Denver Investigated 10 Pot Grows for Use of Banned Pesticides, Holds Plants

Large-scale marijuana grows allow for more product but carry a heavier risk of spreading pests.
Large-scale marijuana grows allow for more product but carry a heavier risk of spreading pests.
Colorado.gov

This spring, ten commercial cannabis grows have been investigated by the City of Denver for allegedly using potentially harmful chemicals on plants, and many of those grows are directly connected to popular dispensaries.

In documents obtained by the Cannabis Consumers Coalition via the Colorado Open Records Act (the documents are on view below), the Denver Department of Environmental Health reports on recent investigations of nine marijuana cultivation facilities for reportedly using chemical pesticides such as Avid, Mallet and Eagle 20 — a petroleum-based fungicide. According to Denver Citywide Communications Advisor Daniel Rowland, all nine of the grows complied with the city during its investigations, but Denver still has many of the plants on hold. Putting marijuana plants on hold allows the business to continue growing them, but the plants cannot be sold until cleared by the city. 

The nine grows mentioned in the documents aren't the only cultivation operations under scrutiny. As reported by 9News, a Denver growing operation for LivWell — a chain of dispensaries with nine locations in the state — had approximately 60,000 plants put on hold in April after health officials deemed LivWell's use of Eagle 20 could be unsafe for consumption. 

"Testing of our finished product by an independent, state-licensed lab approved by the City of Denver showed that our products are safe – as we have always maintained," John Lord said in a statement. "We have reached an agreement with the City resulting in a release of the hold order on the tested products and all similar products. More importantly, over the last two weeks, we have been working hand-in-hand with the Denver Department of Environmental Health to design and implement what we hope will be an industry standard testing regime to ensure safe cannabis products. We are proud to be able to meaningfully contribute to the standards that will ensure public health and safety moving forward. "

Asked about that LivWell statement, Rowland says that some of its products did receive a release from the city's hold.

Used to fight powdery mildew on plants, Eagle 20 has become a subject of debate among cannabis growers because of its unknown long-term effects. A 2012 study by Dow AgroSciences showed that Eagle 20 contained numerous chemicals that had caused cancer in lab animals, but whose effect on humans has not been documented. The lack of conclusive science regarding pesticide and cannabis has created a gray area for regulated pot cultivation.

Because marijuana is illegal on a federal level, few pesticides have been created specifically for it, and states in which cannabis has been legalized have to do their own research on what's harmful and what isn't. Neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture lists pesticides that may be used by marijuana grows; nor do they list prohibited pesticides.  While the Colorado Department of Agriculture does not have a list of pesticides banned for cannabis cultivation, there is a CDA-approved list of marijuana pesticides that regulated growing operations in the state are supposed to follow. The approved list, last updated April 30, does not contain Eagle 20, Avid or Mallet.

"The Environmental Health inspection team will get a referral, typically from the Fire Department while they're inspecting grows, and if they see some chemicals or red flags, they act on it," Rowland says of Denver inspectors. "Sometimes it's the employees of the grows themselves."

Rowland compares inspections of the grows to inspections of Denver restaurants. "What we do is purely on consumer health and safety," he explains.  "Environmental Health is checking not just if the chemicals are approved or not, but also how they're used. There could be an approved pesticide on the list being used, but if the label says use for once a month and the grow is using it once a day, then there's a problem."

Organic Greens, one of the grows with plants on hold for use of Eagle 20, sought to lift the hold in court, claiming city officials had no right to quarantine its products and arguing that the amount of the chemical fungicide used on its plants was safe. On May 15, a Denver judge denied Organic Greens's request for a preliminary injunction to stop the Denver Department of Environmental Health's pesticide enforcement and lift the hold.

Here is the status of eight other growing facilities investigated by the city, according to Rowland.

Altitude East Treatments: Plants remain on hold. This grow was found using Avid, Eagle and Mallet; it supplies plants for Altitude dispensary locations on Evans Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Those dispensaries did not respond to Westword requests for comment.

