Federally regulated marijuana companies got caught using banned pesticides that put consumers’ health at risk. They will now face fines of up to $1-million per violation.
The fines will be charged in federal legislation as a way to clamp down on unauthorized use of dangerous chemicals by licensed cannabis growers, according to Health Canada. The new penalties come after an investigation by The Globe this year. It revealed banned pesticide use in marijuana companies is far worse than the government realized. This resulted in serious health consequences for people exposed, which included cancer patients who took the drug to ease their pain.
The legislative changes will,
“provide the Minister of Health with the authority to issue an administrative monetary penalty of up to $1-million per violation to a licensed producer for a violation of the Act or its regulations,”
Health Canada spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau said.
Operating licenses could be suspended or revoked
The Globe’s investigation found evidence of banned pesticides within the industry and exposed gaps in Health Canada’s oversight. In addition, it did not require product safety tests to ensure such chemicals weren’t being used. The medical-marijuana industry is a precursor to the legalized recreational market, which is set to begin in mid-2018.
A former employee of Mettrum Ltd. told The Globe he witnessed staff spraying plants with the banned pesticide myclobutanil as far back as 2014. This was despite them knowing it was prohibited by Health Canada. To evade detection, Thomas McConville said staff hid the pesticide in the ceiling tiles of the company’s offices whenever government inspectors visited the site.
Secondly, The Globe arranged for a patient of Organigram Inc. to have several unopened containers of recalled marijuana tested at a federally approved lab. The results showed evidence of five unauthorized pesticides. Three more than Health Canada knew about when the products were originally recalled.
Health Canada also announced in May that mandatory safety testing on all products would be introduced prior to the government’s plan to legalize cannabis for recreational use. That move came after Ottawa originally told The Globe that such steps weren’t necessary. This was because companies knew banned pesticides were illegal, and therefore shouldn’t be using them.
The introduction of financial penalties for companies who break those rules is the latest example of the government’s attempt to crack down after the investigation.
Fines are being welcomed by industry members and patients
Neil Closner, chairman of the Cannabis Canada Association, said the fines should be effective in dealing with companies who don’t want to follow the rules.
“We believe when fairly applied, [the fines] can be a useful and effective tool for Health Canada to ensure proper adherence to the rules if other mechanisms fail,” said Mr. Closner, who is also the chief executive officer of MedReleaf Corp., a licensed grower based in Ontario.
Product recalls at several medical marijuana companies over the past year have impacted numerous amounts of people. The Globe’s investigation detailed in August how patients who were prescribed cannabis for medical reasons developed serious and unexplained illnesses. Many complained of severe weight loss, nausea and abdominal pain.
Scott Wood, a former military policeman who was exposed to the chemicals after being prescribed medical cannabis said the fines were long overdue. Firstly, Mr. Wood said he lost an alarming amount of weight and developed strange blistering rashes. Secondly, he had debilitating headaches and lung problems. Scott stated he believed was it clean, but was instead it was contaminated with several banned pesticides.
“I think it’s a positive step forward,” Mr. Wood said of the new penalties. “You would think the companies are all going to think twice before they use anything they’re not supposed to.”
Fines are not a Joke
The fines are significant. The government will soon legalize recreational cannabis. The move will end nearly a century of prohibition. Cannabis consumption is expected to rise sharply when the legal market arrives. Provinces begin selling the product online and through government-regulated storefronts.
Mr. Wood sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States for his health problems. He now wishes the penalties were in place before he was prescribed the products last year. He said he hopes Health Canada uses the fines whenever marijuana companies are found breaking the rules.“I personally think it should be more than $1-million,” Mr. Wood said of the penalties. “But at least they’re taking a step forward.”
Mr. Closner said the scrutiny around pesticide use will hopefully make the industry “more vigilant” in the future.
“This has only strengthened the industry,” he said.