Pubdate: Wed, 08 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A1


Health Canada, which is facing a growing controversy over tainted
medical marijuana, cannot say with certainty how widespread the use of
banned pesticides is within the industry. Instead, the regulator has
been leaving it up to the growers to police themselves on the use of
potentially harmful chemicals.

In a background briefing with The Globe and Mail, a senior Health
Canada official acknowledged that even though the government prohibits
the use of potentially harmful chemicals such as myclobutanil, the
department has not been testing cannabis growers to ensure the 38
federally licensed companies were, in fact, not using it.

"Up until this point, we have not required licensed producers [LPs] to
test for any unauthorized pesticides, nor have we been testing all
LPs, and it is because we expect their companies to be proactively
watching and taking the appropriate measures to ensure non-authorized
products aren't used," the senior official said) In recent weeks,
three of those companies have been forced to recall product after it
was found to contain myclobutanil - which is known to emit hydrogen
cyanide when heated - angering customers, including cancer patients
and others with compromised immune systems.

The Globe revealed in December that a recall by Mettrum Ltd. was due
to the discovery of myclobutanil - a fact neither the company nor
Health Canada mentioned when first announcing the recall to the
broader public.

The potentially harmful chemical, which has been outlawed for use on
cannabis in several U.S. jurisdictions, was only discovered after
another banned pesticide was found in Mettrum's product, and
subsequent tests were performed.

A few days after the Mettrum problem emerged, two more companies -
OrganiGram and Aurora Cannabis - announced recalls due to
myclobutanil. The chemical was discovered after Aurora tested a bulk
shipment of cannabis it purchased from OrganiGram.

Health Canada is now preparing to introduce random testing on the
licensed producers in an effort to clamp down on the problem. The
department is sending out letters to each of the 38 companies this
week informing them of the new system, and is scheduling a conference
call with the industry to discuss the matter.

"In response to these events, Health Canada … will begin conducting
random testing of medical-cannabis products produced by licensed
producers, to provide added assurance to Canadians that they are
receiving safe, quality-controlled product," the letter states.

However, the new measures do not make regular testing mandatory for
the companies. Though licensed producers are required to test for
mould, bacteria and heavy metals, the government official said testing
for harmful pesticides is still something that companies "have the
option" of doing.

Asked how patients could have confidence the product was not exposed
to banned chemicals, given the lack of scrutiny by the government,
Health Canada said it believed the system works.

Myclobutanil is notorious within the cannabis industry as an easy
shortcut to saving crops that are overcome with mildew. Marketed as
Nova 40 or Eagle 20, it is approved for use on some fruits and
vegetables, since it is designed to be broken down by the digestive
system, meaning it's not a threat to the body.

However, myclobutanil is not approved for plants that are smoked, such
as tobacco or cannabis, since the chemical is passed directly into the
bloodstream through the lungs, rather than being metabolized.
California considers it carcinogenic, while legislators in Colorado,
Oregon and Washington, where cannabis has been legalized, acted
swiftly to ban it a few years ago, in some cases enacting emergency
legislation and performing raids on companies to clamp down.

Health Canada gave no clear answer in its briefing as to why it
wouldn't make testing mandatory for the licensed producers. One reason
given by the senior official was that he believed there is only about
three labs in Canada that could perform such testing, and there would
be a backlog. The senior official said the department is hoping the
companies themselves begin testing.

"Certainly mandatory testing for myclobutanil and other unauthorized
pesticides by all the LPs would be something that we would consider
and explore further," if additional problems persist, the official
said. "This might not ultimately be necessary if industry begins to
implement testing as a best practice of sorts."

However, Rodger Voelker, lab director at OG Analytical in Oregon, who
is credited with discovering the myclobutanil problem among growers in
the United States, said leaving it up to companies to police
themselves is a bad idea.

Cannabis crops can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so if a
mildew outbreak occurs, there is a financial incentive for growers to
use shortcuts such as myclobutanil to save the crop, with little
regard for the consumers eventually using the product. No company in
Oregon ever actually admitted to using the banned chemical before they
were caught, Mr. Voelker said in an interview last summer.
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MAP posted-by: Matt