I believe that the “Colorado Cannabis Experiment” is one of the most successful legislative initiatives introduced in our nation, at any level, over the past decade or more. Were I grading it, I would be hard pressed to find enough problems with the progress of Amendment 64 as it approaches the two-and-a-half year mark to give it anything other than straight A’s. I would be remiss, though, if I chose to ignore the small set of problems that have cropped up (See what I did there?) with relation to marijuana legalization. That will be the focus of this column for the next few weeks.
The Nebraska/Oklahoma lawsuit: A joke. The spread of marijuana beyond the Colorado borders: Same as it ever was.
The fears surrounding legalization and childrens’ expanded access to weed: A reasonable issue to address. Luckily Amendment 64 creates a self-funded educational opportunity as a result of the revenue it generates.
The use of pesticides on buds and in cannabis products: now, this is an actual problem, for a variety of reasons, some that you may not have considered.
The fourth quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016 may come to be known as The Pesticide Era due to the dozens of recalls by the state of both buds and cannabis-infused products due to the use of prohibited pesticides, but there is more to this situation than meets the eye.
The folks running cannabis grow operations are licensed by the state. That costs money; the application and licensing fees quickly reach the low-five figure range and this is the least of the investments associated with starting a cannabis cultivation business. There are physical spaces to be procured and outfitted, which can get very expensive: Electrical upgrades, lighting, temperature control, water, security. These are things that need to be addressed before any decisions are made concerning grow methods and the necessary raw materials like soil, nutrients, plants, etc. It’s reasonable to believe that any person or group involved in cannabis growing is invested in the order of a cool million before any profits are seen (and that takes a minimum of about four months from seed or clone to cash).
An infestation, by fungi or pests, of even a single crop could be devastating for a still-fledgling business (and with the short history of the legal cannabis industry, every related business in the state is still “new”). Every piece of conventional produce that you buy in the store uses pesticides to some degree. Like any other agricultural producer, cannabis growers need to protect their crops (and their investment).
The use of pesticides is currently guided by Governor Hickenlooper’s Executive Order 2015-015 which states,
“ a. The label allows for use on unspecified crops and/or plants (e.g. “bedding plants,” “flowering plants,” “other crops”);
b. The label allows for use at the intended site of application (e.g. allowed use in greenhouses);
c. The label directions do not prohibit use on crops or plants for human consumption; and
d. Use of the pesticide complies with rules promulgated by CDA governing pesticide use on marijuana.”
This is where we run into a Catch-22 that would make Heller cackle maniacally.
Under the system currently in place, cannabis is classified by the DEA (a federal agency) as a Schedule I drug; designating it in the same category as heroin and methamphetamine. Fine, whatever, old news ... except ... the oversight of pesticide use falls under the jurisdiction of another federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency. The state code which governs pesticide application, the Colorado Pesticide Applicator’s Act, or PAA, prohibits the use of pesticides in a manner inconsistent with the EPA.
I’m going to step back and give you a minute to reread that last paragraph.
It’s complicated. Are pesticides something you want on your weed and weed-related products? Probably not. Are pesticides used in the production of your corn, your apples, and your grapes? They absolutely are. The status of cannabis under federal guidelines has not allowed for testing and acceptable levels (most produce has a parts per million or ppm level) and cannabis, being a combustible product sits with only tobacco in the category of “inhaled produce.”
I could write another million words on the topic, but this, at the end of the day, is another issue that is not going to be fully resolved until the federal status of cannabis is resolved. I’m sorry to say, Colorado, the fight is not over. If you like our little experiment as much as I do, you should recognize that this particular joy in life sits more tenuously than you might realize.
Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]