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Maryland proposes rules to allow pesticide use by cannabis growers

Freshly harvested medical marijuana (Thinkstock)

Freshly harvested medical marijuana (Thinkstock)

Medical cannabis growers in Maryland could use pesticides on their plants from a state-approved list under new permanent regulations proposed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The rules, should they go into effect later this year, would loosen an absolute ban on the use of pesticides. But the change is not without controversy.

Ashley Colen Herr, president of the Maryland Ethical Cannabis Association, co-owner of an Eastern Shore dispensary and an opponent of pesticide use on the plants, said companies in Maryland, including those accused of using pesticides on plants “are not taking adverse reaction reports even when directly asked by patients if they are making note of their problems.”

Colen Herr and her sister Paige Colen own a Centerville-based dispensary.  The Maryland Ethical Cannabis Association, a trade group with an unknown number of members, is opposed to the use of pesticides in the state’s medical cannabis program.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture referred questions to the medical cannabis commission. A spokeswoman for the commission, which meets on Thursday, said no one was immediately available for comment.

The proposed rules would allow what federal regulations refer to as “minimal risk” pesticides as long as they are labeled for use in greenhouse environments. The products would also be exempt from federal food residue tolerance requirements and would have to meet criteria for use in organic food production.

Industry experts in Maryland say the rules are more restrictive than those governing tobacco cultivation in the state and are “on the lower end of the spectrum” compared to states with more permissive regulations.

The proposed regulations also leave room for the future should the federal government begin to label products as safe for use in medical marijuana cultivation.

Currently, the federal government does not label any pesticides for use in medical cannabis because the drug is illegal under federal law.

Under the proposal, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission would be required to publish an annual list of products approved for use in the state. The commission would also have the ability to remove products from the list if there is evidence that they cause harm to patients.

Previously, Maryland banned the use of pesticides on medical cannabis plants but allowed it for use on hard surfaces and for soil sterilization prior to planting.

The use of pesticides, including some of those used on fruits and vegetables in other states where medical cannabis is legal, is not without controversy. In some cases, lawsuits have been filed by patients claiming batches of marijuana were tainted with residue from common pesticides.

Some growers, however, told lawmakers earlier this year that they were losing as much as a third of their crop because of their inability to use pesticides to protect their crops.

In June, a legislative committee approved emergency regulations similar to those proposed by the Department of Agriculture. The regulations proposed by the department are expected to take effect by the time the emergency rules expire in early October.

The new regulations are nearly two years in the making as the industry and state officials have looked for ways to set rules for what is otherwise an illegal industry under federal law.

Earlier this month, three former employees of Arnold-based ForwardGro filed sworn affidavits  with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission alleging the use of the pesticides.

“If they are saying you can’t use these chemicals on the actual plants then there needs to be some serious repercussions for ForwardGro,” said Colen Herr.

The complaint, along with videos, purports to show employees applying pesticides in violation of state law at the time.

The commission is reviewing the matter. A spokeswoman for ForwardGro, who did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, said earlier this month that the company is cooperating with state regulators and has “never had any product fail pesticide testing.”

 


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