WASHINGTON – July 7, 2016 - Growing Cannabis is big business.
In 2015, the second year that recreational use of the smokable, edible plant was legal in Colorado, sales in that state totaled nearly $1 billion ($996 million, to be exact). And in fiscal 2015, which ended June 30, 2015, the state took in nearly $70 million in taxes – $28 million more than were collected from alcohol sales.
Washington state has done well, too. Sales and tax revenue estimates have closely tracked Colorado’s, and last fall, the state estimated pot sales would bring in more than $1 billion in taxes in the next four years. Oregon, another state where recreational use is legal, expects to take in $43 million in pot-related tax revenues this year. (Recreational use is also permitted in Alaska and Washington D.C.)
But as with any fast-growing business, there have been bumps along the way. One difficult issue, for a product that is still illegal under federal law, is pesticide use.
“It’s a tough situation for cultivators,” says Mark Slaugh, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance in Colorado. “They’re between a rock and a hard place when it comes to federal law and state law. There’s no pesticide out there that says ‘approved for marijuana.’”
In Colorado, the state Department of Agriculture has issued a list of approved pesticides. But Slaugh says the state is taking an approach close to “zero tolerance” by prohibiting the presence of any pesticide or plant growth regulator above 10 parts per billion.
“While that sounds good in theory, we also have the complications and challenges of the everyday, real-life world,” Slaugh says. Earlier this year, the city of Denver tested marijuana using its own lab, which resulted in more than a dozen recalls and ultimately, destruction of product.
“A lot of that was because Denver city was doing the investigations,” Slaugh said “They were doing their own swabbing and own testing” at a laboratory not certified for testing. The city, which was sued over its policy, has since determined that it will refer any situations where pesticide use is suspected to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
EPA has yet to receive any applications for a Special Local Needs (SLN) registration under 24(c) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. In a letter to Colorado last year, the agency said the best way to obtain such approval would be to apply for an SLN using “a federally registered pesticide (that) is approved for use(s) similar to the manner in which the SLN pesticide would be used. EPA expects that a showing of such similarity would provide the best support for making the necessary determinations.”
And Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Don Brown said recently he did not foresee pesticide manufacturers getting into the marijuana business because the industry is still too small.
Slaugh said he would like to see EPA conduct research on the issue. In the meantime, he says, “We’ve encouraged compliance and responsibility in all aspects,”
Washington and Oregon, however, have set “action levels” for pesticides that, if detected, could result in a recall. That level of clarity is welcomed by Vicki Christopherson, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association.
“From the growers’ perspective, they want their products to be safe,” Christopherson said. But in order to ensure safety, they need clear guidelines about what they can use, and how much, she said.
The state’s original guidance called for “zero tolerance,” she said, which is why her members were pleased when Washington followed Oregon’s lead and adopted the list of approved pesticides and action levels in May.
“I can say that growers want to use as little pesticide as possible,” she said. “Most of the people growing are traditional organic growers,” she said, but there are some conventional farmers in eastern Washington who are experimenting with growing marijuana.
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