Confusion over pesticide rules presents conundrum for Colorado cannabis growers

cannabis pesticides

By John Schroyer

In March and early April, Denver officials ordered nine local cultivation companies to essentially quarantine tens of thousands of marijuana plants over fears of possible pesticide contamination.

The state Department of Agriculture was even brought in to conduct tests on the plants to ensure they didn’t pose a danger to consumers.

The situation sheds light on just one of numerous new issues cannabis businesses face as the industry matures, expands and garners a bigger share of the spotlight.

In this case, the question revolves around whether it’s legal or safe to use certain pesticides to grow marijuana – and whether cannabis companies are receiving adequate guidance on the rules. It’s a complex issue that involves the interplay between state and federal regulators, the illegal status of marijuana at the federal level, and a lack of guidance for cultivators on which chemicals are safe to use on cannabis.

Government agencies in Colorado and industry players are working to figure it out.

But the lack of clarity on which pesticides are deemed safe for growing cannabis has created a tricky situation for cultivation companies in Colorado. Some say they are forced to roll the dice with pesticides just to harvest their crops and stay in business, but that means running the now-obvious risk of an ordered quarantine, which can cost companies thousands of dollars.

“The peculiarity of this situation is in the absence of all direction on what’s legal and what’s not, everything was illegal, so people weren’t directed on what they could or couldn’t use,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a pest management expert from northern Colorado.

The problem at hand

The nine companies ordered to quarantine plants include some of the biggest names in the Colorado cannabis industry, along with some smaller players.

The full list: Mindful, The Green Solution, Altitude East, Evolutionary Holdings, Green Cross Colorado, MMJ America, Organic Greens, RINO Supply Company, and Sweet Leaf.

In letters to these companies, the Denver Department of Environmental Health (DEH) identified three pesticides of primary concern: Eagle 20, Mallet and Avid.

Though officials didn’t condemn any of the companies for using the pesticides, they justified the quarantine orders by saying that they weren’t certain whether or not the chemicals posed a public health risk. To determine that, the state’s agriculture department was asked to run tests on the quarantined plants.

So far, no citations or violations have been issued to any of the companies, said Danica Lee, environmental public health program manager for the DEH.

One cultivator – RINO Supply Company – took the voluntary step of destroying 1,548 plants that were identified as having been treated with Eagle 20 and/or Mallet, Lee said. MMJ America also voluntarily destroyed 122 plants just this week, said CEO Jake Salazar, because the plants had been treated with Eagle 20 by a grower who has since been fired for acting out of accordance with the company’s standard operating procedures.

As far as Lee knows, no other companies have taken that step.

As it stands, the other seven companies are still waiting to hear from back from officials, so they can either harvest the quarantined plants or change their practices accordingly to comply with regulations.

Most of the nine companies either declined to comment for this story or couldn’t be reached. But MMJ America’s Salazar, along with executives with both The Green Solution and Mindful, defended their companies, and said they believe the nine growers will ultimately be vindicated.

“We were fully aware of what the product’s risks were, and 100% back the fact that what we were using is used for fruits and vegetables,” said Eric Speidell, a co-owner of The Green Solution. “We’ve really proven that we have a safe product for the consumers.”

Erik Williams, spokesman for Mindful, said that the use of Eagle 20 at the company’s cultivation facility was a mistake, and was rectified even before DEH identified the problem in early April. He also said that the use of Eagle 20 affected less than 5% of the company’s crops, and so wasn’t a huge issue.

“As soon as we found out that it had been used, we took corrective action and removed it from the building,” Williams said. “We don’t use chemicals like this.”

No clear guidance

One problem is that arguably none of those nine companies knew before they used the pesticides that they could be running afoul of state or city rules.

The state’s agriculture department recently published a list on its website of specific pesticides that can be used for cannabis cultivation, as well as some – but not all – of those that can’t.

But even this is confusing. Eagle 20, Mallet and Avid aren’t included on the list at all, while a separate link on the site offering a “selected example of pesticides that cannot be used in marijuana production” mentions Mallet but not Eagle 20 and Avid.

