Discrepancies between state and federal cannabis laws have left California growers wondering what pesticides, if any, they can use on their crops. Until we get more guidance from the state, there are only a select few pesticides that California growers can choose from.
Like any other crop, cannabis is vulnerable to pests and disease. But unlike other crops, cannabis is federally illegal. Therefore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not approved any pesticides for use on cannabis – even in legalized weed states.
With no federal guidelines in place, weed states have been forced to regulate pesticides on their own. Unfortunately, however, no official pesticides list has been published yet in California. Lori Ajax, Chief of California's Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, says that the state is still currently drawing up regulations for pesticide use on pot crops, which should be in effect in 2018. It's widely expected though that California will be using the same regulatory language as Washington, Colorado and Oregon. Basically, California will want growers to use pesticide products that are registered and approved with the state, have active ingredients that are “exempt from the requirement of a tolerance on all food crops,” and are broadly labeled for general use.
During this “legal limbo” period, we suggest that growers follow the recommendations from the California State Water Board. According to the Water Board, the following active ingredients are currently legal to use on cannabis in California: azadirachtin, Bacillus subtilis QST, Bacillius thuringiensis subsp. aizawai or kurstaki, Bacillius thuringiensis subsp. Israelensis, Beauveria bassiana, cinnamon oil, Gliocladium virens, horticultural oils (petroleum oil), insecticidal soaps (potassium salts of fatty acids), iron phosphate, sodium ferric EDTA, neem oil, potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, predatory nematodes, rosemary + peppermint essential oils, sulfur and Trichoderma harzianum.
It's significant to note here that several commonly-used active ingredients (e.g., paclobutrazol and daminozide) and product brands (e.g., Floramite, Avid, Forbid, Mallet and Eagle 20) are not on this unofficial list of approved pesticides. These pesticides have already been banned in other states and it's a near certainty they will be banned in California as well. And for good reason, too. These are very toxic, heavy duty chemicals that we're talking about here – they have no business being in our weed!
Keep in mind that this unofficial list will likely change and/or expand in the near future when state licensing begins in 2018. To get a better idea of what to expect in the future, growers should check out the official approved pesticides lists in Washington, Colorado and Oregon.
In Washington, for example, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) released a list of about 200 pesticides authorized by the state to be used on cannabis. The WSDA determined that although the EPA hasn't approved any pesticide use on cannabis, it is not illegal for Washington pot farmers to use pesticides if: (1) the pesticide is either exempt from federal tolerance requirements or considered a “minimum risk” pesticide by the EPA; and (2) the actual label language has directions for use on “unspecified food crops, home gardens, or herbs.” The WSDA list includes, among others, certain spray soaps, essential oils and neem oil.
Colorado has adopted similar – yet slightly stricter – standards for pesticide use on cannabis. In addition to the dual criteria used by the WSDA above, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) mandates that any pesticide product allowed for use on cannabis must also have active ingredients that are allowed for use on tobacco. To better inform Colorado growers as to which pesticides are available to them, the CDA released a list of less than 200 state-approved pesticides for cannabis use. The CDA determined that using these pesticides on cannabis do not violate EPA requirements due to the “broad” and “very general use statements on the label.” The CDA prohibits growers from using any pesticides that are not on the state-approved list and also prohibits the usage of any home-made pesticide concoctions. Notably, in 2015, ten major grow operations in Denver were ordered to quarantine their plants after it was discovered that their plants were treated with toxic products like Eagle 20, Avid or Mallet.
Oregon, too, has created a list of pesticide products that may be used by the state's pot farmers. This list was recently updated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and it contains over 350 pesticide products that meet the following qualifications: (1) intended for unspecified food products; (2) exempt from a tolerance; and (3) considered “low risk.” When it comes to using these products on cannabis, the ODA says that “the pesticide label is the law” – the pesticide MUST be used according to the label directions. Like Colorado, the ODA prohibits pot farmers in Oregon from using pesticide products that are not on the state-approved list.
For now, the smart move is to just follow the Water Board's guidelines. Compliance with these guidelines will serve California growers well as they wait for state regulation to kick in. After all, the state is only going to give cultivation licenses to those who have proven to be safe, ethical growers.