There’s a new pesticide cop on the beat in Colorado for marijuana cultivation facilities, and his arrival on the scene surprised many. Since this past March, when Denver’s environmental health unit warned the state’s booming marijuana businesses that it would be enforcing federal, state, and local laws governing the use of pesticides and agricultural chemicals, it’s laid down a marker of sorts. Stepped-up pesticide enforcement by the city quickly followed, while the state was mostly acting like the problem did not exist. Pesticide residue violations discovered by the city led to marijuana product recalls from Nature’s Cure, Green Cross, Gala’s Garden and others. (Warehouse space in the Denver market was quickly snapped up for marijuana growing after 2012, when Colorado voters agreed to make recreational pot use legal, and those warehouses put much of the marijuana production within the city’s jurisdiction.) State pesticide enforcement, however, appeared to be hung up. Only the marijuana enforcement unit of the Colorado Department of Revenue has regulatory authority over the marijuana industry. When legal recreational pot sales began in 2014, Colorado learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) wouldn’t rule on which pesticides should be used on marijuana because it is still a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act of 1990. On Nov. 12, Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper signed an executive order that for the first time accepts some responsibility for pesticide enforcement. That was a surprising move by the Democratic governor known for his opposition to the 2012 voter initiative, yet who, two years later, accepted generous campaign contributions from the pot industry. In the executive order, Hickenlooper directed the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDHE) to consider all off-label pesticide use to be a public health risk. The governor also ordered the Colorado Department of Revenue to view any contaminated marijuana as a threat to public safety. In addition, Hickenlooper directed executive branch agencies, including CDPHE and the Colorado Departments of Agriculture and Revenue, “to utilize all existing investigatory and enforcement authorities established by law to protect against threats to public safety posed by contaminated marijuana including, but not limited to, placing contaminated marijuana on administrative hold and destroying contaminated marijuana pursuit to existing law.” The executive order will remain in full force and effect until it is amended or rescinded. The order also applies the Colorado Pesticide Applicators Act to marijuana growers with specific language that so-called “off-label” use will be considered a threat to public safety, requiring destruction of marijuana involved. However, there is still confusion because the state law still ordinary relies on EPA designations, which are likely to remain unavailable. Denver’s practice has been to hold the plants until pesticide levels fall to permissible levels, while recalling any products made from excessive pesticide applications. Colorado marijuana growers have used some potent pesticides to control the spider mites and powdery mildew that come with growing pot indoors in one climate-controlled warehouse after another, according to those familiar with the operations. And the list of pesticides being used by the growers only became public after Denver stepped up city enforcement. Since recreational sales began on Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado has seen combined medical and retail sales grow to provide tax revenue exceeding $95 million on a monthly basis. About half of Colorado’s marijuana industry is found within the city and county of Denver, with the rest spread around the state. Many local governments still prohibit both medical and retail sales, and even Denver wants to extend its current moratorium on retail outlets for another two years.
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