Is California’s Pot Supply ‘Tainted’?

By Kelly Burch 12/21/17

Sellers are being given a six-month grace period to sell old marijuana supplies that may be contaminated with pesticides.

a farmer puts his marijuana plant into soil

Consumer advocates and industry experts are warning California residents that the legal marijuana they buy in the first half of 2018 will not be tested for contaminants or pesticides. 

"That's one of the biggest reasons for regulation: to establish rules that protect public safety and improve the quality of the product," said Alex Traverso, spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control,according to The Press Democrat. "When people see a sticker that says 'Not tested,' at least they know and they can choose whether they want to purchase that or not.”

Under the law that legalized cannabis in California, pot that is sold legally will be tested for potentially dangerous substances like mold, pesticides and other chemicals. In fact, the entire production process, including growing and harvesting, will be more tightly regulated in the legal market. However, sellers have a six-month grace period to clear out old marijuana supplies that were produced under the more loosely regulated medical market, where only about 5% of product is tested.

"Buyer beware," said Donald Land, a University of California, Davis, chemistry professor and chief scientific consultant at Steep Hill Labs Inc., which tests marijuana. Land says that many people assume that the weed they buy legally has passed certain protocols. "Unfortunately, that's not true of cannabis," Land said. "They wrongly assume it's been tested for safety.”

In fact, in a study Land did earlier this year, 93% of marijuana samples from California dispensaries contained pesticides. 

All marijuana that is harvested after January 1 will be tested for contaminants and have the potency measured. Stricter regulations will be phased in slowly throughout 2018 and 2019. 

In addition to protecting consumers, the regulations are meant to ensure that farmers and farm workers are safe on the job. 

"A lot of these folks, up until now, they haven't been aware of what those requirements are and the proper use of pesticides," said Juan Hidalgo, agricultural commissioner for Santa Cruz County. "That's something we're hoping we can change in the coming weeks.”

California voters approved the measure to legalize cannabis in November 2016, and dispensaries will begin selling the drug on January 1. The state’s cannabis industry is expected to be massive, generating more than $1 billion in tax and licensing revenue each year.

However, in the run-up to the launch of legal cannabis, the industry—like that in many states—is facing last-time complications, including a potential shortage of weed in the early weeks of 2018. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.