It’s been a rough week for Colorado’s burgeoning marijuana industry. One day after the Denver Post reported that the state’s Department of Agriculture had caved to industry pressure in allowing the use of potentially harmful pesticides in the production of cannabis, two consumers–one a medical patient with a brain tumor–have filed a lawsuit against a major grower claiming that it used a carcinogenic pesticide called Eagle 20 on the pot it produces.
While neither plaintiff claims to have experienced negative health effects by smoking Eagle 20-laced marijuana, they say that they would not have consumed the marijuana had they been aware it had been treated with Eagle 20, a pesticide they claim converts to “poisonous hydrogen cyanide” when heated. Here’s The Cannabist:
The lawsuit against LivWell Inc. by Brandan Flores and Brandie Larrabee seeks class-action status and alleges the company for years inappropriately used Eagle 20, a heavy-hitting pesticide with myclobutanil that kills a variety of pests endangering the plants.
Flores lives in Denver and Larrabee is a Grand Junction resident.
Neither alleges they were sickened from ingesting marijuana they purchased at LivWell, but each said they would not have inhaled the product if they had known it was treated with Eagle 20.
Myclobutanil is a common active ingredient in fungicide products. In a “product safety analysis,” DOW Chemical states it “is used to control a diverse range of economically important plant pathogens including powdery mildews, dollar spot, summer patch, brown patch, rusts, and scab in a range of crops including established turf grasses, landscape ornamentals, greenhouse and nursery ornamentals, apple trees, stone fruit trees, almonds, strawberries, vegetables, soybeans and grape vines.”
The thing about those fruits and vegetables? You eat them. You don’t smoke them. The analysis warns that eye contact should be avoided and that inhalation “may cause irritation to the upper respiratory tract.” In case you didn’t know, inhalation is the most common method of marijuana administration. Even scarier–and supportive of the plaintiffs’ claims–is this warning (emphasis mine):
Myclobutanil is stable under recommended storage and normal use conditions, but can decompose at elevated temperatures. Generation of gas during decomposition can cause pressure build-up in closed systems. Decomposition products depend on temperature, air supply, and the presence of other materials, but can include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide, and nitrogen oxides.
In March, six Denver grow facilities had their plants quarantined due to the improper use of pesticides, and Eagle 20 was said to be among the offenders. Frank Conrad of Colorado Green Lab wrote this blog post at the time warning of the potential danger in using myclobutanil in marijuana grows:
Tolerance levels and toxicity studies for myclobutanil on edible products should not be used for evaluating the safety of myclobutanil on marijuana. Passage of pesticides into the bloodstream varies considerably between inhalation and ingestion routes of exposure, and the application of high temperature is known to alter the chemical composition of myclobutanil. Unfortunately, very little information is available to evaluate myclobutanil in the context of tobacco use, as Eagle 20 and myclobutanil-based fungicides are not approved for use on tobacco plants in the United States (6,7). Myclobutanil is approved for use on tobacco cultivated in China, however, and a 2012 study has demonstrated that 10% or more of the active pesticide remains on tobacco leaves up to 21 days after treatment, with residue present from 0.85 parts per million (ppm) up to 3.27 ppm (8). Using tobacco as a model for pesticide retention, it is probable a considerable amount of myclobutanil may remain present in cannabis weeks after fungicide application.
Where is the EPA in all of this? Well, marijuana is still considered a Schedule 1 illegal substance under federal law and the agency has provided little help, according to Colorado’s former agricultural commissioner John Salazar. He told the Denver Post that the Department of Agriculture “tried to work with the EPA, to figure out what to do [with regard to putting together a list of banned pesticides], but…got nothing.” States are going to have to tackle the issue of pesticides on their own; Oregon has had issues with pesticides and other contaminants as well.
After working closely (some are saying too closely) with the marijuana industry, state officials have finally put together a working list of banned grow chemicals and are “now preparing for regular inspections of marijuana growers using pesticides,” according to the Post. While it is unfortunate that patients and consumers have had to experience uncertainty about contaminants in their cannabis, it should be noted that legalizing and regulating marijuana led to the discovery of potentially unsafe products in the marijuana. There have been, and will be, growing pains (pun intended) with the new industry, but clearly legalizing and regulating cannabis is better for public safety than prohibition, and keeping marijuana on the illegal market.