In November of 2015, Governor Hickenlooper ordered a recall of numerous marijuana products due to the threat to public safety in the use of unregulated pesticides. He also ordered clearer guidelines for pesticide use. As of today, there have been 19 recalls, some voluntary and some ordered, all stemming from unregulated pesticide use in marijuana production; affected products include edibles and smokables from multiple growers and manufacturers.
However, many of these recalled items in the executive order are being released back into the consumer market. This is because they have tested for very low levels of pesticides, trace amounts below the levels usually allowed in food. Additionally, the executive order cannot be enforced without creating a standard for pesticides in marijuana and having the labs available to test product.
Because pesticide use is federally regulated, there has been no data or clear guidelines on what is appropriate to use for marijuana. The EPA has been hesitant and therefore silent on regulating the matter due to the federal restriction. Currently about 200 different pesticides are approved for general use, however, new, stricter guidelines will reduce that number to 75 for use in marijuana. These would basically be pesticides deemed safe enough for use in food and tobacco.
Growers are concerned that without certain pesticides, which includes insecticides and fungicides, their crops risk being destroyed. Exceptions may be made for pesticide use if it can be shown that nothing else works. However, many growers embrace the regulation and pursue organic growing methods with the understanding that organic products are more appealing to consumers and safer for medical patients.
Another factor in all this is the testing. Currently there is only one facility that tests for these contaminants in marijuana. However, there are 17 facilities that test for potency and consistency, which means routine testing is not occurring for pesticide use.
Ultimately, there is little regulation in part because of the lack of federal oversight and in part because we simply do not understand the effects of smoking or consuming pesticides in these products.
The greatest irony in all this is the fact that marijuana is used as medicine for many patients, from the very young to very old, who are already vulnerable from their illnesses. Pesticide contamination is obviously not going to help.
The state has determined, based on the new guidelines, to ban the use of five major pesticides:
Myclobutanil, a fungicide known as Eagle 20
Imidacloprid, an insecticide known as Merit or Mallet
Avermectins, which are a group of insecticides sometimes branded as Avid or Lucid
Etoxazale, an insecticide also called Tetrasan 5 WDG
Spiromesifin, an insecticide branded as Oberon, Judo or Forbid
Products with high amounts of pesticides have been recalled and will stay that way; but products with only trace amounts are acceptable and have been released. With a push for statewide standards and lab certification it is expected that pesticide regulation will become more consistent and predictable, leading to safer consumption for users.
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