It’s also not clear when the information was published. The site says that the main list is as of April 10, 2015, yet the orders from the health department to isolate cannabis plants were issued mostly in March, with three issued in early April.

Prior to that, there was no clear written guidance from the state or the city on which pesticides were either banned or permitted for use in growing cannabis.

Since cannabis is still federally illegal, that creates another barrier, because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet authorized any pesticides for use on marijuana. That inconsistency has led directly to the current situation, observers said.

Regardless, pest management expert Cranshaw said that while there was a clear lack of guidance previously, “there’s no way now that the list has come out that (the state is) going to allow” the use of Eagle 20, Mallet or Avid.

“It would be clearly illegal, from this point on,” Cranshaw said.

Given that the three pesticides aren’t specifically included in the agriculture agency’s main list, they are by default illegal for use in commercial marijuana grows, Cranshaw said. And that could create further confusion for growers, as many pesticides aren’t mentioned at all.

Standard procedure for agricultural businesses caught using prohibited pesticides is that the contaminated crops are seized and destroyed, usually by a federal agency, Cranshaw said.

“If (a pesticide) isn’t labeled for a crop, it’s subject to seizure and destruction. That’s it. That’s the way it’s always been,” Cranshaw said.

John Andrle, the owner of Denver rec shop L’Eagle Services, estimated that 95% of cultivators across the country use some form of pesticide, and that Eagle 20 is one of the most commonly used, because it’s fantastic for killing mildew on marijuana plants.

“Nothing else gets rid of powdery mildew…it’s a cure-all,” Andrle said. “This is an industry, plain and simple. The more corners you cut, the more money you make.”

John Schroyer can be reached at [email protected]

36 comments on “Confusion over pesticide rules presents conundrum for Colorado cannabis growers
    • the k on

      Bugs will be bugs. There organic. Use organics on them. A little neem oil never hurt anyone. Then change it up. Just use a different organic. The bugs won’t build up an and cannot become immune.

  1. hempster on

    I like the fact there is a company in colorado called Organic Greens but still gets off by using pesticides. Dont cut corners like that. How can you call yourselves Organic Greens and not be organic. I grow everything without a single drop of pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, I actually don’t do anything but use water. Guess what, its a f****** plant, these things do have pests but you don’t have to kill everything there are beneficial insects and companion planting strategies that can be put into place. I personally would never buy any weed for many Colorado recreational shot now that I’ve read this article thanks.

  2. Steve W on

    Avid and Mallet are systemics and Eagle 20 is only labeled for ornamentals so what the H are these growers doing using systemics on herb their customers are going to smoke?
    If I were a Colorado customer I would NEVER buy anything ever again from any of these companies who have failed the most basic test of being able to be trusted. They should not have needed the state to tell them not to use this kind of crap on their plants. There is idiocy at large in Colorado and it needs to stop! Learn to grow without these types of harsh pesticides or DON’t GROW!

  3. justsomeguyinco on

    Even if you get PM, there are products like Safer which work, and are non toxic. As well, a simple change in pH will do the trick, such as a sulfur burner/vaporizer. No need for Eagle or Avid.

    All commercial Grows should be forced to identify which pesticides they use on their plants.

  4. Seth Tyrssen on

    Sounds to me like it’s long past time to establish a Marijuana Industry Standards Council. Collect the best and brightest (most experienced) growers, a few mainstream-science types, lock ’em in a room for a week, and see what emerges.

  5. Scott Howes on

    Any Plant up takes what is in the soil to Water to what ever you put on it. I thought we were going to be Organic NoN Toxic adding food growers. yes that is why in the winter the Tomato are Red they are grown in lead Dirt.

  6. Tony Stark on

    Actually, some enterprising companies (like mine)are already involved in the fight against Spider mites and powdery mildew. These growers use what’s out there, because it’s all they know. Soon they will have better solutions to the borg without harmful chemicals.

