Marijuana is now one of America’s largest cash crops. That means it’s subjected to industrial farming practices, including the use of pesticides. So how big is the problem? Should you be worried?
First, it should be noted that a large portion of our weed supply is sprayed with pesticides. Jeffrey Raber, who runs a lab that tests cannabis, said he finds pesticides in about 10 percent of plant samples.
That shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given the scope of the cannabis industry in America. Four states have legalized the drug for recreational use, while another 19 states allow medical marijuana. It takes massive amounts of pot to meet that legal demand.
And that’s not accounting for the much larger black market for marijuana, worth at least $50 billion each year. The legal market produces less than $3 billion in weed annually.
Although only 10 percent of Raber’s samples test positive, the real numbers are much higher, he said, since his lab examines only a small portion of the legal supply. Most of the pesticides have few, if any, toxic effects, but the presence of undocumented chemicals is troubling.
Lack of Weed Regulation
A big part of the problem, naturally, arises from the very fact that marijuana is illegal in so many places. With no regulatory system in place, there’s no way to impose quality control and remove tainted marijuana.
California is ground zero for America’s pot industry, so it’s also ground zero for unrestricted pesticides. Raber said that this is an especially worrying fact for the state’s nearly 600,000 medical cannabis patients. California is notorious for its lack of state-level regulations on MMJ.
“I think all that says is we really need some serious regulations within California to help us clean up our supply, especially in the medical patient context,” Raber said. “These are people that are immune-compromised, they’re undergoing chemotherapy, they’re very sick with antibacterial loads. We can’t be subjecting them to more of these types of potentially harmful contaminants when they’re looking to this as a medicine source.”
How Harmful Are These Pesticides
There are two sides to this coin. On the one side are the free spirits who believe pot farmers can do no wrong. On the other are the worry-warts who claim all weed is soaked in life-threatening chemicals before it reaches your lungs.
Of course, the reality is somewhere in the middle. There are few, if any, reports of deadly poisonings, but Raber and other experts say unregulated marijuana can contain up to 1,600 times the legal digestible amount of some pesticides. And most of that chemical stew works its way quickly into your bloodstream, especially when you smoke the drug.
Some pesticides are perfectly legal. In Washington State, there are more than 200 legal pesticides that farmers can spray on their crops. The practice is banned in California, but that hasn’t stopped many cultivators from using chemical treatments there.
We don’t know much about how pesticides work when inhaled, but many of the pesticides used on weed contain chemicals meant only for use on grass and other non-edible plants.
That doesn’t mean your stash is going to kill you anytime soon. But we should definitely be concerned about the presence of pesticides in our pot.