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Pesticides on Cannabis—Legitimate Concern or BS?

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Are you concerned that the cannabis you are buying from your local dispensary might be loaded with dangerous pesticides? It’s a fair question considering how dangerous pesticides are.

Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., and director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center warns “We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis . . . there’s concern they could cause reproductive disorders; birth defects; and breast, prostate and other hormone-related cancers.”

“Although cannabis grower mythology portrays them as organic growers who would never use pesticides on cannabis, when it comes to protecting their very valuable crop, organic goes out the window.”

Pretty scary stuff considering cannabis consumers are not only eating cannabis, they’re inhaling it. In the digestive system, food goes through the gut where some of this stuff may never get absorbed, as it is excreted in urine and feces. There is no such filtration system in the lungs—it all goes directly to your brain and everywhere else in your body where blood flows.

Chemical pesticides can be avoided by consuming organically grown agriculture products certified as Organic by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Great for corn, lettuce and Brussel sprouts but not for cannabis since the USDA is a federal agency and a federal agency can’t certify an illegal crop.

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For states like Colorado where cannabis has been legalized, the issue of pesticides is tying state officials, producers and consumers in knots.

Around 2012, when Colorado was inching towards legalization, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) became aware that cannabis was being cultivated with potentially dangerous pesticides. In 2014, the CDA was prepared to issue a directive that would have restricted pesticides used on cannabis to be the least toxic chemicals—neem, cinnamon and peppermint oils—products so nontoxic that federal registration is not required and no tolerance level has been promulgated for their residues.

Although cannabis grower mythology portrays them as organic growers who would never use pesticides on cannabis, when it comes to protecting their very valuable crop, organic goes out the window. Shortly after the April 2014 decision to delay implementation of the program, Mitch Yergert, the CDA’s plant industry director, wrote “This list has been circulated among marijuana producers and has been met with considerable opposition because of its restrictive nature.”

Not letting any grass grow under their feet, Denver quarantined about 100,000 plants in March 2014 when grower’s pesticide application logs revealed pesticides being used that were essentially unknown to the city’s environmental health department.

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In addition to filing a lawsuit against the city, growers turned to the state legislature who obliged the now campaign contributing growers by taking Denver out of the picture with a legislative amendment that put the state firmly in charge of pesticide regulation.

Although pesticide use on cannabis is a concern, there is no epidemic of people showing up in doctor’s offices and hospitals sick from cannabis pesticides. Yet pesticides on cannabis is producing an almost hysterical response—especially from those opposed to cannabis legalization that grasp at every straw to frighten the public.

Raising the spectra of a monolithic cannabis industry taking over control of state government , Kevin Sabet, founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to planting IEDs on the road to cannabis legalization, warns “Colorado has given the marijuana industry way too much power, way too much control over the political process.”

The CDA puts the issue into perspective when Laura Quakenbush, the CDA’s pesticide registration coordinator, writes “Our current policy is to investigate complaints related to [marijuana], otherwise focus on higher priorities,” That’s right—there are other higher priorities for the CDA to investigate—as there should be.

It’s not that pesticides shouldn’t be a concern—they should be—but not as an argument to oppose legalization as Sabet would have it. It is actually a very powerful argument for legalization as when cannabis is legalized then it will receive the same scrutiny and regulation as all other agricultural products.

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