Pesky Pesticides: Impacts for Cannabis Farmers and Consumers

spraying pesticide

It’s no secret cannabis has become an explosive industry. But, due in part to a murky legal landscape, it’s also been largely unregulated or improperly regulated. This means the same protective laws that work to ensure agricultural products are grown without harmful pesticides have not necessarily governed the hemp plant - and this has led to problems with pesticides in particular. Join Bluebird Botanicals as we explore the impacts of pesticides in cannabis for farmers and consumers.

Spray it ain’t so!

Unfortunately, cannabis-growing has often been synonymous with using a heaping supply of pesticides. This has included some pesticides that are only approved for ornamental plants (read: decorative or plants that should never be ingested by any method).

Even more frighteningly, some of the pesticides formerly used for cannabis cultivation are associated with serious health and disease risks. Why? Because pesticides have meant that most, if not all, of the cannabis crop will make it to harvest, meaning the grower has a greater likelihood of scoring bigger profits from each growing season. 

Though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for regulating agricultural pesticide use, medical and recreational cannabis is still considered an illegal drug at the federal level. Hemp just recently became legal and thus the EPA has not been able to approve or ban pesticides for use with hemp or cannabis. The legal limitations have also meant the EPA has not addressed the safety aspects of residual pesticides found in cannabis crops. This can be especially problematic when it comes to the hemp plant, which is a known bioaccumulator - meaning it’s great at absorbing things from its surrounding soil, nutrients and contaminants included. 

There are farms committed to growing hemp in pristine soils and without the use of pesticides. Bluebird Botanicals partners with such farmers to source the plant material for our CBD, as well as provides third-party lab test results so customers can verify they have a clean, safe product. 

[States] take the power back

The lack of federal guidance has led to a factioning of state laws. No two states have landed on the same set of regulations, meaning what customers can expect with regards to cannabis regulation can be vastly different, even in adjacent states. 

Though there are variations in how states are choosing to approach pesticide policy, states are working to provide more thorough guidelines on pesticide use for cannabis. As new evidence about the detriments of pesticides becomes more prevalent, individual states have been making legislative moves to prohibit certain harmful chemicals or - more often - to start spelling out exactly what is allowed. 

And these policies seem to be consistently being changed or updated. Colorado has established a list of allowable pesticides for cannabis to be in accordance with the statewide Pesticide Application Act that was updated as recently as October 30, 2019.

What does this mean for farmers?

The first challenge surrounding pesticide use in cannabis is successfully getting the hemp crop to harvest. Though this is really not as impactful as you may think, as hemp is a hearty crop all on its own, and fairly pest-resistant

Keeping up with the regulations is another hurdle. As the industry continues to grow, change, and shift, it can be difficult for farmers to stay in-the-know with the current allowable practices around pesticides. 

Fortunately, Colorado tries to make it a bit easier. To make their changing regulations more accessible, you can sign up to be notified when the list of allowable pesticides is amended. But it can still be a challenge to implement changes in real-time or in the middle of a growing or production season.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge to address comes from Mother Nature herself: dealing with the elements. Even if one hemp farm is abiding by pesticide regulations and safely growing crops, there is the chance for overspray from neighboring farming operations to migrate over and contaminate the hemp crop. This can float in on the wind or trickle in through recycled water. 

The good news is that, as states better develop and enforce their pesticide policies, all hemp growers will have to abide by the same policies, decreasing the chances of a neighboring farm’s chemicals contaminating another crop.

Putting the “can” back in cannabis

While the federal legal landscape often seems to move at a snail’s pace, there is (hopefully) good news on the horizon. Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which made hemp federally legal, laces have loosened a smidge on the political gridlock and we’re starting to hear the murmurs of regulation shifts. 

There are entities like Clean Green Certified that do third-party testing for cannabis crops. Clean Green also certifies companies that are engaging in sustainable business practices.

While states are currently establishing disparate policies surrounding pesticide use for cannabis, the call for overarching federal regulations is sounding loudly from scientific researchers and hemp companies themselves. And, while it is a bit like trial and error - like a lot of things in the hemp industry - it seems likely that some states may be able to create a framework or model regulations for pesticides in cannabis that could be adapted to the federal level.