Evolutionary Holdings: Plants remain on hold. The grow, which sells its products through Denver dispensary Element420, was found using Eagle 20 and "other pesticides" at its grow site. "We are waiting to hear from the regulatory authorities and will hold off on commenting until we know more," Evolutionary Holdings said in a statement.

Myclobutanil, the active ingredient in Eagle20, has an acute toxicity rating of "slightly hazardous" by the World Health Organization.
Myclobutanil, the active ingredient in Eagle20, has an acute toxicity rating of "slightly hazardous" by the World Health Organization.

Green Cross Colorado: Plants remain on hold. This grow produces plants for edibles;  it's been quarantined for Eagle 20 and Mallet. Green Cross Colorado owner Daniel Griffin says it would be inappropriate to comment on the city's active investigation.

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The Green Solution: The company, which has nine dispensaries in Colorado, had plants put on hold because at one of its grows, the city found "Eagle 20 and other pesticides that may cause potential contamination and a potential health risk," according to the documents. Plants remain quarantined, but some of its dried product received a limited, conditional release as a result of testing by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The released product is for smoking only, and customers must be informed at the point of sale that it is not suitable for human consumption in any other manner.

In an official statement, the company said it takes customer safety very seriously. "We have been working closely with city and state governmental officials to find a resolution to their concerns over pesticide use on cannabis product and have cooperated fully and openly in these efforts," the statement reads. "The pesticides we use on our cannabis products are approved for use on food similar to cannabis, such as hops, grapes, berries, and corn. We use the recommended and proper amounts of all substances, as determined by our team of plant-science experts and as established by product labeling. Pesticides in general are appropriately and safely used in cultivation to eliminate potentially harmful pests and disease from plants, including cannabis, which might otherwise harm consumers."

Mindful: Plants remain on hold. The grow's plants were quarantined after city officials found they were treated with Eagle 20. Company spokesman Erik Williams says Mindful has cooperated fully with Denver and the matter has been resolved.

MMJ America: Grow destroyed plants after city officials confirmed they were sprayed with Avid. According to company CEO Jake Salazar, an employee had treated 100 clones with the banned insecticide, was fired for it and then alerted the city in retaliation. "The state came in and tested every room in our facility, and we tested negative for Eagle 20 and any other banned pesticide," he says. The quarantine has been lifted.

Organic Greens: Plants remain on hold. The grow, which sells its plants through downtown dispensary Natural Remedies, had plants quarantined for treating them with Eagle 20 and failing to update pesticide logs. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

RINO Supply:  Voluntarily destroyed approximately 1,548 plants after the city investigated a grow facility for pesticide use. "It was my personal decision, in an abundance of caution for my patients, that I decided to destroy the plants and start fresh in that facility," says RINO president Jared Penman. "It didn't make sense to do anything else." The hold has been lifted.

Sweet Leaf: The company, which has three locations in Denver and one in Aurora, had plants put on hold after city officials found evidence of Eagle 20 at one of its facilities. "We're waiting to see the test results on it," says a Sweet Leaf spokesman. "We wouldn't put anything in our stores that wasn't safe."

Larisa Bolivar, the director of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition who filed the request for information on the city's investigations of the grows, says she understands the challenges that large-scale growing operations go through in regards to pests and fungi, but points out that those challenges are no excuse to cut corners.

“This is dangerous to public safety, and we need better testing policies that put consumer safety first," she said in a press release. "Retail cannabis is supposed to be tested for harmful pesticides, and there already exists a list of acceptable pesticides. This is at best gross negligence on behalf of the offending businesses that shows more concern for money than for safety."

Mandatory testing for all marijuana intended for retail sale in Colorado was supposed to begin this past October, but backlogs in state-approved marijuana testing labs prevented that from happening. During the recent legislative session, a state Senate panel recommended a $300,000 allocation for the Colorado Department of Agriculture for chemical testing of commercial cannabis, but that proposal was not approved by the legislature.

Here are the documents obtained by the Cannabis Consumers Coalition:

Have a tip? Send it to thomas.mitchell@westword.com


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