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 for cannabis producers. (You can find that list here.) And the list of what producers can use is relatively extensive compared to other legalized regions, like California. Should a product test positive for traces of unauthorized pesticides, Health Canada says it will quarantine the product and open an investigation into the business to find out exactly where and how the contamination originated.
Comparatively, 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 California 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, there are a few differences that immediately stand out. The first is that California’s list is comprised of 38 active ingredients, while Canada’s is just shy of 100.
The second is that most of California’s approved pesticide list are organic compounds, such as: neem oil, various beneficial bacterium, rosemary oil, peppermint oil, castor oil, sodium bicarbonate, sulfur, etc. The approved chemicals in Canada are vastly different. For instance, one of the permitted chemicals is bifenthrin, which is highly toxic to aquatic animals. If it’s toxic to animals, it’s likely not great for humans, either.
Moreover, Canada’s list permits the use of Aldicarb, while California specifically prohibits the chemical from cannabis cultivation. In fact, many of the pesticides prohibited from cultivation in California are permitted in Canada.
It should also be noted that there are a few permitted pesticides that end up on both lists. Azadirachtin is one of them, which is a secondary metabolite present in neem seeds.
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.
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