Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. Four of those states and D.C. have also legalized the recreational use of marijuana. A growing number of other states are considering legalization. So, how are pesticides being regulated in marijuana fields, and what are the protections for field workers from pesticides used to grow marijuana?
Since marijuana is illegal on the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not assessed the potential health hazards of any pesticides used to treat marijuana nor has it authorized the application of any pesticides specifically for use on marijuana. It is left to the states where cultivation of marijuana is legal to control pesticide use and to protect field workers. The American Public Health Association has called on the federal government and states to extend laws regulating the use of pesticides and fertilizers to include individuals who work for marijuana cultivators.
We will take a look at how two states, Colorado and Washington, where marijuana is legally grown for both medical and recreational use, are handling pesticide use and worker protection.
Colorado: Pesticide Use
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper issued an executive order in November 2015 directing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and the Department of Revenue (DOR) to consider all marijuana contaminated by an off-label pesticide (i.e., a pesticide applied in a manner inconsistent with the directions on the label) to be a threat to public health and safety. The CDPHE, the DOR, and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) were charged with enforcing state laws and policies concerning the cultivation and sale of marijuana.
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The CDA is reviewing pesticide labels upon request and maintains a list of pesticides whose labels the department has reviewed that it believes could be used on marijuana without violating state law as long as the applicator follows the label directions.
This list is for pesticides used for commercial marijuana production, marijuana for personal use, and hemp. The CDA also points out that the term “greenhouse” on the label applies to any indoor production of marijuana or hemp.
According to the CDA, the list is intended to assist growers in distinguishing those pesticide products whose labels do not legally prohibit use on marijuana from those that do. The department makes it very clear that it does not endorse or recommend any of the products on the list and that they have not been tested to determine their health effects if used on marijuana; thus, the health risks to consumers is unknown.
Colorado: Worker Protection
According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, the marijuana industry in Colorado employs 23,000 people as budtenders, managers, or growers. Colorado requires that commercial marijuana and hemp producers comply with the requirements of the federal Pesticide Worker Protection Standard (WPS). The WPS applies to producers of any agricultural commodity if they have people working in an area where plants have been treated with pesticides or workers who mix or apply pesticides.
Washington State: Pesticide and Fertilizer Use
The agency responsible for licensing and regulating marijuana in Washington is the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB). The WSLCB has licenses and fees for marijuana producers, processors, and retailers.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has developed a list of pesticides for use on marijuana. The WSDA has determined that these pesticides meet the department’s criteria for use in the production of marijuana.
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For pesticides that require federal registration, those criteria include that the active ingredient is exempt from the requirements of a tolerance on all food and that the label has directions for use on unspecified food crops, home gardens, or herbs (outdoor or enclosed), including those unspecified food crops or herbs grown as bedding plants.
For minimum risk pesticides that are exempt from federal registration, the criteria include that the pesticide be registered in Washington State and that the product be labeled for use on unspecified food crops, home gardens, or herbs (outdoor or enclosed), including those unspecified food crops or herbs grown as bedding plants.
For applications for special local needs (SLN) pesticide registrations for use on marijuana, the federally registered pesticide must be approved for use on food and tobacco and must use similar production practices as the proposed use of the pesticide on marijuana. In addition, there must be adequate data to demonstrate that the proposed use of the pesticide on marijuana will not lead to unreasonable risk to people or the environment.
Marijuana growers that use commercial fertilizers for the production of marijuana in Washington can use any fertilizer that is registered by the WSDA with the exception of those fertilizer-pesticide products that are not specifically allowed for use on marijuana. According the WSDA, the majority of those are labeled and intended for use on turf only.
Washington State: Worker Protection
Washington has adopted federal worker protection standards for agricultural pesticide workers. The state also has some stricter requirements for training and decontamination. Agricultural employers in Washington must comply with the federal WPS and the stricter state requirements.
According to the WSDA, agricultural employers include owners or managers of farms, forests, greenhouses, or nurseries where pesticides are used in the production of agricultural plants, including marijuana. Agricultural employers also include commercial applicators that apply pesticides to these sites.