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US (WA): The problem of pesticides in cannabis

Cannabis regulators in the state of Washington issued administrative holds on 18 licenses due to pesticide-contaminated cannabis, forcing producers and processors to cease operations until now. This shutdown of legal cannabis businesses serves as a window into a broader historical backdrop of pesticide issues within the cannabis industry. Within Washington, pesticide concerns have been growing since a study in 2018 of legal cannabis farms in the state had 84.6% (of 26 samples) with significant quantities of pesticides, including insecticides, fungicides, miticides, and herbicides. Last year, a national study identified a list of contaminants in 36 states and the District of Columbia and found 551 pesticides within cannabis products. For over a decade, Beyond Pesticides has sounded the alarm about the highly-concentrated levels of pesticides in cannabis products, calling on state officials to require organic cannabis, especially in the context of medical cannabis.

The absence of federal regulations for pesticides in cannabis production has raised significant concerns about exposure risks for recreational and medicinal use, exposure risks to workers, and potential environmental contamination impacting wildlife. Since cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, the EPA does not regulate pesticides in cannabis. Despite this federal policy gap, states have taken various state laws and regulations to restrict pesticides in cannabis.

During the years following the scientific breakthroughs catalyzed by chemical warfare in World War II, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was extensively used to combat mosquitoes and insects harmful to crops, particularly fruits. Unfortunately, this pesticide had unintended consequences, leading to significant bird and insect mortality. Rachel Carson’s influential book, “Silent Spring,” published in 1962, exposed the devastating impact of DDT on the environment, effectively catalyzing the environmental movement. As a result of this awakening, a nationwide prohibition on the agricultural use of DDT was implemented in 1972. Today, the legacy of DDT extends beyond the four-decade-old ban. Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) is a remnant chemical when DDT breaks down in the soil. The EPA classifies DDE in Group B2 probable human carcinogen, the same category as glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp.

Earlier this year, a chemist from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board detected elevated levels of DDE in 59 samples of cannabis products. After the board requested recalls for the toxic levels of the pesticide, Okanogan Gold, Bodie Mine, Kibble Junction, and Walden Cannabis issued recalls. Unfortunately, many of the impacted products had already been sold by the time of the recall.


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