By Brian Peavey
Oregon’s laws regarding cannabis testing for pesticides and insecticides are a double-edged sword. Just like many things in life, there is a trade-off to progress. The main objective of the testing requirement, as set forth by the Oregon Health Authority, was to eliminate toxic chemicals, specifically pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide from being ingested by humans. While the testing laws have been a burden to some cultivators, they benefit consumers, and ultimately help the industry as a whole.
Whether a person chooses to consume cannabis by smoking, edibles or oils, they are also choosing cannabis on a recreational or medical basis. Medical reasons to avoid toxins while using cannabis seem quite obvious. Medical patients are using cannabis to alleviate pain or suffering and the last thing they would want is a medical problem caused by ingesting toxic chemicals, further exasperating their medical challenges or causing a toxic interaction with their other medications. Recreational users are simply looking to have a good time and don’t deserve paying the price of having poisons in their cannabis simply because they were used to ward off spider mites or increase yields and therefore profits for the cultivators.
The biggest challenge that cultivators face is that they need to reexamine their farming practices and instead of using chemicals, they need to utilize more sustainable and quite frankly cost saving measures to ensure they meet the testing requirements. The drawback to failing a test is that the cultivator may have to actually destroy the whole crop so the incentive to utilize other methods besides toxic chemicals is strong. Cultivators do have recourse and can apply for a re-test or may be able to process their flower into concentrate or an extract to remove the toxins. However, if the product still doesn’t meet testing, it too must be destroyed.
Testing requirements for human consumption products is not unique to cannabis. In fact, consumer advocacy and labelling transparency dates back to the late 1890s and early 1900s when laws were created over concern about food purity. Extensive food and drug legislation came in 1906 over concerns about “unsanitary conditions and high prices” and was enhanced in 1938 with the passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act which “required manufacturers to prove the safety of new drugs before being allowed to put them on the market”.
While some may think that these regulations are onerous, we only have to look back to examples in recent generations where we as consumers have been misled by an industry not to fully understand the health consequences of using certain products. The easiest example is the tobacco industry. It was clearly shown that tobacco industry executives misled their consumers and as a result labeling warnings are now found on all tobacco products to provide full disclosure to users regarding the consequences of using these products. The cannabis industry can only benefit by full disclosure and testing requirements. In order for cannabis to be recognized as a healthy alternative to pharmaceuticals or simply for safe recreation, consumers need to feel safe and testing is a step in the right direction.
Cannabis cultivators face a choice: they either need to find ways to grow their crops without the use of these chemicals or get out of the industry. Many are choosing sustainable farming methods of building soils through the use of composting and adding soil amendments such as worm castings. Soil amendments like worm castings are the most natural yet effective way to grow a strong healthy plant—it’s the difference between a child eating vegetables or eating candy. A plant “eating” worm castings is going to be far stronger, far healthier, much more able to fight off pests and live longer than something that is being fed the “candy” of a chemical fertilizer.
These sustainable methods reduce the costs cultivators would incur by adding harsh fertilizers or pesticides and they can create better and more abundant products. It is about education, both for the consumer to demand healthier products and the cultivators so that they understand the impact chemicals can have on the environment and their end users.