Since the legalization of cannabis in Colorado, there has never been a standardized process for submitting, testing, and reporting pesticides. Effective August 1, 2018, the Colorado MED will require all cannabis growers to submit samples for pesticide testing for each flower harvest batch. The new state requirements hold growers to non-harmful levels for 13 specific pesticides. There are many reasons it has taken almost 4 years to determine and implement these pesticide testing protocols.

Because cannabis is still federally illegal, the EPA, a federal body, cannot contribute resources towards scientific testing that other pesticides undergo. Before they are put into production, the EPA reviews testing results for pesticides produced for food crops and scrutinizes the chemical composition, the potential adverse effects, and the environmental fate of the product when it is disposed of. These tests determine the limit of pesticides allowed to remain on food products, known as “tolerances.”

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture:

1) Marijuana is currently defined as a Schedule I drug, not a food crop.

2) USDA and FDA do not consider marijuana to be a food crop.

3) USDA cannot enforce tolerances unless the food is intended for interstate commerce. Marijuana in Colorado can not legally cross state boundaries and therefore, even if it was considered a food that required a tolerance, USDA could not enforce tolerances.

4) The Colorado Department of Agriculture has no authority to establish or enforce food tolerances.

Because of the lack of federal assistance in developing a testing and monitoring system, the state of Colorado has been left to its own devices. Many legislators were hesitant to step into what is typically a federal regulatory role. “When they do step in, states struggle with implementing a pot-testing program”, said Julianne Nassif, director of environmental health at the Association of Public Health Laboratories. “Lacking federal guidance, they must develop regulations, license private labs if they aren’t going to test samples in state facilities and determine what types of pesticides, pathogens, fungal toxins and heavy metals to monitor. And funding is always an issue,” she said to The Cannabist in 2017.

The state has lacked the resources necessary to test every pesticide used on cannabis plants, allowing some growers to use potentially harmful chemicals. “‘For many years cannabis and hemp have been significantly impacted by various pests such as powdery mildew, gray mold, aphids, thrips, and whiteflies,” John lnouye, a senior environmental scientist with California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation, said to “These pests are causing significant economic losses and causing growers to resort to the use of unregistered pesticides.”

Silverpeak timeline of pesticide-free cannabis in Colorado

Lack of federal guidance has also forced state legislators to propose regulations that are deemed too restricting by some cannabis industry stakeholders. Three lobbyists with the Marijuana Industry Group spent $421,000 lobbying for various cannabis-related issues in 2015 alone, state reports show. “At a CDA meeting with businesses in December 2015, Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, said growers were frustrated because they did not believe the state was giving them [a list of approved, brand-name pesticides] to fight the problems they faced. ‘We need clean product, and we have a huge list of things to test for and failure could literally shut down a business,’” he said to The Cannabist in 2015.

However, the CDA released a list of approved pesticides for cannabis plants in March 2016. That year, Colorado found that 49% percent of cannabis samples tested in response to complaints had residue of unapproved pesticides, according to state Department of Agriculture data. Even though a bill proposed by Governor Hickenlooper in May 2016 failed to pass in the Senate, in 2017 the failure rate was down to 13 percent. This drastic drop in harmful pesticide use demonstrates how testing [and the corresponding threat of economic loss due to negative pesticide test results] improves the safety of marijuana, said Jan Stapleman, a spokeswoman for Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

Without resources from the EPA, discrepancies among state legislators, cannabis industry members, and scientists formed. There is disagreement among chemists and horticulturists about what qualifies as “harmful” because cannabis is consumed in so many ways, from smoking to digesting to transdermal applications. “Marijuana is unlike any other agricultural crop that we have ever dealt with,” John Scott, pesticide section chief for the state agriculture department, said to The Cannabist in 2017. “We have an industry that’s been illegal for so many years that there’s no research. There’s no guidelines. There’s nothing,” said Frank Conrad, lab director for Colorado Green Lab, a pot-testing lab in Denver. These disagreements have further delayed any science-based legislation from passing.

Working Together for Better Cannabis

In order to legitimize the legal cannabis industry, it is necessary for all growers to embrace and strictly follow MED testing requirements for pesticides. They are in place to protect human and environmental health, and to hold all growers to the same standard to ensure consumers always know what is in their cannabis. We at Silverpeak are committed to providing our customers with premium, top-tier cannabis. We went to great lengths to build a state-of-the-art, fully climate-controlled grow facility in Basalt, Colorado, allowing us to control environmental variables and grow our cannabis 100% free of harmful pesticides. You can trust that every Silverpeak product has been tested and approved to exceed regulatory standards.

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