  7. steve on

    Well, there you go! That should tell anyone that is considering getting cannabis, from any of the shops or growers above, that they should look elsewhere for their needs, period.. It should be grown organically only, with no pesticides ever, period.. What a joke! Any growers or shops that are caught using any type of pesticides, not matter what type, should not only have their license jerked, put out of business, but they should also face possible legal action, even jail time.. I don’t see how anyone, can put pesticides on their MJ,, & even think about giving it to anybody, let alone selling it for profit, just a joke..
    Professional growers would not do this, they would control their pests & their molds & mildews naturally, or by controlling humidity, etc.,, or if they had 1 or 1000 plants or more, infected with any kind of bugs or mildews, etc., just get rid of them by destroying them, period, not giving them out to anybody.. just a joke.. IF YOU CAN’T GROW MJ WITHOUT USING PESTICIDES, THEN YOU NEED TO FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO WITH YOUR TIME & YOUR LIFE!

  8. Seth Tyrssen on

    Well put, Steve! But … how about those of us who know jack-shit about growing, but want to get into it? Being a long-time smoker doesn’t qualify me as a grower! Any suggestions?

    • Patrick McNulty on

      I grow for medical in New Mexico, and yes we have bugs in New Mexico – however, the old growers, like myself, will spend the extra $$ to insure that we do not use pesticides. CLEAN rooms, no outside traffic, beneficial insects, beneficial nematodes, there are companies out there that specialize in organic growing operations and will train your personnel. As the corporate mentality of the industry gets greedier and greedier, and outside investors want to maximize profits, I fear that our grow rooms will need more and more facility inspections.
      Making a good profit is fair, but making it at he cost of your customers health?
      Spend the extra money to grow organically in a clean healthy environment or get out of the industry. How much profit do you need and at what cost to the trusting consumer?

    • Steve W on

      Seth, go find a grow and volunteer for a while or get a job doing something simple. There are always unskilled labor needs at most grow operations and if you work, observe, and ask questions about each stage you will learn. I recommend working an outdoor or greenhouse grow to start as they are the true future of producing cannabis.
      It’s not that hard to learn the basics and you’ll be surprised how fast you can be growing great quality weed yourself.

  9. hywelda on

    Any idiot knows that indoors, proper humidity control prevents mildew and outdoors, baking soda.
    Pests are easily controlled by lady-bugs, nematodes, tobacco, onion, ?garlic…the list is as long as this comment topic!

  10. Hastings RH on

    Avid is a neurotoxin for Christs sakes. The 95% that contains pesticides and fungicides should be labeled as harmful to your health.

    Yuck I definitely won’t be buying any CO factory weed that’s for sure

  11. steve on

    lmao Seth, I don’t think we are allowed to put in links here? lol, not sure, but I do have a good friend, by the name of Ryan Riley, & if you are a newbie considering growing, let alone even some of the pros could use it, from what all this sounds like, you might want to get his book, Growing Elite Marijauna.. if you really don’t know jack about it, you should probably make that book your bible for a while! I’ll post this, then try to post something in another post, to give you a link, but they might take it off or not allow it. Anyway, that book is a very good place to start, for sure.

  12. Stonner#1 on

    They don’t have to use pesticides on there plants to get mold or mites .I have been growing mine organic for a few years now and I use a soap and water mixer to get read of most every thing and all my fertilizer I use is all organic .You can get stuff to get read of mites that is organic also and mold also .I don’t want any thing I smoke with any kind of bad pesticide’s put on it .I have been growing it since I was a teenager and I am now in my late forty’s .I hate to look back at all of the bad stuff I use to grow with .I grow mine in the outdoors and if I can grow it organically I could imagine what I could do in a controlled grow room .If any of you grower out there in Colorado need any help I would love to be able to do something I love to do and get paid to do it and do it the right way .The only way it should be done .Keep it green and safe for the people .

  13. steve on

    After reading all this again, the last 2 paragraphs up there appall me! I cannot believe that someone that owns a rec shop in Colorado or anywhere, actually believes that 95% are using pesticides. I certainly hope not!
    I thought part of the point of legalization was to make sure everyone has access to MJ that is organically grown & free from any pesticides or harsh chemicals.
    Bottom line is, that if you have mildew or mold on any of your plants, you need to isolate those plants out of your grow immediately, & just destroy it, i.e. burn it.
    Any rec shop, or medical shop, that is using pesticides, should be removed permanently, have their licenses terminated, & possibly face criminal charges. If 95% are really using pesticides, they should be put out of business immediately by that state, the FDA, somebody, & make room for growers that will grow organically without pesticides.
    Also, if they find a shop using pesticides, & trying to sell that to customers, they should be made to consume that mildewy, nasty stuff themselves, & just see if they don’t get sick!

