Legal marijuana farms in Washington DC return to work after pesticide concerns halt operations

SEATTLE – (TodayNews) – A large pile of fresh soil on Terry Taylor’s marijuana farm in the high desert of north-central Washington state. Each hole for a new plant is filled with clean soil.

Large strips of newly installed landscape fabric are covering the ground, and soon the dirt roads in his area will be covered with rubble to keep the polluted dust from covering the crops.

Taylor’s Pot Farm is one of several that have returned to operations after state regulators suspended operations in April, citing product testing that found unacceptable levels of chemicals linked to DDT, a synthetic pesticide banned half a century ago.

The affected growers did not use the pesticide themselves, but they are located on a 5-mile (8 km) stretch of former orchards along the Okanogan River where it was heavily applied and left in the soil.

The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board announced last week that it had lifted restrictions on businesses, which are now taking government-funded steps to contain pesticide residues and rebuild their brands. The board said it would increase cannabis testing for pesticides in the area.

“I haven’t sold any products since April,” said Taylor, who runs two licensed cannabis growers and processors, Okanogan Gold and Kibble Junction. “It just destroyed us. Nobody wants to buy it.”

Taylor, 58, said he has been living on savings since April. His income is about one tenth of what it used to be. He usually has about six full-time employees and 20 seasonal workers, but now there are only two.

Pesticides in cannabis are of concern to regulators and consumers in states that allow cannabis cultivation nationwide, especially because the plant is commonly smoked or concentrated, which can increase pesticide levels in the final product.

Earlier this year, regulators in Vermont seized pesticide-contaminated marijuana from five retail stores after a customer reported feeling unwell and Nevada officials issued a warning about widely available products that may have been contaminated with an unapproved pesticide.

Due to marijuana’s illegal status under federal law, states have written their own regulations regarding pesticides in cannabis. There is a wide variety of what is regulated and how much traces can be left in products. It’s unclear how many states require cannabis to be tested for obsolete pesticides like DDT.

Washington State’s recent experience with DDE, a residual chemical left in soil after DDT breaks down, suggests that such regulations fail to protect public health.

In March, a chemist from the Liquor and Cannabis Council noticed some high DDE test results and traced them back to one growing area. The companies — Okanogan Gold, Bodie Mine, Kibble Junction and Walden Cannabis — immediately recalled the product when asked to do so in April, but by then most of the products had already been sold.

108 samples from companies were tested and 59 returned with unapproved DDE levels.

DDT was widely used in the decades after World War II to control mosquitoes, as well as insects that can damage fruit or other crops, but it also killed birds. Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring documented its impact on nature, sparking the environmental movement and helping to introduce a national ban on DDT in agriculture in 1972.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that women with high levels of DDE in their blood are more likely to give birth prematurely or give birth to a baby with shortness of breath. The chemical is considered a possible carcinogen.

Christopher Simpson, associate director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Washington, said the risk from DDE in cannabis is likely low, although it may be more of a concern for those who use marijuana for medical purposes as they may already be have health. Problems.

“To my knowledge, no one has done a really good risk assessment for this,” Simpson said. “You need to be able to figure out how many people will be consuming cannabis and how much of that DDT will be deposited in the body. There is simply no experimental data available.”

Many of the problematic cannabis foliage or oil samples have been tested at around 0.2 ppm, which is above the 0.1 ppm limit set by state law, but still about half what federal authorities allow for DDT contamination of tobacco . One sample of cannabis oil or resin showed a concentration of 1.7 ppm, according to the council.

Given the lack of scientific evidence on what constitutes a dangerous level of DDE in cannabis, Taylor and other affected growers argued that regulators overreacted, forcing them to stop production rather than just recall.

Chandra Wax, director of the board’s enforcement and education division, said in a statement that regulators acted “responsibly, promptly and deliberately.”

“We recognize the significant impact this has had on licensees, as well as the risk this has posed to the public,” Waks said.

It is unclear how DDE ended up in products. Cannabis is known for its ability to remove pollutants from the soil and has been studied for use in environmental cleanup. Taylor said he thought the contamination most likely came from dust settling on plants as he and others drove or walked around the farm, or even from DDT present in wildfire smoke in the region.

In response to the trials, Washington lawmakers this spring sent $200,000 to help growers fix their soil, as well as $5 million to study how marijuana plants absorb toxins, how much is passed on to cannabis products, and the potential costs of growing plants in pots or clearing soil extensively. in this district.

“Obviously you want a safe product and you don’t want people to get sick,” said Republican Rep. Joel Kretz, who represents the region. “I hope we can sort this out without leaving a bunch of farmers out of work.”

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