One of the last things a cannabis grower wants is to wake up and find their crop infested with spider mites or any of the other pests that can destroy those precious plants. All that time and money gone to the bugs?
Although there are safe, environmentally-friendly ways to deal with pests, pesticides continue to be a major health concern for the industry and consumers alike.
Lack of education, inaccurate lab results, and an absence of federal guidance are all contributing to this major challenge, which the industry must nip in the bud fast.
Why do we even use pesticides?
Plant growers use pesticides to protect their yields from unwanted pests and environmental hazards.
The greater volume of plants that a grower looks to cultivate, the greater incentive he or she has to use pesticides, since it requires less care and attention than more natural pest control methods.
According to Ariana Tibbets – a California-based herbalist and 20-year grow expert – the principal concern for many growers and dispensaries is the bottom line, which often leads to pesticide use.
“For larger dispensaries the first and foremost thought is about making money,” Tibbets says.
“So, by using these pesticides, people bring in larger yields. It’s harder when you’re not using pesticides; you do have to pay closer attention, and it’s harder to grow a larger quantity.”
Larger cannabis yields can be great, but not if they are contaminated with pesticides that harm the environment and consumers. For example, some indoor pesticides have been linked to the development of several kinds of cancer.
Multiple pesticide recalls have already occurred in Colorado where dozens of cannabis products have been pulled from shelves for containing harmful levels of pesticides – the most recent of which was announced on April 20, 2016.
Lack of federal guidance
Part of the reason why so many products are being recalled is that states where cannabis is legally grown have received little if any guidance from the federal government on the issue. This in turn has left the states to craft their own policies.
While Colorado has faced recalls, it seems as though they may be ahead of Washington, which has fined two growers for pesticides but has not yet recalled any products.
The issue has not been lost on Peter Holmes, the City Attorney for the city of Seattle, who stresses its importance.
“I’m personally putting pressure on the [Washington state] Liquor & Cannabis Board to adopt regs and make sure that it’s a good state-run system,” Holmes recently told Merry Jane in regards to pesticide use.
Holmes also believes that if states can’t wrestle this challenge into submission, then the cannabis industry itself will need to step up.
Business interests versus public health
Another reason for greater awareness and concerns over cannabis pesticides has been the degree to which the cannabis industry has grown. The industry is set to hit around $6.7 billion in sales this year alone, and is projected to be a $20 billion business by the year 2020. This is a far cry from the previous era of cannabis, up through even the 1990s.
“Back then the cannabis industry was much different,” says Tibbets. “More cutthroat, definitely underground. There were no regulations. There was no one watching to make sure that the environment was protected or that people were protected.”
Things are much different today, though arguably just as competitive if not more so. With the cannabis industry being valued in the tens of billions, companies producing pesticides are going to be pushing harder and faster for their products to be used and sold.
“The pesticide lobby is strong, and they want people to use these compounds, because they think they’re easy, reliable, economic, and can get rid of your pests,” says Robert Martin, the co-founder and COO of CW Analytical, a testing laboratory based in Oakland, California.
“However, they don’t tell you about the nefarious ways in which these compounds exist after use.”
Be it on the side of the cannabis industry or the pesticide industry, ethics and public health standards should always come before the bottom line, which is why tight, sensible regulations are so important.
Taking action and moving forward
The pesticide issue, as many policymakers have noted, has the potential to depress the growth of the cannabis industry because – obviously – consumers would rather not risk their health on cannabis that they have no assurance is clean.
As a result, both consumers and growers within the cannabis community have called for a ban on pesticide use and a greater usage of natural insect and pest repellents, as well as the growth of organic products. These approaches, they say, could remove the health fears associated with pesticides and also promote environmental sustainability.
Cannabis companies are already jumping on board. Los Angeles-based Med-X Inc., for example, has pioneered the use of environmentally-friendly processes and growth techniques.
“We are releasing a new, all-natural insecticidal soil, our special proprietary blend refined through research,” Matthew Mills, the company’s co-founder and COO, told the IB Times. “The soil protects the roots of the plant from pests while producing the kinds of crop yields cultivators hope for and expect.”
Ariana Tibbets applauds those companies and growers looking to eliminate the use of pesticides, saying that those who do are acting in the best interests for themselves and their consumers.
“They’re trying to follow the rules and not use pesticides. Meanwhile, we have some nasty players out there right now that are just going big, using nasty stuff, and that’s why regulating and taxing…would be so much more amazing, and we’d get rid of a lot of those people who are harming the environment.”