Cannabis under grow lights.  Image: Dan Swaney/Potcha
Cannabis under grow lights. Image: Dan Swaney/Potcha

CO Growers in Cannabis Pesticides Debacle

DENVER, CO. 16 May, 2015 — Large commercial cannabis grow operations have been accused of caring more about money than safety by a Denver-based advocacy organization, the Cannabis Consumers Coalition. The comments came last month after after the city’s Department of Environmental Health issued violations and placed some 70,000 plants on hold over pesticide contamination.

Despite a tax windfall since recreational cannabis went on sale over a year ago, Colorado has dragged its feet over funding the testing of recreational cannabis – contaminants are not tested for as yet; only potency. A Senate panel recently recommended the Department of Agriculture receive $300,000 for testing but the funding was not approved.

After waiting in vain for action from state counterparts, Denver city officials took matters into their own hands in March, stepping up inspections of leading grows around the city. Inspectors targeted growers using Eagle 20, in particular, because of concern that smokers could inhale the residue, risking health damage. Eagle 20, a petroleum-based fungicide not usually sold to the public, has been shown to increase cancer in animals, but little is known about its effects on humans.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to approve any pesticide/fungicide. Mike Elliot of the Colorado-based Marijuana Industry Group said growers are “really stuck” because “…there is not a pesticide in the country approved for use on marijuana.”

Colorado’s approach to the question of pesticides is being monitored by lawmakers around the world as they ponder how to end prohibitions and successfully regulate cannabis. Colorado voters approved high taxes on marijuana sales in part to help pay for a mandatory testing program. Industry experts say the lack of effective testing coupled with lack of guidance as to appropriate pesticides could cost growers millions in 2015. The issue has seen opinions divided in the cannabis industry, where large scale indoor cultivation remains an evolving science, but typical conditions make plants vulnerable to fungus and bugs.

With each plant potentially worth about $2500 wholesale, and risks of mold and pests increasing as operations expand, many large scale growers start spraying their plants as seedlings, and are alleged to be using pesticides not approved by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

“It has been rumored that some of these businesses have lobbyists trying to get the banned pesticides added to the acceptable pesticide list,” said coalition director Larisa Bolivar. “This is dangerous to public safety,” Bolivar added. “We need better testing policies that put consumer safety first. Retail cannabis is supposed to be tested for harmful pesticides.”

On April 13, the CCC named the businesses that had plants placed on hold (meaning they can continue to grow but cannot be sold without approval). Among the pesticides allegedly in use were Mallet, Avid and Eagle 20. The businesses included:

Altitude East
Evolutionary Holdings
Green Cross Colorado
The Green Solution
MiNDFUL (formerly Gaia)
MMJ America
Organic Greens
RINO Supply Company
Sweet Leaf

According to Denver Citywide Communications Advisor Daniel Rowland, all growers complied with the city during its investigations, but plants placed on hold cannot be sold until cleared by the city.

Organic Greens Inc. tried to overturn the hold order on 15-20 pounds of its cannabis after the Department of Environmental Health found Eagle 20 had been used on the plants. Organic Greens’ attorney Sean McAllister said his client believes their product is safe. However, after hearing arguments from both sides, Judge John Madden ruled in favor of the city and upheld the cannabis quarantine.

About Rob Taylor

Rob Taylor is a staff writer for Potcha who left the advertising industry fifteen years ago to live off the grid. A medical cannabis patient, he enjoys tinkering with grow techniques that enhance the strains he finds most effective in treating his condition.

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