An investigation conducted this spring by the city of Denver tested 11 marijuana suppliers after health officials expressed concern over unauthorized pesticides. Plants deemed safe were released, but eight of those distributers still have some of their crop in quarantine. Even more troubling, two of the distributors voluntarily destroyed their supply. Is pot, even in states where it's legal, safe to buy?
"It's still the wild west," says Dave Stone, a toxicologist at Oregon State University. "The work hasn't been done to determine if pesticides pose a risk when you burn a product. The work hasn't even been done for tobacco."
There are over 1,000 different types of chemicals that can be a pesticide — all of which range in their toxicity to humans. They're necessary, too. Spider mites, powdery mildew, and fungus gnats can destroy entire crops and are dangerous to your health. Every pesticide is first approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, and then the state. But since pot is still illegal on a federal level, there hasn't been an organized effort to determine what is safe to use on a plant people smoke, cook, and consume.
"The label on a pesticide product is like a legal document," says Stone. "There is no such thing that says, 'For use on cannabis.'"
This leaves states like Oregon, Colorado, and Washington to piecemeal research instead — and growers left to guess in the meantime. One chemical found in the investigation was Eagle 20 EW, a fungicide safe on some foods but banned for other crops since it becomes dangerous when heated.
To put the Denver investigation into perspective, there are over 300 marijuana suppliers in Colorado and only 11 facilities were called in. Stone also questions the marijuana testing labs and their standards.
As Oregon, Washington and Colorado start to draft regulations, the pesticide issue even puts medical marijuana in question. California is the largest commercial cannabis provider in the U.S. and has no pesticide regulation at all. "It is 'buyer beware,'" says Stone.
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