Cannabis has a pesticide problem. Don’t freak out, but keep in mind that cultivators sometimes spray toxic chemicals on your medicine — chemicals that you inhale when smoking cannabis flower, or ingest in even higher concentrations if you’re vaping an extract.
To combat this issue, California lawmakers have finally laid out regulations for cannabis testing. On Friday, the Bureau of Marijuana Control (formerly called the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation) released a 46-page docket of draft test regulations. According to Lori Ajaz, chief of California’s marijuana bureau, these testing regulations were the most difficult to develop.
Among other requirements, the new regulations call for labs to test for cannabis homogeneity, as in whether or not it contains certain cannabinoids (chemical compounds), residual solvents from extract processing, micro-organisms, pesticides, heavy metals, mycotoxins, certain levels of moisture content, and certain levels of filth and foreign materials. Labs can also test for terpenes, or aromatic chemicals in cannabis, and must report the milligram concentrations of the cannabinoids THC, THCA, CBD, CBDA, CBG, and CBN. A sample of weed passes the test as long as the stated THC or CBD levels don’t vary by more than 15 percent.
The regulations also mandate that labs report whether the cannabis samples have more than the permitted amounts of pesticides like acephate, residual solvents like butane, impurities like salmonella, heavy metals like arsenic, and mold. And in order to get a license, labs will need accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization; while they wait, the state of California will offer 180-day provisional licenses to qualifying labs. The actual testing doesn’t require that much weed, however: Labs will only need to collect half a percent of the total cannabis batch to test.
Some cannabis farmers in California spray their plants with pesticides like avermectin (used in the insecticide Avid), myclobutanil (used in Eagle 20), and bifenazate (used in Floramite). These chemicals have proven toxic or carcinogenic, and can cause vomiting, rash, tremors, nosebleed, or even coma.
Within California, only the city of Berkeley enforces standards to curb pesticide levels in cannabis. Yet, in some cases outside Berkeley, nearly 80 percent of concentrates that get tested have shown signs of pesticides, according to SC Labs.
Pesticides alone won’t cause a batch of weed to fail a test however; they must be concentrated at a certain level. In Berkeley, that means anything more than 100 parts per billion, while in places like Oregon or Colorado, it can be anywhere from 100 to 2,000 parts per billion, depending on the specific chemical compound.
In a recent investigation into cannabis oil, Berkeley’s Steep Hill Labs tested 44 products for 16 different pesticides — 93 percent failed, meaning that 41 of the products tested positive for pesticides at high enough quantities to be banned, had they been regulated.
Hence, while overregulation is a controversial issue, these testing regulations should come as a welcome necessity, aiming to protect the health of cannabis consumers — many of whom suffer from serious medical conditions and have little idea what kind of chemicals cloak their weed.