  14. AJ on

    “This is an industry, plain and simple. The more corners you cut, the more money you make.” This absolute drivel!! This is true only with an extremely short-term perspective and no understanfing of brands and profitable long-term industry economics. This could have been the attitude of the people heading up production of Blue Bell Ice Cream’s recent listeria outbreak or those who came up with “new coke”….now we know what L’eagle is all about and it isn’t good business thought and practice!! Weak hands will be mostly gone in five years of industry competition. Shop The Clinic!

  15. John Schroyer on

    AJ: To be clear, L’Eagle is an organic growing company that doesn’t use any chemicals or pesticides in its process.

  16. Karl Witt / Eden Farms on

    Allow the plant and nature to steer us clear of these issues. I run a large cooperative in CA. We produce 1000,s of lbs. with no sprays or chemicals. Colorado needs to learn how to grow! If this is not a fact then why did CA sweep their cannabis cup?

  17. Dave on

    Most dispensaries have accounts with local grow stores. If you ask a grow store clerk how many companies in the industry use Eagle 20, it’s damn near 100%. Why do they use it? Because of powdery mildew in its ability to wipe out a whole crop and bring a company to it’s knees. It was legal, and now suddenly it isn’t. hmm.

    There’s a lot of basement growers on here with righteous indignation, and I get it. You can cook a good meal at home at your own convenience and pace, but when you’re a line cook and the tickets are piling up, you don’t know shit. I’m sorry, but I thought I was the master in my basement but when you’re in charge of a 25k square foot facility with millions on the line and dozens of jobs at risk, you’d go with something that’s legal. I’m sorry but these pesticides WERE legal until the regulating industries put an end to it. Then 5 days later came in to OPC’s to demand holds.

  18. Jim on

    Steve W, Eagle 20 is approved for grapes and stone fruit, read the label before you quote it. You should tell the hops growers in WA to learn to grow without pesticides, PM is rampant and they use whatever works, just happens that the pesticide makers can get their product approved for a legal crop.

  19. Regulation regurgitation on

    How can marijuana grown with electricity, in a warehouse, a totally artificial environment, ever be organic ? I thought organic ment wild grown, and harvested by naked people who live communally. All Marijuana products grown need High Times approval. We need approval from Ed Rosenthal and Danny Danko for all methods and genetics
    used to produce Marijuana

  20. Mountzioncollective on

    Not only are 95% of cannabis cultivators using pesticides (it’s Prolly 99%) but 95% of organic farmers (even with normal foods) are using pesticides. They are using “organic” pesticides but even some of the shit the USDA allows is definently harmful to humans health, and cannabis in particular MUST be held to at least a slightly higher standard because you cannot wash the cannabis bud as you can wash your Apple.

    The only way I know to not have pest problems is to have a “balanced soil” as nutrients not in their proper “relations” is a major cause of disease as it makes the sap in the plant watery and perfect for the pests to move in. They push high nitrogen trying to get fast growth. If the nutrients in your soil are balanced and you have a healthy herd of soil microbes and you took the time to only choose the healthiest plants then your plant and soil will form a perfect “union” (the soil is plants digestive system). If you are able to carefully design a process that creates this perfect union between the two then the “sap” in your plant will test 12+% In Brix/sugar concentration (opposite of watery) and the leaves will Shine vibrantly, a healthy plant actually begins to “look” different to insects. What people don’t realize is insects are natures “garbage collectors” and they are specifically designed To kill the sick and weak, to an insect a healthy plant doesn’t show up on the radar.

