Marijuana & Pesticides in Colorado

Many of you have probably read about the rise in pesticide recalls in Colorado’s retail marijuana & marijuana products. This may have you wondering: is Colorado’s marijuana safe?
This is the first in a series in which we explore pesticides in the Colorado marijuana industry. The aim of this post is to provide you with some insight into what requirements are placed on marijuana dispensaries and cannabis cultivation businesses when it comes to pesticide application. The second post in the series will explore how the pesticide requirements have affected Colorado dispensaries.
On November 12, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper issued Executive Order D 2015-015, sometimes referred to as the “Zero Tolerance” executive order.  This executive order directed Colorado state agencies to address threats to public safety posed by marijuana contaminated by pesticides.
The executive order calls out a few important points:
• The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) regulates pesticides in the United States;
• Given that marijuana is a schedule I narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act, the EPA has neither:
(a) assessed the potential hazards associated with the use of pesticides on marijuana; or
(b) authorized application of particular pesticides to marijuana
Colorado also regulates pesticide applications through the Colorado Pesticide Applicator’s Act (“PAA”). PAA prohibits use of pesticides inconsistent with the EPA’s labels and directions.

Therein lies the predicament:  Colorado’s PAA relied on directive from the EPA, but the EPA had not provided guidance on pesticide application for marijuana because it is still an illegal drug at the federal level.

As a result of the executive order, and in an effort to develop a list of pesticides that would be permitted for use on marijuana, the CDA consulted with the EPA. Specifically, as stated above the PAA and the  Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) require that all pesticides be applied in strict accordance with the label directions for the particular product. The heart of the issue is that pesticide labels identify the type of “crop” for which the the pesticide is permitted to be used.  At this time, there are no pesticides listing “cannabis” as a crop on the label.
Thus, the CDA created a list of pesticides that are permitted to be used on marijuana. That list is regularly updated and can be found on the CDA’s website. In testing marijuana, should the CDA find any trace of a pesticide that is not on the approved list, the marijuana will be placed on hold, likely resulting in a recall.
In the next post in this series, we will explore how these strict pesticide application rules have affected marijuana dispensaries across the state of Colorado.

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