Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 2015
Source: Salinas Californian, The (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press


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 road map to help pot farmers.

Chemists and horticulturalists can't offer much assistance, either. 
They sometimes disagree on 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.

Denver quarantines

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 aren't 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.

'Difficult, expense'

Washington state is still working on its pesticide rules.

"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.


The founder of the nation's oldest marijuana-legalization advocacy 
group, Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws 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. 
NORML complained 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, 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. No one would want 
to be using a product that has molds or pesticides."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom