As the retail cannabis industry continues to evolve, state agencies are working together to guarantee the products that make it to consumers are safe. An agreement established in September between the state Liquor and Cannabis Board and the state Department of Agriculture provided funding for equipment and staff at Agriculture’s facility in Yakima, Washington to test cannabis plants for illegal pesticides. While the lab has already been doing some pesticide analysis for about a year, staff are now in the final stages of calibrating two new machines and plan to begin a wider range of analysis of retail products.
Peter Antolin, Liquor and Cannabis Board deputy director stated, “This is the first lab like this doing pesticide testing in the country. It’s more of a preventive, proactive step on our part, again, because pesticide use is something we’re concerned about.” Ignacio Marquez, regional assistant to the director for Agriculture’s Eastern/Central Washington office stated, “The agreement takes advantage of agricultural expertise already available. This falls within our mission as a state agency to look out for the health of the consumer and also to regulate the use of pesticides on ag products.”
The lab will analyze about 75 samples a month, as it takes around three days to prepare each sample, run the test, and calculate the results. Antolin said there are more than 1,700 licensed producers in the state, including around 70 in Yakima County, so not all will be tested. However, since the testing will be both complaint-driven and random, the agency aims to “put the industry on notice” that their product could be screened for pesticides at any time. Commercial labs certified by the state have done testing in the past on cannabis for factors such as potency, “but they don’t do testing of much else,” Antolin stated, “So we saw (pesticides) as a significant potential health hazard.” How much of a health hazard remains uncertain. Being that cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, there has not been much research on the effect of pesticides if consumed with it.
It is typically the Environmental Protection Agency that conducts toxicological analysis of pesticides and their use on certain agricultural products. However, the federal agency “has no interest” in analyzing pesticides in relation to cannabis, said Mike Firman, program manager for Agriculture’s Chemical and Hop Laboratory in Yakima. He stated, “It’s quite challenging work that we tend to rely on the federal government for.” That kind of means the lab is creating its own testing protocols. Firman noted that while the process is based on pesticide testing for products such as lettuce, there are certain qualities of cannabis that make it more intricate.