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News and Best Practices

Pesticides, Pot and Federal Laws

May 27, 2016

The cannabis pesticide issue has affected Colorado more than any other legalized state, medical or otherwise. It started in March 2015, and five months into 2016, it’s still ongoing.

But why Colorado and not, say, Washington? Or any other state, for that matter?

Since cannabis is still federally outlawed, the EPA has not allowed any pesticides for use on cannabis. That means individual states must craft their own regulations regarding pesticides on cannabis. Without EPA assistance, these states would have to conduct their own safety efficacy studies on cannabis, which that may not be recognized by federal agencies.

When Washington state proposed Initiative 502, it contained a section that specifically laid out rules for pesticide use. Colorado’s Amendment 64 included no such provisions. Colorado’s cannabis industry blames the government for not listening to its concerns, and the state claims the industry would not negotiate. In the end, a single employee at the Colorado Department of Agriculture was left to draft up a list of approved and unapproved pesticides using only the pesticide labels as their guide.

Washington, in contrast, banned any pesticides that created hazardous particulates when burned. The EPA has overseen a number of studies that determined which pesticides are safe to combust and which ones aren’t. Chemists call these “pyrolysis studies,” coming from the Greek terms “pyro” (fire) and “lysis” (to break apart). This I502 clause, which specifically lists pyrolysis data, automatically bans any pesticide not approved for use on tobacco in the United States.

Officially, the EPA insists that since no pesticide has been approved by them for cannabis, that all pesticide use is “off-label.” In other words, use on cannabis is automatically a violation of federal regulations. So far the EPA hasn’t stepped in on regulated cannabis grows, leaving it up to state governments to handle the issue.


So What Does This Mean for Growers?
Follow the state guidelines to the letter. Do not get creative. Do not assume that simply because a pesticide isn’t specifically banned by your state that it’s okay to use. Only stick to pesticides on the state’s approved list, and if you’re still not sure, contact the local regulatory agency to find out.

Record all pesticide use, and back up that log somewhere else (on paper, on a separate computer drive, etc.). This record should include:
(1) the pesticide’s name and concentration
(2) how much was sprayed and for how long
(3) when the spraying occurred (date and time)
(4) which batch got sprayed
(5) who did the spraying

Failure to create or preserve these records could result in the state bringing down the hammer on your entire business operation.


What’s the Worst-Case Scenario?
Right now, federal agencies are staying out of each state’s cannabis affairs unless an operation grossly violates state and/or federal rules. Although the U.S. government has taken a relatively hands-off approach to pesticide use on cannabis, this could change at any time, as long as cannabis remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Colorado appears to be the litmus test right now, and so far the EPA has not interfered with the state’s recalls, holds and destruction of pesticide-laced cannabis products. The state or its industry could send the EPA an emergency request for quick-and-dirty pesticide approvals on cannabis, but so far no one’s made these requests—for obvious reasons.


What’s the Best Case Scenario?
Ideally, the EPA would immediately begin studying pesticide use on cannabis. States could conduct their own studies, but that requires money or grants, and no one stands to make a profit from investing in pesticide experiments. This means states will need to allocate funds on their own. Even if cannabis were to be rescheduled or de-scheduled today, it could still take years before the EPA officially concludes that a particular pesticide is safe to use. Until that day comes, the smartest move is to follow state guidelines with enthusiasm. As Colorado has shown, state governments will have no qualms suspending a business or its products if that business’s practices threatens the state’s regulatory system.

By Randy Robinson

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