Pubdate: Sat, 14 Nov 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp
Authors: David Migoya and Ricardo Baca


The Governor This Week Ordered the Quarantine and Destruction of Pot 
Having Unapproved Pesticides.

Thousands of marijuana-infused products, recently recalled in Denver 
over concerns they contain unapproved pesticides, will likely be 
destroyed in light of the governor's order to label them a public 
safety hazard.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday issued an executive order to 
quarantine and destroy any marijuana or its derivative products that 
contain pesticides not approved for use on cannabis. It could have a 
profound- and expensive-impact on the billion-dollar industry.

Denver health officials last week said a pair of businesses had 
voluntarily recalled nearly 30,000 marijuana-infused products because 
of pesticide contamination.

The immediacy of Hickenlooper's order, jointly announced by the three 
state agencies that regulate marijuana, pesticides and public health, 
ensures that products already subject to recall will be destroyed, 
Denver and state officials said.

"The facilities with products currently subject to recall are already 
planning to destroy those products," said Danica Lee, Denver's food 
safety section manager in the public health inspections division. "( 
Hickenlooper's order) reinforces the importance of protecting 
consumers from potentially dangerous pesticides. It is unclear at 
this point what impact this order will have on Denver's 
investigations. We're still evaluating it."

One of the largest marijuana businesses in the state welcomed the order.

"We believe this brings much-needed clarification to the industry," 
said John Lord, owner of LivWell. "We recognized there was a lack of 
standards in place in the past."

A watchdog group said Hickenlooper's action was long overdue.

"For all intents and purposes, these businesses broke the law, and 
there was no enforcement," said Larisa Bolivar of the Cannabis 
Consumers Coalition, referring to companies with recalled marijuana 
products. "Their plants were put on hold; some businesses voluntarily 
destroyed their plants. But the fact remains that they used 
pesticides that weren't approved by the state."

Representatives of the Marijuana Industry Group and the Colorado 
Cannabis Chamber of Commerce said the trade organizations are each 
evaluating the impact and scope of the order and would not issue statements.

Precisely how the governor's order will be carried out remains 
unclear, as various state and local agencies work out the most likely 

"It was a long negotiation between the three departments, and there 
was some confusion and complexity in their authorities," said Andrew 
Freedman, Hickenlooper's director of marijuana policy. "There was no 
foot-dragging. It's simply been a complicated issue."

The Colorado Department of Agriculture oversees the use of 
pesticides, while the Marijuana Enforcement Division of the 
Department of Revenue controls licensing and investigations of 
marijuana businesses. The Colorado Department of Public Health and 
Environment regulates health matters and certifies the labs that test 
marijuana for potency and eventually for pesticides.

Agriculture officials will now let MED officers know when a pesticide 
violation occurs, according to Mitchell Yergert, DOA's pesticides 
program manager.

Currently, no lab is certified for pesticide testing, and although 
state law requires marijuana growers to test for the chemicals, that 
rule has not been enforced. The agriculture department tests 
marijuana in its own laboratories and could use its facilities for 
enforcing Hickenlooper's order.

Quick enforcement

None of the three agencies had the authority to destroy marijuana 
laced with pesticides unless the plant was deemed a threat to public 
safety and health. By making his declaration, Hickenlooper opened the 
door for immediate enforcement, Freedman said.

The order allows the state to define as a public safety risk all 
marijuana products containing any measurable level of pesticides 
banned by the state for use on pot.

"Without the science to know one way or the other what specifically 
is a public safety risk, it has to be all of it," Freedman said. "It 
either had to be all-in or not all in."

It appears each agency will have a piece in the enforcement, with 
agriculture officials catching pesticide misuse, public health 
officials declaring a public safety risk and MED officials urging 
businesses to voluntarily recall and destroy the affected products.

Minus a business owner's cooperation, Hickenlooper directed MED to 
take whatever administrative action necessary to get tainted pot out 
of commerce.

Pesticides and how they can be used are regulated by the U. S. 
Environmental Protection Agency. Because marijuana is illegal under 
federal law, no pesticide can be specifically approved for use on 
cannabis, and there is no science about how safe it is for human consumption.

Although state agencies had batted around regulations regarding 
pesticide use on pot, none was enforced with any regularity. That 
changed in March, when Denver public health officials quarantined 
more than 100,000 plants - the equivalent of $ 100 million in 
potential revenue, according to industry estimates - that were 
treated with pesticides not approved by the state for use on cannabis.

Plants destroyed

Some of the plants were destroyed, but most were held until pesticide 
residues subsided to levels lower than what's allowed on other edible crops.

Denver officials supervised another half-dozen recalls voluntarily 
issued by marijuana businesses, including edible products that were 
infused with cannabis grown with unapproved pesticides following 
Denver Post stories about its own tests. Many of those products 
remain under administrative hold until tests show pesticide residue 
levels are low.

Despite Denver's enforcement actions, other areas of the state had 
little or no oversight program in place. That prompted Hickenlooper 
officials to set the tone.

"The local public health agencies were looking for some guidance, and 
there was some confusion as to whose domain the pesticides go under," 
said Larry Wolk, director of the state health department.

"We're not willing to let people get sick before we take action," 
Wolk said of the new statewide edict.

Health officials in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Boulder - the cities 
with the largest concentrations of marijuana cultivation licensees 
outside of Denver - said they did not deal with pesticide issues.

Bolivar, of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, said she worries that 
violations will continue.

"The cynical side of me assumes there are more businesses still using 
unapproved pesticides, especially because the marijuana brands that 
were using these potentially dangerous pesticides are trusted 
brands," she said.

It might take time for the industry to get the message, according to 
Sean McAllister, an attorney who represents a number of marijuana businesses.

"I'm very optimistic that in the next few months all the operators 
will have gotten the message and stop using things that aren't 
specifically approved," he said. "But in the short term, there are 
people out there that assume that no one's watching and they can get 
away with doing this still."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom