by Spencer Grey
There’s been enormous speculation about California’s upcoming legal weed market, but the grass may not be as green as we’d hoped. Come January 1st, Californians will be able to walk into any licensed recreational retailer and pick up packets of flower and other marijuana products—but some consumers may choose to wait until the first six months of sales are over. Why? Because growers and sellers have been granted a six-month “grace period”, during which they can sell their existing inventory that was grown before the implementation of testing protocol. What does that mean? That the consumers who line up for legal weed on New Year’s Day will be running the risk of getting cannabis tainted with pesticides.
It’s common knowledge that an abundance of our crops are grown with pesticides, so what’s the big deal with some tainted weed? The difference is in the method of consumption. When you eat, say, an apple that has some pesticide lingering on it, your liver has the chance to do its job and filter much of it out.
But when you inhale something, it bypasses the liver altogether, meaning that whatever you just inhaled has a straight shot to being absorbed by your body. According to Dr. Jeff Raber, whose cannabis testing lab conducted a peer-reviewed study on pesticide-laden cannabis, “It’s really like injecting that pesticide right into your bloodstream”. Tainted weed can end up damaging your kidneys, liver, and other organs depending on how high the concentration is.
The short answer: a lot. In February, an NBC investigative team decided to find out just how much of California’s cannabis crop contained pesticides. They got 44 products from 15 different dispensaries located in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties. They bought buds as well as vape cartridges, which represent the two most popular product categories.
They shuttled the 44 samples off to Steep Hill Labs, one of the premier cannabis testing labs in the country. After testing for 16 different pesticides, the investigation turned up some grim conclusions.
41 out of the 44 samples tested positive for enough pesticides to warrant being banned for sale in other legal weed states. In other words, 93% of California’s weed products were contaminated at the time of the investigation.
Yes. The 16 contaminants Steep Hill tested for pose varying degrees of danger, but they’re all known to be toxic, and some take on even more dangerous characteristics when they’re exposed to Heat. One in particular has deadly potential. Myclobutanil is a fungicide that has some particularly nasty habits. When you heat up Myclobutanil, it can transform into hydrogen cyanide. You know, the stuff they used to kill people in gas chambers.
A man named Todd Gullion has suffered some disturbingly extreme health events that he believes are due to using a tainted marijuana product. He decided to try a medical marijuana vape cartridge to assist his back pain symptoms. After using the cartridge, he began experiencing numbness in his extremities, and problems with balance, vision and intermittent hearing loss.
Gullion says he specifically asked the dispensary staff if the cartridge contained any pesticides, and they denied it. But when he sent one of his cartridges to Steep Hill, the results showed a horrifying 355 times the amount of myclobutanil that would be allowed in other legal weed states.
Things get even messier when you find out that Bhang, the company who produced Gullion’s cartridges, actually does have their products tested by a lab that declared them clean. But since there aren’t currently any regulations for cannabis testing, different labs routinely turn up different results.
If you want to steer clear of weed with a questionable pesticide content, you’ll have to wait until the six-month “grace period” is over. At that point, more stringent testing procedures will go into effect, and distributors must have their product lab-tested for pesticides, bacteria, and mold. With all the supply going through lab tests, standards and procedures will hopefully be developed and implemented, so that discrepancies in testing stop occurring.
Of course, many argue that none of this is a big deal, since California medical marijuana has been grown without pesticide regulations for years already without much complaint until now. But others argue that the whole point of a regulated market is to ensure companies can’t push low-quality, tainted marijuana onto consumers.
Once sales and the grace period start, any marijuana products that haven’t been tested will be re-labeled so you’ll at least have some choice in what you’re buying. But since an estimated 5% or less of medical marijuana products are currently tested, the pickings may be slim.