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Better pesticide practices

Industry leaders push for more accountability of growers, processors

While state regulators conduct random pesticide checks, Washington cannabis companies are not required to conduct testing on their product. (Getty Images)
While state regulators conduct random pesticide checks, Washington cannabis companies are not required to conduct testing on their product. (Getty Images)
Taryn Mickelson EVERCANNABIS Correspondent
Cannabis growers regularly face the challenge of finding the best ways to keep bugs off their bud. While chemical pesticides are fairly common in other agricultural endeavors, the cannabis industry faces public pressure from consumers to use as little of them as possible, especially from medical patients who don’t want any additives in a product that could possibly harm their weaker health. Currently Washington’s cannabis industry must adhere to an approved pesticide list provided by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. Testing for the presence of acceptable pesticides or others that aren’t on the list must be performed by a certified third-party lab approved by the state, and must be completed at time of harvest. Washington regulators conduct random pesticide checks, but cannabis companies are not currently required to perform mandatory testing. This has led to some retailers to begin to perform their own tests for pesticides, heavy metals and microbial contamination in order to hold the industry accountable. These include Cinder and Uncle Ike’s. While consumers generally appreciate this extra precaution, growers whose products test “hot” (unauthorized items detected) are required to re-test or re-grow, improve their areas. The consequence of a failed test, including cost and negative public attention, are other incentives to be careful with pesticides. Analytical 360 was the first cannabis testing laboratory in Washington to open in 2011, focusing on the medical market for testing of cannabiniods, terpenes, microbes and residual solvents. It also tests water, hops and commercial hemp. “Testing seems to be helping require more and more people in the industry to keep their integrity, and those will be the ones to survive, since we want a safe and clean product for the consumer,” said David Niebuhr, who works in the area of hemp and cannabis analysis for Analytical 360. California is the first state to make strict laws about cannabis testing. The state requires that every producer provide a report that testing has been done for pesticide residuals using both liquid chromatography and triple quadruple mass spectrometry (GCMS/MS). This is similar to what Washington’s Department of Agricultural would use for testing. For smaller farms, the increasing practice of testing by Washington cannabis retailers may become somewhat disruptive for producer/processors, especially those who focus on extracted products like concentrates and shatter rather than pre-rolls. In 2011, similar discussions took place in the state’s apple industry about possible product contamination and the need for better testing. Extra attention was given to apples that were extracted into apple juice. Testing showed higher levels of heavy metals and pesticides during the apple extraction process, so the industry took steps to improve their pesticide practices. This might be a good time to focus on this aspect for cannabis. “I think the industry has to come together and find a way to help the smaller businesses,” said Ed Stremlow, Chief Operating Officer/co-Founder at Analytical 360. What he doesn’t want to see is a general “buyer beware” system where some pesticides are assumed to be in every cannabis product, even if they’re not known or closely measured, like chemicals in tobacco products. “I think cannabis is a product we can all stand behind and make it one of the safer products for the consumer, I don’t think we want this to turn into a warning label such as on cigarettes,” he said. Having some producers be able to sell directly to consumers, which was proposed in Olympia this year, might help. This way, growers could see actual financial pressure to deliver a clean product, if they’re the ones selling it without the middleman role of a retailer. “In the cannabis industry we have always wanted to make this a pro-active industry with a clean and safe product,” Stremlow said.
Taryn Mickelson is originally from New Mexico and now works in Washington’s cannabis industry. She enjoys writing about the positive changes in this rapidly-growing business.
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