Is your cannabis clean? Colorado pesticide recalls pull pot products off shelves

In 2016 alone, 28 different wholesale marijuana companies have recalled products that tested positive for off-label pesticides.
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Local dispensaries are pulling pot products from their shelves with yet another batch of recalls hitting cannabis wholesalers statewide. The latest, a voluntary recall by Avicenna Products, affects more than 80,000 concentrates — including wax, budder and vape pen cartridges — that were found to contain traces of pesticides.

The company announced on May 13 that samples of the products contained residual levels of Myclobutanil, Imidacloprid, Spiromesifin and/or Etoxazole — all pesticides the Colorado Department of Agriculture determined cannot be used legally on marijuana.

“There have been more recalls in the past six months I’d say than ever before,” a manager with Organix, who didn’t want to give his name, noted. “Most dispensaries in Summit County carry a few of the same brands of edibles.”

He added that while the store’s bud was not affected, as they grow all of their own, several edibles purchased from wholesalers were recalled.

“We grow everything. That’s the only way we control the quality that we look for. With a lot of wholesalers, you don’t know what you’re gonna get,” he said. “Pesticides are pretty much a no-go. If you spray a plant with pesticides in the flowering phase, that will end up in your final product.”

The sweep of recalls started in November 2015, when Gov. John Hickenlooper passed an executive order deeming marijuana contaminated by an off-label pesticide a risk to public health. Essentially, this means the pesticide was used for a different crop than intended or otherwise inconsistent with label directions.

In 2016 alone, 28 different companies have recalled thousands of marijuana products, and, in 2015, there were several as well, including well-known edible infuser Edipure.

“I tell the public, whether you’re for or against cannabis, it’s a drug. You need to know what you’re putting in your body,” Pazoo CEO David Cunic said. Pazoo is a health and wellness company that conducts cannabis testing nationally and, in Denver, through an agreement with Steep Hill Labs.

“It’s great to see Colorado adopting and implementing stricter testing laws,” he added. “More and more states are adopting laws to make testing required. How are you going to legitimize the industry?”

Steep Hill tests products for a bevy of pesticides, as well as cannabinoids (active compounds such as THC or cannabinol), terpenes (oils found in the plant that give it its minty or citrusy scent) and residual solvents, which would include harmful solvents, impurities or added chemicals.

“A lot of it comes down to the growing process… the types of pesticides you use, what you put in the soil, and so on,” Cunic said. “It’s like fruit. Do you want to get fruit that has a bunch of chemicals and preservatives and all this other crap?”

Sometimes the test results go beyond chemicals. In some cases, fecal matter has also been detected on the plant samples.

“Some of the stuff we find on samples, it’s disgusting,” he said. “People need to know. The stuff that’s killing your lungs — it has a lot of pesticides and chemicals on there that will do you more harm than good.”


Since marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance at the federal level, it is not subject to the USDA’s organic certification. In light of investigations by the Colorado Attorney General’s office, some businesses have pulled the name “organic” from their name or their products, as fraud penalties under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act include fines of up to $10,000.

“Considering the organic labeling of marijuana is an ongoing issue between states and federal government, we do not have a comment at this time,” the attorney general’s office responded to a request for an interview.

Breckenridge-based Organix and Colorado Springs-based chain Altitude Organic Cannabis are two local businesses that have maintained the name, however.

Aaron Bluse, director of retail operations for Altitude Organic Cannabis, said they kept the word organic as part of the company’s ethos to meet USDA standards.

“We are in the process of being the only people or one of the few with organic in our name,” he said, referring to the investigation. “We’re ourselves to USDA standards or codes. It’s self-accountability. It’s very important for the way we operate, that we don’t harm the environment or people.”

He said at the company’s cultivation, plants are compartmentalized, so that a sick plant would not be able to affect other crops at other stages of the grow process. He added that his company does not use any illegal pesticides but rather uses Neem Oil, a naturally-occurring pesticide.

“We have to go with what (USDA) regulations exist and try to fit in them, so, when regulations come, we have legs to stand on,” he said. “If I wouldn’t give it to my grandma, I wouldn’t sell it to someone else.”

A bill was proposed this most recent legislative session to create a label for marijuana that had been produced without pesticides. However, it was narrowly rejected in a Colorado Senate committee earlier this month.

“You’re a student, but there’s no grading system, so why do you try?” Bluse quipped. “As a market, we’re shifting away from (organic) 110 percent.”

When it comes down to the answer, he explained tighter standards would benefit his business in the long-term: “What I think is best for my business and my conscience, this is it.”

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