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POTENTIALLY TOXIC RESIDUE BEHIND MEDICAL MARIJUANA RECALLS
By Cori Marshall
Two Licensed Producers (LP) of medical marijuana initiated voluntary product recalls in January within a week of each other. Type II and Type III recalls were issued after the product was found to have residual levels of chemicals that are not found in pesticides permitted by legislation for cannabis cultivation. Type III recalls are cases that are not likely to have negative health effects, while a Type II “refers to a situation in which the use of, or exposure to a product may cause temporary adverse health consequences, or where the probability of serious adverse health consequences is remote.”
A Type III recall was initiated by Organigram Inc., the Moncton New Brunswick Based LP, began in December 2016. According to the Health Canada Recall Notice, in late December a Type III recall was initiated “after five lots of product tested positive for the presence of low levels of myclobutanil and/or bifenazate. The chemical substances “are not found in the thirteen pesticides that are authorised for use on cannabis plants under the Pest Control Products Act.”
After more tests were carried more product lots tested positive with “residual levels of myclobutanil and/or bifenazate that exceeded any of the levels permitted in food production for these two pesticides.” It was this further testing that resulted in the initiation of the Type II recall on January 9, 2017. To date, Health Canada has received one report of one “adverse reaction related to Organigram Inc.’s product.”
Four days later, on January 13th, a Type II recall was initiated for residual levels of the same related to product stemming from Alberta-based LP Aurora Cannabis Enterprises Inc. As it turns out, “between August to October 2016, Aurora purchased various lots of products from Organigram.” Although Aurora’s recalled lots are Organigram product, Health Canada “has received no adverse reaction reports.”
Thaddeus “Med Man” Conrad, President and founder of Med-Man Brand an award-winning seed and feed… shared his insights on the recall situation.
According to Conrad “there are no guidelines to use [the banned pesticides properly].” The substances that were used by Organigram exist in a legal limbo because of the lack of a regulatory framework, Conrad added that it creates a situation where “you are only guilty if you get caught.”
The substances that were found to be in Organigram’s product “are only bad for you if the residue is still in the plant, and it is combusted” Conrad said.
In a statement, Health Canada stated that “the trace levels of myclobutanil that were present would have produced a negligible amount of additional hydrogen cyanide upon combustion, in comparison to the levels already produced by marijuana alone.”
The natural organic grower added that “there is place in the medical marijuana world for chemical pesticides as long as they are used properly.” Conrad admitted that cultivation “of a higher quality plant is possible using these chemicals”, they are being used at the wrong time in the growth cycle by large industrial growers.
Conrad suggests that the cultivators are “running into problems four weeks before harvest”, at this stage the plant has already begun to flower. The banned substances were used because they are effective, the problem according to Conrad is that “there is still residue on the buds come harvest time.”
Conrad underlined that “if the plants were treated in the propagation stage none of the bugs and pests would show up in the flowering room”, and there would be no trace of the pesticides at harvest.
Conrad, a former employee of Supreme Pharmaceuticals is keenly aware of the restrictions that Health Canada can place on substances. Conrad suggests that the restrictive nature created by the government department creates an environment LPs would be pushed to use these substances.
Conrad pointed out that brand names containing the banned pesticides, like Eagle 20, can be bought right off the shelf. Further “wine grapes are pounded with Eagle 20, even up to two weeks [before] harvest.”
“LPs could deliver a higher quality product if they would be allowed to be used as a preventative measure” according to Conrad.
Conrad said that “given an opportunity people will always try to take a shortcut”, suggesting that is how this situation arose. The way the LP program was laid out in the regulations “it’s sad but everybody suffers, and it’s systemic” Conrad added.” Conrad feels the way the regulations are written for medical marijuana cultivation creates a double standard.
If the substances like myclobutanil were regulated, Conrad believes that the people who apply the pesticides would be better protected. Conrad said that “it’s not just the users of the product that are suffering” cultivators who do not have proper protection are at risk as well.
The Potriote, a Montreal area advocate for personal producers, highlighted that the use of these chemicals is not necessary, even as a preventative measure. He added that prevention is used as a means to use chemical pesticides to increase crop yields, which is more about “profits than their customer's health.”
Organigram prides itself on growing organically, going as far as saying that “no synthetic or chemical pesticides” are used. The fact that myclobutanil residue was detected suggest that their practices are not as organic as they claim. The Potriote points out that “natural [pesticides] like neem oil,” could do the job just as well.
The legislation providing the framework which allows Canadians access to medical marijuana has been evolving for the better part of the last two decades. According to Health Canada, “legal access to dried marijuana for medical purposes was first provided in 1999.” The legal right was obtained “using unique section 56 exemptions under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA).”
Section 56 of the CDSA allows for “the individual to possess a specified quantity of the controlled substance” for clinical research purposes.
Following a 2000 Ontario Court of Appeals decision, that held Canadians had the right to possess marijuana for medical purposes with sufficient medical need, the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) were implemented in 2001.
It was the Harper Government in 2013 that implemented the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) which “created conditions for a commercial industry responsible for the production and distribution.” These regulations were to ensure that Canadians with a medical need could “access quality-controlled dried marijuana produced under secure and sanitary conditions.”
Several Supreme Court decisions changed the scope of the 2013 regulations. It was held that it was unconstitutional to restrict legal access to simply dried marijuana in 2015, and section 7 liberty and safety rights were violated by forcing individuals to purchase only from LPs.
On August 24, 2016, the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACRMP) came into effect. It has a similar framework to both the MMAR and MMPR, except that it has provisions that would allow Canadians to grow limited amounts for themselves or appoint someone to grow for them. Further people are not limited to purchasing simply dried marijuana, oils, plants, and seeds are now provided for under the regulation.
The Liberal government plans to present its proposed legislation to legalise marijuana this spring, the question remains how will the pesticide issue be dealt with?
Conrad, who has offered his services to Health Canada in the past for free, feels that the saddest thing with the LP program “is that they do not consult the experts.” If the past is any indication how can the best policy be formed around medical
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