Washington Cannabis : Legal marijuana cultivators in Washington state are finally getting back to work after a temporary halt in operations due to concerns over pesticide contamination. In April, state regulators ordered several growers to suspend production after discovering elevated levels of chemicals related to DDT, a synthetic pesticide that was banned half a century ago. While these growers did not use the pesticide themselves, their farms are situated in an area where DDT was heavily applied in the past, leaving traces in the soil.
A Return to Business
The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board recently announced that it has lifted the holds on the affected businesses. The growers are now taking steps, with the support of state financial assistance, to address the pesticide residues and rebuild their brands. In addition, the board has committed to enhancing pesticide testing for cannabis cultivated in the region, ensuring stringent quality control measures.
One such grower, Terry Taylor, is the owner of Okanogan Gold and Kibble Junction. Taylor’s marijuana farm, nestled in the high desert of north-central Washington, had been forced to cease operations since April. During this period, Taylor has relied on his savings as his income dwindled to a mere fraction of its previous level. Normally employing six full-time and 20 seasonal workers, he has had to reduce his workforce to just two.
Pesticide Concerns in the Cannabis Industry
The issue of pesticides in cannabis has long been a topic of concern for both regulators and consumers in legal marijuana states. This concern is amplified by the fact that cannabis is often smoked or concentrated, which can intensify the levels of pesticides present in the final product. Earlier this year, regulators in Vermont removed pesticide-contaminated marijuana from five retail stores after a customer reported feeling ill. Similarly, Nevada officials issued an advisory regarding potentially tainted products containing an unapproved pesticide.
Given the federal illegality of marijuana, each state has established its own regulations regarding pesticide use in cannabis cultivation. The specific pesticides that are regulated and the allowable trace amounts vary, and it remains unclear how many states require testing for legacy pesticides like DDT.
Lessons from Washington’s Experience
The recent incident in Washington state highlights the limitations of current regulations in protecting public health. The discovery of DDE, a breakdown product of DDT, in cannabis plants raised concerns. DDE, which remains in the soil after DDT breaks down, can pose risks to human health. Studies have suggested that high levels of DDE in the bloodstream of pregnant women may increase the likelihood of premature births or wheezing in infants. Moreover, DDE is considered a possible carcinogen.
In the affected cannabis samples, the levels of DDE were found to be above the limit set by state law but still below the tolerance level for DDT contamination in tobacco. However, due to the lack of scientific data on the potential health risks of DDE in cannabis, growers like Terry Taylor and others argued that regulators had overreacted by suspending operations instead of issuing recalls.
A Way Forward Of Washington Cannabis
To address the issue and prevent such incidents in the future, Washington lawmakers have allocated funds for soil remediation and comprehensive research. An amount of $200,000 has been set aside to help growers address the pesticide residues in their soil. An additional $5 million has been earmarked for studying how marijuana plants absorb toxins, determining the transfer rates to cannabis products, and assessing the feasibility and cost of alternative cultivation methods or soil cleanup.
By striving to strike a balance between consumer safety and supporting affected farmers, Washington aims to ensure the production of safe and high-quality cannabis products. Moving forward, it is crucial for the industry as a whole to establish robust testing protocols and develop comprehensive guidelines to address pesticide risks effectively, safeguarding the well-being of consumers and fostering a sustainable cannabis market.