Cannabis Farms Rebound After Pesticide Scare: D.C.’s Battle Against DDT Contamination

August 24, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 4 Minutes
Cannabis Farms Rebound After Pesticide Scare: D.C.’s Battle Against DDT Contamination

Activities in cannabis farms are gradually picking up after the Washington D.C. authorities shut down cannabis facilities in April due to unacceptable levels of Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDT)-related chemicals detected in cannabis harvest. 

In March, a chemist from the Liquor and Cannabis Board made a troubling discovery of high DDE levels in a specific growing area. This prompted immediate recalls by companies like Okanogan Gold, Bodie Mine, Kibble Junction, and Walden Cannabis in April. However, many of the products had already been sold before the recalls.

Of the 108 samples tested from these companies, 59 showed unapproved DDE levels, raising worries about potential consumer risks.

What Is DDT?

DDT is a synthetic pesticide banned about fifty years ago in the US. Extensively used after World War II to combat pests, the pesticide left severe environmental and health consequences, leading to its nationwide ban in 1972. Studies say DDE exposure may cause several adverse effects, including vomiting, tremors or shakiness, and seizures, while animal exposure may cause liver and reproductive issues.

Although the affected farms didn’t directly apply the pesticide, DDT was heavily used about 8 kilometers away, in an erstwhile fruit orchard near Okanogan River, and pesticide residues were detected in the soil. Intended to protect New York’s legal cannabis consumers, the state intervention dealt a big punch to cannabis business activities. As activities sluggishly pick up, affected farmers and cannabis-related businesses are counting their losses from the ban on their operations.

Anders Taylor, an affected farmer who ran two licensed cannabis production facilities, Kibble Junction and Okanogan Gold, said he dipped into his savings as income dropped to a tiny fraction of his former revenue. Worse, his workforce shrunk from six full-time employees and 20 seasonal workers to just two.

“I haven’t sold any product since April…No one wants to buy it,” Taylor told ABC News.

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However, affected farmers felt some relief from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board’s ban-lift on farming activities and promise to address the residual pesticide issue and restore quality standards through special state funding and monitoring. Also, the board has doubled down on its pesticide testing protocols, particularly on cannabis herbs grown within the affected region.

Pesticides in Cannabis: A Nationwide Concern

Pesticides in cannabis plants are a nationwide concern for both regulators and consumers across legal cannabis states. Since marijuana is federally illegal, each state has individual permissible trace levels of pesticides, and each adopts different approaches to protect cannabis users from this concern.

Christopher Simpson, a deputy director at the Pacific Northwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, believes that overall, the risk of DDE in cannabis is likely low. “To my knowledge, nobody has done a really good risk assessment for that…You would have to be able to figure out how much cannabis people would consume and how much of that DDT would be deposited in the body. There just isn’t experimental data available,” Simpson said.

However, individuals using marijuana medicinally may have increased concerns due to potential pre-existing health conditions. There are limited experimental data on the levels of DDE in cannabis and its effect on cannabis consumers. While some cannabis samples contained more DDT than the state’s limit, they still fell below federal authorities’ tolerable levels for DDT contamination in tobacco. 

For Taylor and his colleagues, the regulators’ response, halting their operations instead of issuing recalls, was excessive.

As far as the authorities are concerned, the swift action taken was in the public’s best interest and a responsible approach to consumer health protection. “We are very concerned about the jobs and businesses, but we felt we needed to get a message out to our licensees and to take action for public safety,” said board’s spokesperson, Brian Smith, told 1News.

That said, Washington lawmakers approved $200,000 to aid growers in soil remediation, plus $5 million to study how marijuana plants absorb toxins and how they sneak into cannabis extracts.

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