Do cannabis product recalls over pesticide spur distrust in LPs?

Using chemicals to control bugs or mold is common among commercial cannabis growers. (File image via AP)
Using chemicals to control bugs or mold is common among commercial cannabis growers. (File image via AP)

In 2016 and 2017, a handful of Canadian Licensed Producers (LPs) issued voluntary recalls for having some traces of banned pesticide in their medical cannabis.

Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), LPs are only permitted to use 21 approved pesticides during cannabis production by Health Canada. As voluntary recalls emerged, Health Canada issued a warning to LPs that unauthorized pest control use would result in severe measures taken to ensure the safety of the Canadian public.

Deception by the LPs was rife

Banned substances used by the companies included myclobutanil, a compound that, when combusted, converts to various harmful and toxic fumes, such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide. Pyrethrin, an organic compound derived from chrysanthemum flowers, and bifenazate were also used.

Patients registered with some of the companies reported a bevy of symptoms including severe nausea, vomiting, and dizziness prior to the recall. 

When the pesticide was found at Mettrum, now acquired by Canopy, and OrganiGram, both of the LPs downplayed the problem. Mettrum and OrganiGram told patients the compound was approved for use on fruit, giving the impression of safety. Mettrum also failed to disclose the substances in their press release for their voluntary recall.

A whistleblower at Mettrum told The Globe And Mail in 2016 that he witnessed staff spraying plants with myclobutanil as far back as 2014, despite knowing the chemical was prohibited. To avoid being exposed, he said staff hid the chemical in the ceiling tiles of the company’s offices when Health Canada inspectors visited the site, although aware that the department wasn’t testing the plants for banned chemicals.

Patients waited months

cannabis pesticide
The real issue maintains to be that LPs have vilified dispensaries when they were clearly cutting corners themselves. (File image)

More than one million dollars worth of tainted medical marijuana had reportedly been destroyed in the aftermath of the controversy and all the companies restructured their policies and did an overhaul of their staff.

This led to a delay in production, which resulted in hundreds of patients being unable to purchase their medication for months. Canopy Growth Corp. responded to the ordeal by insisting that destruction of the cannabis was necessary and “a recall like this will never happen again.”

Canopy CEO Bruce Linton issued a letter to Mettrum’s customers and repeated previous assurances that Mettrum’s practices would be brought in line with those at Canopy’s Tweed and Tweed Farms operations, which Linton said have never been the subject of a product recall.

Class action suits filed

This ordeal resulted in multiple class action suits filed against the companies.

OrganiGram is one such company that has been sued for allegations that its products made users ill. Organigram has lost its organic certification status due to its contamination but it regained it later.

The company denies any evidence of harm but did echo Canopy in saying a recall like this would never occur again.

“Denis Arsenault, OrganiGram’s Chief Executive Officer, oversaw an extensive investigation that ultimately resulted in inconclusive findings with no hard evidence leading to the source of the contamination discovered.”

Impact of legalization this summer

With legalization set to take effect in the summer, many experts foresee bigger production from LPs, including Canopy and OrganiGram.

Lana Culley, Director of Business Development at Anandia, a cannabis research company, said with legalization there will be new “pests,” creating new problems for LPs.

“I guess another impact of legalization is a bigger production,” she said. “We will see new production problems emerge, we are going to see different pests moving in that people haven’t seen before.”

Culley said:

“We need different ways to mitigate this without pesticide, which are not allowed to use it on cannabis.”

LPs had long discouraged patients from using dispensaries, touting their scientific-based marijuana production while insinuating that dispensaries tainted their cannabis with unknown products. It is clear now that they vilified dispensaries when they were cutting corners themselves.

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