We’ve had decades to determine what can and can not be sprayed on strawberries, but do you really know what’s on or in your cannabis ? The Oregon Health Authority has issued preliminary rules taking effect in June of 2016 for more stringent sampling and testing for pesticide residue as lawmakers wrestle with a broad spectrum of regulatory issues to ensure the safety of cannabis products. (http://www.oregonlive.com/marijuana/index.ssf/2015/11/oregon_drafts_rules_for_pestic.html)
Since the creation of the land Grant Colleges by Lincoln in the 1860’s County Agents have been employed to disseminate best agricultural practices based on University research to farmers. Cannabis however is a Schedule 1 substance, not even considered a crop, so Cooperative Extension services are not available. There is also no government sanctioned certification process available for cannabis growers who strive to maintain Organic practices.
Customers of recreational retailers and patient members at medical marijuana dispensaries have been driving the ever more geeky, granular, even sommelier-like marketing information available for cannabis strain pedigree as breeders rack up high profile awards for pushing the horticulture envelope. But are you getting the whole story ? While sellers are spending the bucks on laboratory measurement for exact levels of THC and CBD content labeling, recent studies reveal a shocking and potentially dangerous lack of precision in testing cannabis samples for the presence of dangerous pesticide residue.
In Oregon, The Cannabis Safety Institute found alarming levels of pesticide residues in flower samples and was especially pointed in expressing concern over the levels of contaminants in concentrates. Extraction methods which create potent and convenient oils or solids also magnify the presence of unwanted ingredients. ( http://cannabissafetyinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/CSI-Pesticides-White-Paper.pdf )
Those of us who were consuming black market cannabis back in the 1960’s and again as recently as the 1980’s may remember the Paraquat scare. Paraquat is an Herbicide used by soybean farmers to both control weeds early in the season and as a harvest aid to dry out the plant at the end of the season. Mexican cannabis fields were sprayed with Paraquat from the air as part of the War on Drugs eradication program. Bonus paranoia points were scored as the tainted weed was harvested and smuggled north anyway. Why take chances with your health? Some scientists claim that the heat of smoking cannabis changes the Paraquat into a chemical that is not harmful. ( http://paraquat.com/faq/public-safety/q-is-it-safe-to-smoke-marijuana-that-has-been-sprayed-with-paraquat )
Beyond the usual responsibility of regulatory agencies to ensure the safety of consumables for “Adult Use” is the issue of safety and effectiveness of substances sold as nutritional supplements and medicine. With the repeal of cannabis prohibition comes the red faced admission that most early medical marijuana rules were a fig leaf for recreational use, with legitimate suffering patients serving as a convenient human shield. That being said, we must get real serious, real fast. There is a small but growing body of research recognizing the legitimate medical applications of cannabis and its derivatives. Manufacturers need to be subject to rigorous purity standards. People living with Aids and Cancer patients in particular can have fragile, suppressed immune systems which must not be abused with molds nor the residues of fungicides used to control the infestations. Likewise with pesticides.
Good citizen growers will of course voluntarily practice Organic and IPM methods, relying on chemical Pesticide use only as a last resort. Cannabis is a high value cash crop and in the interest of public safety there will evolve very intrusive oversight to guard against unscrupulous businesses cutting corners to make or save a buck at the expense of the well being of the consumer.
Disclaimer: Any advice and opinions offered about the cultivation of cannabis by Bruce N. Goren are his own and do not represent the University of California or the Master Gardener Program.