Pubdate: Tue, 07 Mar 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Grant Robertson
Page: A4


Two federally regulated medical marijuana companies caught up in a
tainted-cannabis scare are facing proposed class-action lawsuits from
patients who unknowingly ingested banned pesticides.

Mettrum Ltd. and OrganiGram Inc. were both found selling medical
marijuana that contained unauthorized chemicals, including the
controversial pesticide myclobutanil, which produces hydrogen cyanide
when combusted and can lead to serious health problems.

The suit against OrganiGram was filed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on
Monday by Halifax=based Wagners Law Firm, while a separate action
against Mettrum was filed in Ontario Supreme Court by the firm Roy
O'Connor LLP.

Both actions are seeking certification from the courts and are asking
that the companies be forced to refund patients' money, in addition to
paying out further damages.

The OrganiGram suit is led by Halifax patient Dawn Rae Downton, who
was not previously a marijuana user but was prescribed medical
cannabis to alleviate serious back pain, the documents allege.

After taking the product daily, "Ms. Downton began to suffer from
severe nausea and vomiting within approximately two weeks after first
consuming the Affected Product," the documents allege. "The severity
of the symptoms restricted her ability to stand, walk or leave the
house. She was confined to her home and bed for the majority of the
time. Even light household chores became unmanageable."

The Mettrum suit is led by Erin Christiansen, a Thunder Bay woman who
unknowingly ingested tainted product purchased from the Toronto-based
company, which has since been purchased by Canopy Growth Corp.,
Canada's largest medical-marijuana producer.

"I was disturbed to learn that unapproved pest-control products were
used on Mettrum's medical-marijuana plants," Ms. Christiansen said in
a statement. "If I had known there was a risk that Mettrum's plants
had been treated with an unapproved pesticide, I would never have
purchased the products."

Neither OrganiGram CEO Denis Arsenault, nor Mettrum's owner, Canopy,
were immediately available for comment Monday. The allegations have
not been proven in court.

The tainted-cannabis problems have led to management shakeups at both
companies. Last week, OrganiGram announced a new CEO, Greg Engel,
would be taking the reins on March 13, while Mr. Arsenault is moving
to the board of directors as executive chairman. And former Mettrum
CEO Michael Haines was not retained by Canopy when it closed the deal
to purchase the company Jan. 31.

The problems emerged several months ago when Mettrum issued a series
of recalls in late 2016 due to the discovery of an unauthorized
pesticide, pyrethrin. That led to subsequent tests that turned up
banned myclobutanil. While Mettrum informed some patients of the
situation, neither the company nor Health Canada disclosed the
discovery of myclobutanil to the broader public, including prospective
patients, in their press releases announcing the recalls.

When The Globe and Mail called Mettrum's customer help line in
December, a reporter had to specifically ask about the presence of
myclobutanil before the company offered up the information.

Soon after the Mettrum problem came to light, OrganiGram announced its
own recall due to myclobutanil, along with a second banned pesticide,
bifenazate. Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis Inc. discovered the issue
with OrganiGram's supply when it purchased a bulk shipment from the
company and had it tested for contaminants.

The discovery of banned pesticides in a regulated product sold as
medicine has called into question Health Canada's oversight of the
nascent medical-marijuana industry, particularly because the
government does not require companies to prove through regular testing
that their products are safe and free of unauthorized pesticides such
as myclobutanil, which is considered carcinogenic.

Health Canada told The Globe that it didn't require companies to test
for such chemicals because the industry knew they were banned and
therefore shouldn't be using them - which effectively left companies
to police themselves.

Myclobutanil is used to rid crops of mildew, and is often employed as
a dangerous shortcut by unscrupulous cannabis growers in order to save
crops hit by an outbreak. While the chemical is approved for some food
crops, such as grapes, because it can be safely broken down by the
digestive system, it is not approved for plants that are smoked. Dow
AgroSciences, which manufactures the chemical, warns against using the
product on cannabis.

A former Mettrum employee told The Globe he witnessed myclobutanil
being sprayed directly on the company's plants as far back as 2014,
despite knowing it was prohibited, and provided e-mail evidence
showing that management was aware of the problem. Mettrum's former
CEO, Mr. Haines, has not responded to numerous requests for comment by
The Globe.

"Various individuals have clearly expressed their concern and
disappointment over this situation and the [Mettrum] recalls," David
O'Connor, of the firm Roy O'Connor, said Monday. "This proposed class
action can provide these individuals with an efficient avenue to have
their claims addressed in court."

Meanwhile, OrganiGram said last week that it conducted an internal
investigation into its recall and could not determine how the chemical
got into the company's plants.

Wagners Law Firm said more than 2,000 customers are estimated to have
purchased contaminated products from OrganiGram, which is based in

The proposed class-action suit against OrganiGram alleges that the
company "manufactured its organic medical-cannabis product without
having in place adequate quality-control protocols."

The suit also alleges OrganiGram "took no immediate steps to modify
its manufacturing practices once it became aware of the presence of
prohibited pesticides in the Affected Product."

In particular, the suit claims customers of the company were misled on
the safety of the medicine by the company's organic designation, which
was provided by certification agency Ecocert Canada. That designation
has since been suspended.

OrganiGram has offered customers a credit for the products they
purchased. However, the suit seeks to have OrganiGram refund the
financial proceeds made from the recalled products, in addition to
other damages.

"OrganiGram has acted in such a high-handed, wanton and reckless or
deliberate manner, without due regard to public health and safety as
to warrant an award of punitive damages," the suit alleges.
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