Last week one of the nation’s leading marijuana testing firms issued an unsettling report which suggests that growing worry regarding the prevalence of pesticides in cannabis cultivation is regrettably well-founded. Steep Hill, a cannabis testing and analytics company headquartered in California, says that in the first demonstration of its newly developed “quantified pesticide analysis” technology, 84 percent of cannabis samples processed by its lab in Berkeley over a 30-day period tested positive for pesticide residues. The group was unambiguous in assessing its findings, writing that the “results were significantly higher than expected and are cause for concern for California cannabis consumers.”
While California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, only recently did the state’s legislature pass comprehensive regulations for the industry in late 2015, and the agencies to refine and enforce those rules won’t stand up until January 2018. That isn’t soon enough for Steep Hill’s CEO Jmichaele Keller, who said regarding the report that “those in the cannabis community who feel that all cannabis is safe are not correct given this data – smoking a joint of pesticide-contaminated cannabis could potentially expose the body to lethal chemicals. As a community, we need to address this issue immediately and not wait until 2018.”
As California presently lacks specific pesticide guidelines for medical cannabis, Steep Hill’s study looked to standards established by the state Health Authority in neighboring Oregon (which just on Friday issued a health alert for pesticide-spoiled strains of Dr. Jack and Marion Berry) to define which pesticides and quantities were dangerous. The company found that in addition to over 84 percent of samples confirmed for excessive levels of one or more of nineteen pesticides, more than 65 percent of samples contained hazardous degrees of Myclobutanil – a pesticide safely used on grapes and strawberries but when combusted transforms into Hydrogen Cyanide, an extremely poisonous compound historically employed as a chemical weapon. In the report Steep Hill also puts its results side by side those collected during the same time period from fellow cannabis testing outfits: merely 3 percent of SC Labs’ samples were contaminated, compared to just 20 percent of CW Analytical’s specimens. The report’s press release claims the disparity is because Steep Hill’s cutting-edge tests, which indicate concentration instead of only presence of pesticides, are “between 100 to 1,000 times more accurate than tests available through other labs.”
“As of today, this tainted product could be sold in most dispensaries throughout the state of California without any way of informing the patients about the risks of pesticide exposure,” said Keller, adding that if California is to expand cannabis access to all adults in the near future, “now is the time to get pesticides under control.” Steep Hill has obviously embraced an activist approach to publicizing its innovative services – it also called on marijuana regulators in Washington State earlier this year to “clamp down” on less rigorous labs with deceptive testing practices.
Steep Hill’s study is a timely reminder in advance of votes on whether to legalize recreational or medical marijuana in nine states on November 8th that regulation can afford key benefits to consumers not guaranteed in the black market, such as quality assurance that your medicine won’t harm you. However as their report notes, “pesticides are a problem in every legal state,” and governments continue to grapple with how to best regulate pesticide application in cannabis farming for public safety. Bringing these practices into daylight without the paranoia of prohibition is only the first step to ensuring legal cannabis retains its many benefits.