Pubdate: Wed, 08 Mar 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Grant Robertson and Mike Hager
Page: A1


Two years before Canada's medical-marijuana sector became embroiled in
a tainted cannabis scare, the trade organization representing the
majority of commercial growers explored using banned pesticides on
their products, according to newly obtained documents.

Meeting minutes and confidential e-mails sent in 2015 to more than a
dozen companies on the subject, show that some industry members
supported using prohibited chemicals such as myclobutanil - a
pesticide that produces hydrogen cyanide when combusted and can lead
to serious health problems.

Though the application for approval was never carried out,
myclobutanil is now at the centre of a controversy over patient safety
in the sector after two companies - Mettrum Ltd. and OrganiGram Inc. -
were found selling products contaminated with the banned substance.

The discovery has led to the largest recalls the young industry has
seen, resulting in the destruction of more than $1-million of tainted
product and it has spawned two proposed class action lawsuits on
behalf of patients who unknowingly ingested the chemical.

It has also raised questions about Health Canada's oversight of the
new industry) The industry was created three years ago by the federal
government to provide safe, pharmaceutical-quality products that could
be trusted by doctors and patients, including those with compromised
immune systems.

While myclobutanil is known as a prohibited, potentially dangerous
chemical when inhaled, the documents from 2015 show the industry
contemplated using it nonetheless.

According to minutes from a Canadian Medical Cannabis Industry
Association (CMCIA) conference call held in February that year, two
federally licensed medical marijuana growers, Tilray and MedReleaf,
were in favour of seeking federal approval for the right to use
myclobutanil and were seeking broader industry support for the idea.

A third company, Thunderbird Medical, wanted permission to use the
chemicals AzaMax and Spinosad, which were prohibited under federal

It is not known from the meeting minutes which licensed producers, or
LPs, supported the proposal and which opposed the idea. However, a
Jan. 28 e-mail obtained by The Globe and Mail shows that one member of
the industry group, a company called MedCannAccess, which is now owned
by Canopy Growth Corp., wanted to "get input from all LPs" before 

The documents suggest the desire to use such chemicals in Canada's
medical marijuana sector was greater than originally believed. In
2015, the CMCIA represented the majority of the roughly two dozen
medical marijuana companies licensed at the time. The group, which has
since changed its name to Cannabis Canada Association, hired Ottawa
lobbying firm Capital Hill Group to explore the pesticide approvals
with the federal government.

Asked about those efforts this week, Tilray executive Philippe Lucas,
who sat on the committee that organized the conference call, said he
could not remember spearheading the idea. In the minutes from that
meeting, Mr. Lucas is listed as the person who would "draft the
letter" asking to use myclobutanil.

Reached by phone, Mr. Lucas requested The Globe send its questions via
e-mail. A Tilray spokesman then followed up, saying that many licensed
producers in 2015 were interested in seeking regulatory approval for
using myclobutanil, which is typically used to fight costly outbreaks
of powdery mildew that can devastate cannabis crops.

To gain approval, the companies needed assistance from the
manufacturer, Dow AgroSciences, which needed to supply Health Canada
with safety data for the product. The federal government would have to
evaluate "the safety and efficacy of this product for use on
cannabis," Tilray spokesman Zack Hutson said.

The Globe reported in September that Tilray sought to lobby the B.C.
government in March, 2015, for help in getting the pesticide approved
federally, according to the province's lobbyist registry. However, it
was not known that the industry conducted broader discussions and that
more than one company supported the use of myclobutanil and other
banned products.

Tilray abandoned the lobbying effort in B.C. after Health Canada
issued a list of 13 approved pesticides that could be used instead.
Mr. Hutson said Tilray has not used myclobutanil. The company has
since left the trade group.

A spokesman for MedReleaf, the other company listed in the meeting
minutes as supporting the idea, said its CEO Neil Closner does not
remember specifics of the trade association's conversations. The
spokesman said myclobutanil has never entered the company's facility
in Markham, Ont., and that it tests for the compound regularly.

Sandy Pratt, CFO of Thunderbird Medical, now known as Emerald Health
Botanicals, said her company was once briefly interested in using
AzaMax and Spinosad, but dropped the idea in favour of more natural -
and approved - pest-control methods. Her company has never used any
prohibited chemicals on its crops and tests regularly for
myclobutanil, she added.

The fungicidal pesticide myclobutanil is approved for foods such as
grapes, because it can be safely metabolized by the digestive system.
However, when used on plants that are smoked, the chemical enters the
bloodstream directly through the lungs. When the banned pesticide
problem emerged in Canada's medical marijuana sector a few months ago,
Dow AgroSciences said it would not support the use of myclobutanil on

Not all companies in the trade group supported the idea though. Eric
Nash, whose company Island Harvest is seeking to be licensed by Health
Canada, was part of the discussions. When contacted by The Globe this
week, Mr. Nash said he was shocked by the February, 2015, internal
group e-mail asking whether he wanted to be part of a wider push for
more chemicals.

"It gave me an uneasy feeling about the pesticide issue," he said,
particularly since he was an organic grower. "[It] certainly made me
question: 'Do I really want to be involved in the association if it's
going to be condoning the widespread use of pesticides in the
industry?' "

In September, before the pesticide was discovered at the two
companies, Health Canada said it would take a zero-tolerance approach
to the use of myclobutanil and other banned products.

However, the regulator told The Globe in January that the government
had, in fact, not been testing for banned pesticides, because the
industry knew it should not be using those chemicals - which
essentially left the companies to police themselves.

Health Canada has since attached conditions to the licences of Mettrum
and OrganiGram, requiring them to test products regularly to show they
are clean. The regulator also announced the rest of the industry,
comprised of 38 companies, would undergo random spot checks. But
patients tell The Globe they are wary of trusting the industry, if
producers aren't subject to regular testing.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt