Pubdate: Thu, 09 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A1


A federally licensed medical marijuana company recently caught selling
cannabis that contained a banned pesticide had used the dangerous
chemical on its plants as far back as 2014, which it hid from Health
Canada, says a former employee of Mettrum Ltd.

Thomas McConville, who worked as a grower at Mettrum from early 2014
to August, 2015, told The Globe and Mail he witnessed employees at the
company illegally applying myclobutanil to plants, despite knowing the
controversial pesticide - which produces hydrogen cyanide when heated
- - was prohibited for use on cannabis.

To evade detection when Health Canada inspectors visited the
operation, an employee at Mettrum hid the chemical inside the ceiling
tiles of the company's offices, Mr. McConville said.

The revelations raise alarming questions about Health Canada's
oversight of the sector, particularly since the government has not
required the country's 38 licensed producers to have their products
tested for banned pesticides. Instead, the department told The Globe
this week that it has allowed the companies to police themselves, on
the belief that the penalties for being caught - possible licence
forfeiture - were a big enough deterrent)

Faced with a growing controversy over tainted medical marijuana, with
three companies in the past two months announcing recalls due to the
discovery of myclobutanil in their products, Health Canada said this
week it would introduce a new system of random testing for all
licensed producers.

However, the government stopped short of introducing ongoing mandatory
testing to ensure the industry is not flouting the rules, saying it
may consider that step in the future.

When Mr. McConville brought his concerns to Mettrum executives in
2014, including chief executive officer Michael Haines, he was told
not to worry about it. Fearing for his livelihood, Mr. McConville said
he kept quiet. When he left Mettrum the following summer, he was asked
to sign a confidentiality agreement in exchange for severance, which
he needed to move his family back to California.

However, when Mettrum, the country's second-largest producer of
medical marijuana, issued a product recall two months ago, giving no
details in its press release about what the reason was, Mr. McConville
decided to contact Health Canada with his concerns.

When The Globe uncovered in December that Mettrum's recall was due to
the use of myclobutanil - which neither Health Canada nor the company
disclosed in their public announcements of the recall - Mr. McConville
decided to speak out about what he witnessed. The product is known as
a shortcut within the industry, though it is also notoriously dangerous.

"I walked in mid-spray," Mr. McConville said of the day in 2014 when
he confronted the employee applying the chemicals. "I said,
'Seriously, I need to know for this crop what you did. I played it off
like 'Don't worry I won't say anything.' And he said, 'It's Nova [the
retail name for myclobutanil]. You don't have to worry about mildew.'

The fungicide is used to control powdery mildew, a pest that can wreak
havoc on cannabis crops and cause significant financial loss to
companies that are hit by it.

Though the spray is approved for use on some fruits and vegetables,
such as grapes, because the chemical components are metabolized by the
digestive system, and rendered non-toxic in the body, myclobutanil is
not allowed on products that are smoked, such as tobacco and cannabis.
The substance is listed as a carcinogen if smoked, where it passes
directly into the bloodstream through the lungs, and can emit hydrogen

Mr. Haines did not respond to requests for comment on the

The Globe first sought comment from Mr. Haines in December upon
learning myclobutanil was the reason for the company's recent recall.
A spokeswoman for the company provided only written responses to
questions, and did not answer how the banned chemical got into the
company's products in 2016.

Questions sent to Mettrum on Jan. 30 asked Mr. Haines how many times
the company had used myclobutanil in the past. The spokeswoman said
Mettrum wanted "more context" before answering. Mr. Haines never
provided any responses.

Mettrum was recently purchased by Canopy Growth Corp., owner of
medical-marijuana producer Tweed, for $430-million in stock. When that
deal closed on Jan 31, Mettrum questions were referred to Canopy. A
request for comment submitted to Mr. Haines on Wednesday also went

Canopy CEO Bruce Linton said he was informed of the forthcoming recall
when the company initiated talks on purchasing Mettrum, looking to
combine the second-largest player in the market, with Tweed, the
largest, to create an industry giant.

Mr. Linton said Mr. Haines is no longer with the company, subsequent
to the deal closing, and that his focus will be on installing new
practices and oversight so that there are no further recalls.

"It was not a properly controlled and operated environment, but I
don't believe that it has any bearing on how the place is run [going
forward]," Mr. Linton said. "We'll work pretty hard for the next six
to 12 months, making it what we want it to be."

Mr. McConville said he remembers walking into one of the grow rooms at
Mettrum on Oct. 15, 2014, during the lunch hour when few employees
were typically around. He witnessed two other growers, who were key
members of the company, spraying myclobutanil, which is sold under the
brands Nova 40 and Eagle 20. Days earlier, the crops had been hit with
a powdery mildew infestation.

"I find it strange that the facility magically went from peak levels
of disease to total eradication despite no controls being applied.
During lunch today, I discovered why," Mr. McConville said in an
e-mail to Mr. Haines that evening, which was obtained by The Globe.
"We were spraying Nova 40 on our crops. … There is never a need to
resort to spraying toxic chemicals."

Mr. Haines responded to Mr. McConville the next morning saying, "I've
read your e-mail. Respect that I can't comment one way or the other at
this time."

In an e-mail to Health Canada in December, Mr. McConville said he saw
the men "spray Nova 40 to several rooms in the facility," including
one he oversaw. "Spraying poison on the crops was the last straw for
me," Mr. McConville said.

Mr. McConville told Health Canada that Mr. Haines told him to not
worry about it, saying words to the effect of: "The plants used to
have mildew and now they don't. That's great."

On Dec. 9, a few days after sending an e-mail to Health Canada, Mr.
McConville spoke with Benoit Seguin, manager of the department's
national compliance and enforcement section, who wanted more

However, Mr. McConville has not heard back from Health Canada. He
doesn't believe Mettrum has been upfront about its use of myclobutanil
and says further investigation is needed.

"Thousands of people seeking a safe medicine were [exposed]," Mr.
McConville said.

On Wednesday, Health Canada confirmed that it spoke with Mr.
McConville, "and brought the allegations to the attention of the
licensed producer."

Health Canada said Mettrum conducted its own internal investigation
into the matter, and the company reported it found nothing alarming. A
department spokesman said Health Canada recently tested stored product
samples from 2014, but did not find the banned chemical. Mettrum's
recent recall involves myclobutanil discovered in samples from January
to November of 2016.

Mettrum is one of three companies to recall product in the past two
months due to myclobutanil. OrganiGram issued a similar recall, as did
Aurora Cannabis, which discovered the pesticide in a batch of product
it purchased wholesale from OrganiGram and resold to customers.
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MAP posted-by: Matt