Canada’s had a bumpy start to legalization. From large-scale data breaches to finding bugs and mold in bud, Canada’s legalization effort proves that a lack of legislative preparation can impact the wellbeing of the public. As of Nov. 8, however, Health Canada released mandatory cannabis testing requirements to monitor and limit pesticide-use among licensed producers (cultivators). Starting Jan. 2, Canada will require producers to have an independent lab test all products for 100 different pesticides before they can be sold.
Prior to national legalization, Canada’s medical cannabis regulations didn’t call for mandatory pesticide testing. So, although licensed medical cannabis producers were ‘forbidden’ from using toxic sprays on plants, no system was implemented to hold people accountable. Thus, the industry’s history with pesticides hasn’t been exemplary, and many Canadians believe these new testing mandates are a step in the right direction.
“My opinion is that the industry, on the whole, is trying to do a good job,” John Coleman, co-founder and president of cannabis testing lab Anandia Laboratories, tells the Growth Op. “The problem is, you’re going from essentially a completely illegal industry to one that is legal and highly regulated, and it’s a transition. Getting rid of some of the bad habits is going to take a bit of time.”
Not all licensed producers avoided lab testing, however. Some producers did it voluntarily. Others had to test in order to keep their licenses after getting caught with contaminated product. Ideally, these laws will level-out the playing field by holding everyone to the same standard, says Jodi McDonald, president and founder of Keystone Labs.
Can Any Pesticides Be Used?
Unlike the U.S. where strict pesticide regulations have put many licensed cultivators and manufacturers in a state of lab testing mayhem, Canada isn’t outlawing the use of pesticides. Rather, the Pest Management Regulatory Agency has outlined which pesticides are permitted. (You can find the list of the 22 pesticides here.) Health Canada also crafted a list of unauthorized active ingredients its testing for. (You can find that list here) If a product exceeds a certain limit in parts per billion, the health department says it will quarantine the product and open an investigation into the business to find out exactly where and how the contamination originated. If it doesn’t exceed the limit, however, the product is sellable.
The new pesticide law also states that in order to meet testing requirements: “license holders under the Cannabis Regulations must demonstrate that none of the unauthorized pesticide active ingredients, as listed in the Mandatory cannabis testing for pesticide active ingredients-list and limits published by Health Canada, are used to treat their products or have contaminated their products.”
The problem is that some toxic active ingredients are still permitted to a certain extent. In California and other U.S. states with cannabis laws, pesticide regulators operate under the rule that “no pesticide product is federally registered for use on cannabis.”
There are pesticides that can legally be used on cannabis in the Golden State if they meet specific criteria, however. For instance, pesticides can be legally applied to cannabis under state law as long as the active ingredient found in the spray is exempt from “residue tolerance requirements and the product is either exempt from registration requirements or registered for a use that’s broad enough to include use on cannabis,” according to the Department of Pesticide Regulation.
When comparing the list of acceptable sprays in California versus legal pesticides in Canada, a few differences immediately stand out. The first is that California’s list of approved pesticide are organic compounds, such as: neem oil, various beneficial bacterium, rosemary oil, peppermint oil, castor oil, sodium bicarbonate, sulfur, etc. It also doesn’t list the limit in parts per billion being tested for. But, the laws in Cali seem a bit more black and white. Most of Canada’s authorized chemicals aren’t organic or natural. For instance, one of the fully legal pesticides is Sirocco, which according to the EPA “is very toxic to aquatic life [and has] long-lasting effects.”
Health Canada is also testing for bifenthrin over .10 parts per billion. It may seem like a tiny, irrelevant amount, but bifenthrin is also highly toxic to aquatic animals. If it’s toxic to animals, it’s likely not great for humans, either. Chronic exposure to chemicals such as bifenthrin–even in small doses– can be detrimental to long-term health.
Moreover, Canada’s list permits .50 parts per billion of Aldicarb on fresh cannabis plants, 1.0 parts per billion on dried cannabis, and .50 parts per billion in cannabis oil. California specifically prohibits the chemical from cannabis cultivation altogether– it is not allowed what so ever.
Granted, the pesticide testing regulations in California are wildly stringent. The law is so strict, it makes even the “organic” food we eat seem dirty. But pesticides are nothing to fuck with, especially when you’re lighting it on fire and inhaling the vapors into your lungs.
How these new testing requirements will impact the licensed cannabis industry in Canada remains to be seen. We know shortages tend to happen, at least initially, when testing requirements increase. But since Canada’s already endured mass product shortages and the list of approved pesticides is more than half of what’s permitted in California, it’s hard to say how licensed producers–and consumers– in Canada will fare in the coming months. Stay tuned for updates.