Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jul 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, The Associated Press


New Questions Arising As Nascent Industry Develops

DENVER (AP) - Microscopic bugs and mildew can destroy a marijuana 
operation faster than any police raid. And because the crop has been 
illegal for so long, neither growers nor scientists have any reliable 
research to help fight the infestations.

As legal marijuana moves from basements and backwoods to warehouses 
and commercial fields, the mold and spider mites that once ruined 
only a few plants at a time can now quickly create a 
multimillion-dollar crisis for growers. Some are turning to 
industrial-strength chemicals, raising concerns about safety.

Pesticides and herbicides are regulated by the federal government, 
which still regards almost all marijuana as an illicit crop, so 
there's no roadmap to help pot farmers. Chemists and 
horticulturalists can't offer much assistance either. They sometimes 
disagree about how to combat the problem, largely because the plant 
is used in many different ways - smoked, eaten and sometimes rubbed 
on the skin.

"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.

In states that regulate marijuana, officials are just starting to 
draft rules governing safe levels of chemicals. So far, there have 
been no reports of any human illness traced to chemicals used on 
marijuana, but worries persist.

The city of Denver this spring quarantined tens of thousands of 
marijuana plants at 11 growing facilities after health inspectors 
suspected use of unauthorized pesticides. Some of the plants were 
later released after tests revealed the pot was safe, but two 
producers voluntarily destroyed their plants. Eight businesses have 
still at least some plants in quarantine.

In Oregon, a June investigation by The Oregonian newspaper found 
pesticides in excess of legal limits on products ranging from 
marijuana buds to concentrated marijuana oils. Other pesticides 
detected on the marijuana are not regulated by Oregon's marijuana 
rules, meaning that products containing those chemicals still can be 
sold there.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which decides which 
pesticides can be used on which crops, just last month told Colorado 
and Washington authorities that they could apply to have some 
cannabis-related chemicals approved through what's called a "special 
local need registration." But that process could take years.

Colorado and Oregon require retail marijuana to undergo testing for 
pesticides and other contaminants. But as the Oregon investigation 
showed, the testing regimes are imperfect. And Colorado hasn't yet 
implemented requirements for retail pot to undergo pesticide testing 
because of regulatory delays. Washington state is still working on 
its pesticide rules. The nation's largest marijuana producer, 
California, has no regulations at all for growing commercial pot.

"It's a lot more difficult than it sounds, and it's expensive," 
Washington Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith said about 
testing for pesticides.

As a result, unscrupulous pot growers can use banned chemicals with 
little chance of being caught.

"We were taken by surprise, this whole pesticide issue," said Ashley 
Kilroy, Denver's director of marijuana policy. She was talking to a 
room of about 200 pot-industry workers invited to lunch earlier this 
month to learn about pesticide quarantines and rules.

What the growers heard wasn't encouraging.

"There is no federal agency that will recognize this as a legitimate 
crop," said Whitney Cranshaw, a Colorado State University 
entomologist and pesticide expert. "Regulators just bury their heads, 
and as a result, pest-management information regarding this crop 
devolves to Internet chats and hearsay."

Marijuana growers are indeed guessing when they treat their plants.

For example, one of the chemicals cited in the Denver quarantines, a 
fungicide called Eagle 20 EW, is commonly used on grapes and hops but 
can become dangerous when heated and is banned for use on tobacco. No 
research exists on whether the fungicide is safe to use on pot that 
will be eaten.

Several pot growers interviewed by The Associated Press agreed that 
research is needed on pesticides for pot. But they pointed out that 
pesticides are widely used on food crops, and that weed consumers 
have never before had as much information about the marijuana they buy.

"It's just like broccoli or spinach or peaches or anything. The plant 
is susceptible to certain pests," said Gabriel Fairorth, cultivation 
manager for Denver's Herbal Remedies.

Fairorth does not use any banned chemicals on his plants and was not 
affected by the quarantines, but he questioned some of the banned chemicals.

"If you have all these chemicals that are safe on products you eat, 
but you can't use them on marijuana, I don't know that I agree with that."

The founder of the nation's oldest marijuana-legalization advocacy 
group, Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws, or NORML, pointed out that regulators today are at 
least starting to look at marijuana safety.

In the 1980s, the federal government used an herbicide called 
paraquat to kill illicit marijuana crops, even though the poison had 
been banned from national forests because of environmental concerns. 
NORMLcomplained to the White House that some of that weed survived 
and was turning up on the street.

"The response was, 'It's illegal and we don't have an obligation not 
to poison it,'" Stroup recalled. "No one was taking us seriously."

Recent actions by states with legal weed have been encouraging, if 
slow, he said.

"The idea that it's been on the black market and people are fine so 
therefore we don't need testing is absurd," Stroup said. "No one 
would want to be using a product that has molds or pesticides."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom