The past few months have not been kind to the cannabis industry when it comes to product safety. But fate is not to blame.
In February, a rare fungal infection believed to have originated from tainted medical marijuana killed a California man being treated for cancer, CBS Los Angeles reported. The cancer treatment weakened the man’s immune system, “but his death still surprised doctors because he was relatively young and his cancer was beatable.” When doctors learned he used medical cannabis to ease the treatment’s side effects, they tested 20 medical marijuana samples from across the state, finding that “the vast majority were contaminated with dangerous bacteria and fungi,” reported the CBS affiliate.
In October 2016, cannabis testing and analysis firm Steep Hill Labs reported that “84.3 percent of cannabis samples submitted in Steep Hill’s Berkeley lab tested positive for pesticide residues.” The main culprit was myclobutanil, which is used for prevention and control of mildew outbreaks. The chemical was present in over 65 percent of tested samples. When burned, myclobutanil converts into hydrogen cyanide, which is listed as a chemical warfare agent by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There has been little improvement since then, according to the director of public relations at Steep Hill, Cathie Bennett Warner.
In November 2016, Oregon issued its second health alert “for marijuana contaminated with pesticides or pesticide ingredients, in this case three strains of marijuana flowers sold from dispensaries in Salem, Eugene and North Bend,” reported Oregon Live. The “tainted marijuana ended up on store shelves after apparently failing lab tests. Health authority officials are investigating why that happened. Producers are supposed to destroy the strains that fail pesticide tests,” the article explained.
In January, “Organigram, a publicly traded grower based in Moncton, New Brunswick, in Southeastern Canada, expanded a Dec. 28 recall of a small amount of product to include almost all of its cannabis buds and oils produced in 2016,” reported the Globe and Mail. Residual levels of two banned pesticides, myclobutanil and bifenazate, were found in the medical marijuana operation’s products, according to CBC News Nova Scotia.
Testing regulations are becoming more stringent in the United States and Canada, the latter of which, until recently, didn’t require mandatory testing. Health Canada changed its policy last month and “will begin random testing of medical marijuana products to check for the presence of banned pesticides after product recalls affecting nearly 25,000 customers led to reports of illnesses and the possibility of a class action lawsuit,” CBC News Nova Scotia reported.
I believe most cultivators wouldn’t intentionally put out a dangerous product. But the tragic death of the California man and the extremely discouraging test results are a wake-up call. Test your products even if regulations don’t require it. Make sure they are safe for human consumption. Legalization is supposed to help provide safe cannabis to the public, not endanger lives.