Pubdate: Fri, 10 Feb 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A7


Mettrum, OrganiGram will now have to regularly test for potentially
harmful pesticides in their product

Health Canada is adding new terms and conditions to the licences of
two federally regulated medical-marijuana companies caught with banned
chemicals in their products, requiring them to be tested regularly to
ensure they are not using dangerous pesticides that can harm consumers.

The new rules are being affixed to the licences of Mettrum Ltd. and
Organi-Gram Inc., which are caught in the middle of a
tainted-marijuana controversy after they were discovered selling
product that contained a banned pesticide known as myclobutanil. The
chemical, which was discovered in shipments the companies made in
2016, is banned for use on products that are smoked, such as tobacco
and cannabis, because it emits hydrogen cyanide when heated.

The Globe and Mail revealed Thursday that Mettrum had been using the
dangerous chemical on its plants as far back as 2014, and hid the
evidence from Health Canada. According to former employee Thomas
McConville, who says he witnessed it being sprayed on plants, the
company knew Health Canada wasn't testing its products for banned
pesticides, and when federal inspectors visited the facility, a
Mettrum employee hid the chemical inside the ceiling tiles of its
offices to evade detection.

As a condition of its licence, Mettrum will now have to submit to
regular testing of its products to prove that it is not using
myclobutanil and other banned pesticides. The same condition is being
applied to Organi-Gram, which has sold itself as an organic grower but
has since had its organic designation suspended.

"We're adding terms and conditions to both Organi-Gram and Mettrum's
licence, which will of course require them to adopt that expanded
testing regime," a senior Health Canada official told The Globe and
Mail in a background briefing this week.

Mandated testing for those two companies is a step up from a plan
Health Canada announced this week that will subject all 38 federally
regulated companies to random spot checks for banned pesticides.

The department said it hopes the spot checks will serve as a deterrent
against companies tempted to use illegal chemicals as an easy but
risky shortcut in dealing with mildew infestations.

Companies are required to test regularly for mould and bacteria.
However, with only random spot checks required for pesticides such as
myclobutanil, a known carcinogen, it is not clear how Canadian
consumers can be confident that all medical cannabis producers are
free of dangerous pesticides.

Until now, Health Canada didn't require testing for banned chemicals
in the product, which is sold as medicine and used by patients with
compromised immune systems. Companies within the industry market their
products as being clean, safe and of pharmaceutical quality, but there
has been no direct oversight ensuring this is, in fact, the case.

With the federal government preparing to legalize marijuana, The Globe
initiated an investigation last summer into what quality controls were
being placed on the product, which is expected to be a
multibillion-dollar industry.

When The Globe asked Health Canada in August why it didn't test for
harmful pesticides - particularly since chemicals such as myclobutanil
were a well-known problem in jurisdictions where cannabis is legal,
such as Colorado, Oregon and Washington - the department said
companies knew not to use them, because they were banned. Health
Canada believed the threat of those companies having their licences
revoked was enough of a deterrent.

This loophole, and the failure of that oversight, has been further
exposed by a recent series of recalls due to myclobutanil, showing the
chemical had found its way into the federally regulated supply, which
the government touted as safer and more trustworthy than products
purchased at illegal storefront dispensaries.

A Globe investigation into contaminants in dispensary products in July
showed that a third of the dispensary samples tested would not have
met federal health standards due to excessive levels of dangerous
mould and bacteria.

Three federally regulated companies have now been the subject of
recalls in the past few months. Mettrum announced recalls in November
and December, though neither Health Canada nor the company disclosed
in their media releases that myclobutanil was to blame. It was only
after The Globe questioned the company specifically about myclobutanil
that the company and the department acknowledged the banned chemical
was the reason.

OrganiGram and Aurora Cannabis then announced recalls a few weeks
later, after myclobutanil turned up in shipments OrganiGram sent to
customers, and in a bulk shipment of cannabis Aurora purchased from
OrganiGram, which it also shipped to customers.

In both the Mettrum and OrganiGram cases, the banned chemical was
discovered almost by accident. The myclobutanil in Mettrum's product
was only discovered on a second round of tests after evidence of
another banned pesticide, pyrethrin, emerged. In OrganiGram's case,
the chemical was only detected when Aurora tested the wholesale
shipment it purchased from the company.

Customers of the companies have told The Globe they are angry with the
firms after consuming a substance they were told was not in the product.

In addition to having new conditions placed on its licence that
require regular testing, OrganiGram, which was certified as an organic
grower by ECOCERT, has had that designation suspended and must
reapply, OrganiGram CEO Denis Arsenault said.

Mettrum, Canada's second-largest medical-marijuana company, was
recently purchased by Canopy Growth Corp. in a deal that closed Jan.
31. Canopy said Mettrum's chief executive officer, Michael Haines, is
no longer with the company. The Globe sought comment from Mr. Haines
several times since December on the use of myclobutanil, but the
Mettrum CEO has not responded.
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MAP posted-by: Matt