    Problem is you have a bunch of “experts”, especially from the greenhouse industry of other crops, like tomatoes, who only know how to make a crop LOOK high Brix and healthy but their still watery and don’t taste like shit. Now the wealthy dispensary owners are bringing in these “experts” who were crooks in their last operation (giving people beautiful red tomatoes that taste like water) and are growing marijuana the SAME…this leads to watery sap and the color the plant begins to give off shows on the insects radar.

    To be fair, growing indoors without pesticides is extemeley difficult, on a large scale damn near impossible. But you are constrained from the other side in that only a few places in the World that are conducive to growing the full range of cannabis strains outdoors.

    The only sustainable thing is hybrid greenhouse/outdoor operations. Reducing the carbon footprint, but also bringing the plants closer to the natural environment.

  21. Karl on

    “One problem is that arguably none of those nine companies knew before they used the pesticides that they could be running afoul of state or city rules.”

    –this is NOT arguable, it’s a manipulative response.

    There are higher laws, moral laws, you don’t poison with pesticide a plant that people inhale.

    I asked a few stores if the used pesticides, some outright lied despite it being listed on the label and the other store employees became defensive and gave me the run around and finally said that “everybody uses pesticides.” This was a store with organics in it’s name and their website claimed that no pesticides were used.
    Of course I no longer will set foot in these liars business…but plenty of other people do, I guess most don’t care.

    One shop in FT Collins simply shrugged their shoulders when I pointed to no less than 3 pesticides listed on the label of GSCookie after they said “we use no pesticides.” They continue to publicly lie.

    I am not a grower, but I am considering becoming one now…a very transparent grower that use only natural control, water and personal attention. I think this would work by hiring a team experienced growers who detest pesticide use and gaining a solid reputation amongst those that want no pesticides used on the product they use. NO EXCUSES.

  22. hempster on

    Wow these stores are all screwed up. I live in Seattle and grow for myself and have visited less than a handfull of them here. As for the quality, it doesn’t even come close to that of a medical marijuana dispensary. I smoke everyday as I need to for my well being and to express my 420 freedom. But one thing that has come up over and over again as I visited these places. The lack of information exposed to the buying customer when you are there. I’ve been in a few were I actually had asked for the msds or material safety data sheets that the producers here in this state must have. Anyway I don’t even bother going to them anymore I mean I’ve been growing my own for a long time. I grow in a sunroom / greenhouse / outdoor system. Rarely do I burn my lights. Most the time I can get away with drying my weed and having it maybe 3 weeks by time I smoke it. My point is I can smoke these buds that I’ve grown that aren’t even cured properly in a jar let’s just say, to give me an excellent buzz with absolutely not one single cough. I say get yourself some automatic seeds and start breeding your own and you’ll be amazed at what you can produce. I’ve grown probably 10 different strains of automatics all seem to be finished in about anywhere from 52 days to 75 or 80. The trick is to start counting the days once you see the little seedlings emerge from the soil. Don’t forget your high phosphorus and potasium bat guano because they’ll be using just those elements once it’s about 3 weeks old. Worm castings are excellent too. But make sure you have OMRI approved or CDFA registered organic input material. Epsom salts for your magnesium deficiencies. And chicken manure fertilizer for your calcium, iron and zinc. Screw those Jerky Boys at the shops trying to sell you poison, grow your own and express your own 420 freedom. You can grow it anywhere, where there’s a will there’s a way, trust me I would know it.

  23. Greg on

    I asked the Co. Dept of Agriculture/CO EPA 6 weeks ago for a decision regarding using my Federal EPA and CO State EPA and OMRI product that makes pesticidal claims. CO accepted my money. To date no one has contacted me. What a joke. Instead of using an EPA registered list, they have decided to make their own. Based on what? No one seems to have any idea. Six weeks after they asked me to submit my CO registered product.

  24. Renée on

    That’s why you need to breed for resistance to all of these pests….one day they’ll be hiring a real scientist like me to do it right

  25. Seth Tyrssen on

    The Temple of Ankh’n’Abis/Church of the Sacred Herb has proposed that it’s time to get a Marijuana Industry Standards Council together. (See our page on Facebook.) Folks like those mentioned by Pueblo Potter and Renee sound like they should be charter members!

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