Maine: Concerns Raised About Pesticides On Medical Marijuana
By Steve Elliott
The Maine Department of Health on Monday said its investigation of Wellness Connection of Maine, the operator of four of the state's eight medical marijuana dispensaries, had revealed 20 violations of state law and program rules, including pesticide use and security breaches.
But on Tuesday, the Portland Press Herald, the same newspaper which had run the headline "State: Marijuana supplier used pesticides, violated rules" ran another story by the same reporter, Michael Shepherd, headlined "Dangers of pesticides on cannabis pretty hazy."
It seems five of the nine pesticides that state officials say were used by the medical marijuana dispensary group contain active ingredients that are safe for many uses and are federally approved for tobacco, according to Maine's official pesticide toxicologist.
However, the state still says it can't vouch for the pesticides' safety on marijuana, because not much is known about the chemicals' interaction with cannabis when smoked.
Regulators don't set standards for pesticide use on marijuana, because it is illegal under federal law; that's why Maine prohibits all pesticides in its medical marijuana program.
Responding to a request from the Press Herald, Labelle Hicks, toxicologist for the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, analyzed the nine pesticides that the DHHS said Wellness Connection used through the second half of 2012 and all of this year.
Hicks said the active ingredients are either natural substances, or synthetic versions of natural substances.
"If you were to let these break down into the environment, you basically end up with the basic building blocks of life," she said.
The Board of Pesticides Control is still considering whether Wellness Connection violated state pesticide-application law, according to Director Henry Jennings, who said the maximum penalty for a single, first-time violation is a $1,500 fine.
The DHHS began its investigation of Wellness Connection on March 4, after a complaint by an employee of the group.
The state "is unable to, because of the lack of research in the industry, know what the risk is associated with igniting pesticides on cannabis," said Kenneth Albert, director of the DHHS Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, on Monday.
Because they are legal, general-use pesticides -- which anyone can apply -- Maine is allowing Wellness Connection to sell the treated marijuana to patients, Albert said.
Wellness Connection will now be required to notify patients in writing that pesticides were used on the cannabis before it sells it to them, as part of a consent agreement with the state. That requirement will be maintained until state regulators are sure the marijuana being sold is pesticide-free, according to Albert.
He said "the market will decide" if patients want Wellness Connection's pesticide-treated marijuana.
Patients can use other state-licensed dispensaries are designate caregivers, who are authorized to grow cannabis for up to six patients.
"Allowing the patient to make that decision for themselves was appropriate under the circumstances," Albert said on Monday.
"I recommend no one spray pesticides on medical marijuana or anything that you smoke, for Pete's sake," said Don Tomaski, who runs Northern Lab Services, a medical marijuana testing facility in northern Michigan. "Theoretically, you could kill someone."