needs of the industry and cannabis consumers. Last year, legislators in Colorado proposed further restrictions on pesticides used to grow marijuana, limiting the permitted chemicals to those already are allowed on crops intended for human consumption, as well as tobacco.
In the meantime, with 20 percent of wholesale cultivators still reporting none of their cannabis is grown organically according to the MBD, suggesting groups spearheading the push for more transparency about pesticide use, and looking to keep the plant mainly chemical-free, still have a lot of work to do.