Searching for contaminants on marijuana is a lot like spying a certain red-and-white clad everyman in a children’s book, lab owner Gordon Fagras said.
“You’ve got to find Waldo, hidden in all that stuff,” he said, plying a test tube full of marijuana edibles at Trace Analytics in downtown Spokane earlier this month.
Turns out, there were lots of Waldos hidden in samples tested from across the state. Fagras’ lab, on the request of a doctor who actively fought the legalization of marijuana in Washington state and an organization calling for pesticide-free pot, tested dozens of flower and concentrate samples straight from store shelves.
State regulators and the marijuana industry are preparing for a significant change in state rules later this year when medical marijuana will fall under the same regulations as recreational marijuana for the first time. The change is prompting some to push the state to more strictly enforce rules on pesticides.
In results first published by Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper the Stranger, Trace Analytics found multiple products containing pesticide levels in the tens of thousands parts per billion range.
While several extracts tested positive for pesticides, others – including Spokane County businesses The Happy Crowd, Sweetwater Farms and Kush Comfort Farms – showed no detectable signs of contaminants in the tests.
The Washington Department of Health publishes a list of pesticides approved for use on marijuana. Using any other chemical is outlawed, but there’s no systematic test in place to discover violations.
Unlike produce and tobacco, there are few studies on the harmful effects of smoking marijuana containing large amounts of pesticides. And the way the state’s marijuana laws are written, enforcement is driven by complaints and randomized testing from the Liquor and Cannabis Board, which have produced relatively few violations for pesticide-related offenses compared to other issues.
“The state’s making a valiant effort to get it right, but if you’re looking at it inside the system, there’s holes everywhere,” Fagras said.
“There’s some product on the shelf that shouldn’t be there,” he said.
But Kevin Oliver, a Spokane County grower who also represents the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the results only confirm that there are some bad players in the market, and that the industry is continuing its march out of the shadows.
“It’s nice to know, in a regulated environment, what we’re smoking,” Oliver said. “We’ve never known before.”