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Oregon on Monday issued a list of more than 250 pesticides cannabis growers may be able to use on their crops.
The list represents the first clear guidance from Oregon agriculture officials on what chemicals the state’s marijuana industry may use to defeat mites, mold, mildew and other common pests and problems. Top state agriculture officials made clear that the list is a “starting spot” for marijuana growers, who still have to follow pesticide labels.
Lauren Henderson, assistant director of the agency, said regulators combed through more than 12,000 pesticides registered with the state to see which had labels broad enough to include cannabis. Ultimately, the agency came up with about 250 products. The list will be reviewed quarterly, said Henderson.
Brent Kenyon, a longtime cannabis producer and dispensary owner in southern Oregon, said that while he wished marijuana growers had been consulted during the process, he welcomed the technical advice from the state.
“Anytime the state is reaching out and trying to find some guidance instead of ignoring it is a good thing,” he said.
States generally rely on the federal government to set pesticide policy. The feds register thousands of pesticides for use on crops and sets limits of how much pesticide can remain on apples, broccoli and hundreds of other crops once they’ve been harvested.
The government bases those limits on factors such as how much of those foods Americans consume over a period of time.
When it comes to pesticides, the label on the container is the law. Labels, some of them pages long, detail how and when the pesticide may be used and the types of crops on which the product may be used. Pesticides allowed on kale or bananas, for instance, might not be allowed on strawberries and spinach.
No pesticides list marijuana on their labels, leaving it to states such as Oregon, Washington and Colorado to craft their own policies.
Oregon agriculture officials opted to allow pesticides that in general pose minimal risk to human health. Acceptable pesticides must also list broad plant or agricultural uses on their labels.
Rose Kachadoorian, an official with Oregon’s pesticides program, said the chemicals included on Oregon’s list for cannabis “tend to be softer pesticides.”
“They do work, but I think that people sometimes are looking for something with a little more oomph,” Kachadoorian said.
“There are products out there that growers might be interested in using that aren’t on that list,” she said. “We want to caution people not to go in that direction.”
Oregon’s approach is similar to Washington and Colorado, both home to legal marijuana markets. In Colorado, even state regulations on pesticide use haven’t kept contaminated marijuana from entering the regulated market. Denver public health authorities have ordered 16 recalls of tainted pot since last August.
Mike Anderly, a longtime marijuana grower who owns Cloud City Gardens in Portland, said in the past year he’s focused on prevention instead of dealing harshly with pests and problems once they’ve gotten out of hand.
“We have definitely gotten away from anything I would call ‘nuclear,'” said Anderly. “It’s a lot more labor intensive.”
Aviv Hadar, an owner of Oregrown, a dispensary in downtown Bend, said growers shouldn’t use pesticides at all.
“If you have to use pesticides,” he said in a text message to The Oregonian/OregonLive, “you’re doing it wrong.”
But it’s clear many do. Though Oregon mandates pesticide testing for marijuana, a combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market, an investigation last year by The Oregonian/OregonLive found.
Rodger Voelker, a chemist at OG Analytical, a marijuana testing lab in Eugene, said Oregon’s list doesn’t include some of the more common pesticides he sees in cannabis that comes through his lab.
He also said growers will have to figure out how to safely apply the chemicals on the state’s list. Some are included in state-mandated lab testing. That means growers may be able to apply the chemical to their crop, but the product will have to test below a certain level before it lands on store shelves.
While farmers of apples and onions already know how to apply pesticides so that they’re gone or barely detectable by the time they reach the market, that scenario is likely to be a challenge at first for marijuana producers, Voelker said.
Ultimately, he said the guidance issued Monday shows how far Oregon has evolved when it comes to pesticide use in cannabis production.
“This is amazing,” said Voelker, who took a break from his work Monday to review the list of pesticides. “I just cannot believe where we are relative to where we were a year ago.”
— Noelle Crombie