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Are California’s Proposed Pesticide Restrictions too Stringent?

One of the many concerns of legislators and regulators when a new cannabis market is launched is protecting the public from overuse of pesticides. They fear that in the initial rush to become cannabis cultivators, growers will be willing to do anything and everything to grow their crops bigger and better than their competition, including resorting to pesticide overspraying.

As a result, a common problem in regulating new cannabis markets is that they are too stringent about pesticide requirements. Even though medical cannabis treatment has been legal in California for just over two decades, it looks like the new recreational cannabis market is about to face the same problem.

Take myclobutanil, a fungicide which is also used on almonds, berries and grapes. For food consumption, myclobutanil is limited to .025 parts per million (ppm), but for cannabis that requirement is much more difficult, .02 ppm. According to Dr. Jeffrey Raber, CEO of cannabis research and testing facility Werc Shop, that number is unnecessarily strict. “You’re going to eat a whole lot more apples and grapes than you are cannabis,” he said. Raber estimates that the conservative limit for myclobutanil in cannabis should actually be closer to 1.5 ppm.

There are some legitimate reasons for having stringent guidelines. Vaporized cannabis enters the bloodstream more quickly than edible cannabis, and that effects how trace pesticides are metabolized and filtered by the liver. Given the dearth of cannabis research, there are a lot of unanswered questions about potential toxicities, and regulators are being understandably cautious.

It’s possible that future pesticide requirements will be dependent on how the cannabis is processed after harvest, but for now, the current limits are going to pose a serious problem. Several pesticides, myclobutanil included, can infiltrate through groundwater and rainwater, potentially showing up in crops where the grower never used pesticide.

Then there’s the testing infrastructure. Looking for pesticides in these low concentrations requires prohibitively expensive equipment, and many current cannabis testing labs aren’t set up for it. “Pesticide testing makes up a very small percentage of the number of tests we do,” said Josh Wurzer, president of SC Laboratories Inc., a cannabis testing lab in Santa Ana, California. “It’s expensive, and no one’s requiring it yet.”

There’s still time yet, and the pesticide requirements may loosen in the coming months, according to Alex Traverso, chief of communications at the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. “All along we recognize that the overall goal here in terms of legalizing and regulating the industry is to do as much as we can to eliminate the black market,” Traverso said. “You don’t do that if you make things cost-prohibitive.”

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