Cannabis cultivators have long quietly griped about Massachusetts’ hard-line ban on pesticides, which prohibits even low-toxicity chemicals widely accepted as safe in other states. But now, as the state’s industry scales up from a medical market to a recreational one with over $120 million in sales, business leaders say they stand to lose far more than before. The ban, they say, could most hurt small and midsize cultivators and potentially cripple efforts to include outdoor growers and farmers in the industry.
Massachusetts has taken the most cautious path on cannabis pesticides among the seven states with legal pot sales. Governor Charlie Baker’s administration cites public health concerns.
Because of federal cannabis prohibition, there is little research on the health effects of pesticide use on pot — which, unlike a tomato, cannot be washed before consumption. Scientists also don’t know the impact of burning and inhaling such chemicals. But one 2013 study published in the Journal of Toxicology found that 60 to 70 percent of pesticide residues on raw marijuana are transferred to the smoke.
Even so, all the other states with marijuana stores — besides Massachusetts — allow growers to use some naturally derived pesticides typically allowed in organic farming.
Last year, the state temporarily shut down Good Chemistry and another medical marijuana provider, Triple M, for using some organic pesticides. Both companies said at the time that their pot was safe and they hadn’t intentionally broken the rules but pledged to comply with the regulations.
Without much-needed guidance from the federal government over which chemicals are safe to use on cannabis, a debate is raging nationwide over how to regulate pesticides. Everyone agrees, however, that any regulation beats the illicit market, where profit-minded dealers often douse plants in toxic chemicals that are intended