California consumers will soon have two choices in cannabis: clean, legal and pricey — or dirty, illicit and cheap.
Think Whole Foods vs. El Chapo.
The big difference will be the amount of pesticides in your weed. That’s because starting Jan. 2, when California’s vast legal marijuana market opens, all cannabis must be tested — and most chemicals will be banned.
Much of California’s cannabis is tainted, including the “medicinal” stuff. But soon state-sanctioned weed may become the greenest in the nation.
But here’s the catch: Most growers — particularly the get-rich-quick newbies and industrial-scale Big Weed wannabes — aren’t ready to grow marijuana without pesticides. And then there are all those illegal grows in California’s vast and remote public forests, often set up by Mexican drug cartels.
Where will all their weed go if it can’t pass muster with state labs? Much of it will end up in the hands of that sketchy guy on the street corner, selling it for far less than your local dispensary, growers say.
“It’s much harder to produce clean cannabis. It takes discipline, time and paying attention,” said Brian McCall, owner and operator of Blue Belly Farms, which grows pesticide-free cannabis in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“There are so many ways to fail,” he said. “You can’t sell it if it’s not in compliance with the new state law. The stuff that fails is going to go to the black market — or across state lines.”
While most cannabis cultivators hope to get state licenses, many may end up dumping failed products on the illegal market, while others may opt to stay out of the legal system altogether to avoid the new regulations, growers say.
One reason is that black-market cannabis is so much cheaper to grow. And if it’s sold in states that haven’t legalized marijuana, it will command a higher price in California.
Only an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the state’s growers will meet the new standards, predicts Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which advocates for marijuana cultivators.
Those who succeed are likely to have rigorous and well-established practices anf have toiled to make a modest, independent and organic living, he said.
Indeed, it’s been a point of pride for California’s small marijuana farmers. Every day they attend to each plant, lovingly inspecting it for any sign of stress, illness or infestation.
So, from the beginning, clean weed was a big part of the motivation of legalization supporters. Back in 2015, two of marijuana’s strongest legislative champions, Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Eureka, and state Sen. Mike Thompson, D-Healdsburg, called on California to develop testing, standards and pesticide limits in the medical marijuana industry.
And by passing Proposition 64 last November to legalize recreational weed, voters directed the state to “establish a certified organic designation and organic certification program for marijuana and marijuana products.”
But state regulators are only now catching up, hastily drafting regulations. A draft plan released in April set some of the most rigorous standards in the nation.
But sampling reveals alarming amounts of chemicals in the medical marijuana sold at California’s dispensaries.
Last year, Steep Hill Labs, a Berkeley-based testing facility, detected pesticides in 84 percent of samples. At San Francisco’s HempCon competition in August, a stunning 80 percent of the flowers, edibles and concentrates were tainted by pesticides, mold or harmful solvents, according to Anresco Laboratories in San Francisco.
These toxins are smoked, vaped and eaten — unlike, say, the stuff that’s sprayed on your orange peel or banana skin. And because cannabis is a federally banned drug, there’s little research about the health effects of pesticide-laden pot — or whether these chemicals change when ignited. No one really knows what’s safe.
But organic weed is easier said than done.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the authority for such things, lists no “registered” pesticide products for illegal substances, so the state can’t list them either.
The state is still drafting the final rules, but its list will likely allow products that are so benign that they’re exempt from federal registration requirements such as like cinnamon, rosemary, peppermint oils, sulfur and iron phosphate.
Proposition 64’s pesticide-free requirement is nerve-racking for growers because cannabis is so valuable. It costs more per gram than gold. Plants can be quickly wiped out by plagues from mildew to mites. And, no, you can’t buy crop insurance.
But proving cleanliness will be expensive for farmers, eating into profits. State-approved testing will cost about $400 per pound — about half to one-third the $800 to $1,200 per pound price that good commercial grade cannabis brings on the market, Allen said.
In Colorado, tremors ran through the cannabis market when the state imposed pesticide regulations after the legalization vote, said James R. Ott of Precision Cultivation Company, a consulting company in Longmont, Colorado.
“It was quite challenging. There was a huge learning curve right off the bat,” said Ott, previously with Syngenta, a Swiss agriculture and biotech company. “Most people hadn’t thought about the cultural or cultivation practices needed to minimize pests.
“The guy who’s been growing 60 plants in his basement all of a sudden has 10,000 plants in a facility — and he has not seen these things happen at scale,” Ott added. “The easy thing was … just spray.”
Yields fell. Crops were destroyed or diverted to the illegal market. Businesses failed.
“What we experienced in Colorado is coming to the folks in California,” predicted Jay Czarkowski of the Boulder-based consulting firm Canna Advisors. “There will be a massive shift. It takes years to clean up.
[source: chicoer.com / published: Oct 8. 2017]