Thursday, March 21, 2013

Medical Marijuana – pesticides and patient health

One hundred and eighty thousand Colorado residents hold a valid medical marijuana registry card and two thousand one hundred and forty-five of those patients live in Mesa County. ( Many have designated a primary care-giver (someone who has significant responsibility for managing the care of a patient) which may involve the growing of marijuana as part of their responsibility.

Even though the medical use of Cannabis has been legal since Colorado’s patient registry was established on June 1, 2001, there are no pesticides labeled for use on this crop. In other words, you cannot legally treat these plants for the insect, mite, and disease pests that infest medical marijuana. Root aphid, powdery mildew, viruses, and botrytis are problems I’ve noticed in the facilities I’ve worked with and the lack of approved pesticides is a concern.

Without legal approved products growers use whatever is available. Some of these products result in contamination putting the patient’s health at risk. Growers in the know are using biopesticides, products that are relatively safe and should be labeled for use on Cannabis. These natural materials typically are very specific to the pest and of minor consequence to the patient due to their short residue and low mammalian toxicity. Some biopesticides are even approved for organic use and would be the best products to use when legalized for use in the production of marijuana. Thankfully there is an on-going effort to register some pesticides for use on Cannabis in Colorado.

In addition to the concern about the illegal use of pesticides and patient safety, growers also need to be aware of the Worker Protection Standard (WPS). Even if a pesticide is used illegally, WPS can still apply. Next time you pick up a bottle of a pesticide check the label to see if it mentions WPS on the label. While this does not apply to homeowners, it does apply to agricultural employers. Growers who hire workers to assist in the production of Cannabis or any other crop are required to abide by WPS to ensure their workers receive information and training on how to avoid exposure to pesticides and pesticide residues. While these standards exempt immediate family members of the grower, i.e. spouse, siblings, parents, or children, if an uncle is hired to assist in the business, he must receive this training or the grower is in violation of this requirement. WPS is a way to protect the unsuspecting from contamination and the grower from a lawsuit.

Mycotrol O, an organic product containing Beauveria bassiana, is a great product for aphids. Beauveria bassiana is a soil-inhabiting fungus that feeds on insects. The Restricted Entry Interval (REI) is four hours during which time the grower, workers, and others should not enter the treated area unless they are wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Even though Mycotrol O can be applied up to the day of harvest, the Worker Protective Standard (WPS) requires anyone entering the treated area within thirty days of an application to have received training on decontamination, emergency assistance, emergency first aid, etc. There are eleven items required in the training. A record to keep track of everyone receiving the training is necessary. This requirement applies to caregivers who hire workers to help grow and process their products as well as every other agricultural producer.

To help keep agricultural growers legal, Jude Sirota and I will be conducting a workshop at the Country Inns on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction Colorado on May 9th 2013. Jude and I are certified as Qualified Pesticide Supervisors by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Jude holds license number 00759 while my license number is 00019. This workshop will provide the training required for you to be WPS legal, as well as training for Colorado pesticide applicator technicians, Certified Operators and Qualified Supervisors for several categories. If you want to receive a brochure about this workshop or you would like a personal visit to your operation give me a call at 970.778.7866 or drop me an email at

Friday, March 1, 2013

Industrial Hemp in Colorado

Hemp. I don’t know if I would suggest planting this crop this year, but it does seem like it might someday be another food and fiber crop that could be grown in our part of the country. The fibers from the stalks are used to make clothing often at a 55/45 hemp/cotton blend, hemp fibers are also blended with flax fibers to produce cloth and canvas. Hemp canvas covered the wagon carrying your ancestors across the plains and was used for the sails on sailing ships of old. The seed is pressed for its oil and used in soaps and shampoos, used in oil-based paints, plastics, moisturizing creams, and even for cooking. You can even buy soap made with a lavender/hemp blend. The seed was added to bird seed and I remember the old days when hemp/Marijuana would grow from seed birds kicked out of feeders. The seeds have a high nutritional value full of essential amino acids and fatty acids your body craves. You can toss them into salads and use them in place of nuts in cooking. How about adding them to your bowl of oatmeal or grinding them up and adding them to a smoothie to increase the protein content. They are reported to be a great source of Vitamin E, dietary fiber, and important minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. They are even recommended by registered dieticians. This sounds like the crop I should be growing. Except, it’s illegal. Right now! You might even be driving a car made in part from fibers from this plant. Hemp is being mixed with plastics for use in door panels, glove boxes, and other parts of cars and trucks. I’m not sure but some of the fibers in local newspapers could be from hemp. After all the old term of rag referring to newspapers came from the reprocessing of cloth rags to create the paper upon which newspapers were printed; some of those cloth rags most likely contained hemp fibers. Industrial hemp contains a very low content of THC, less than 1 percent, while the varieties of the plant used for recreational and medicinal purposes contains from three to over twenty percent. Countries that grow industrial hemp usually stick to varieties with less than 0.3 percent THC. The problem is distinguishing between the high THC varieties and those acceptable as industrial hemp. Years ago I was involved with research studies of onion diseases in the Brighton Colorado area. Industrial hemp was a common ditch bank weed due to the production of this crop in past years. Today, however, any seed you purchase for this crop is required to be sterilized to prevent growth. Some of the studies of fungi during my graduate school experience used hemp seed in the growth media. The professor reminded us the seed had been cooked in an autoclave to discourage us from trying to grow them. During World War II, the US Department of Agriculture promoted the growing of hemp for the war effort to manufacture rope, and cordage of all dimensions was needed. Every naval battle ship of the time required thirty-four thousand feet of hemp rope. Canvas made from hemp was needed and the supply of hemp from other countries was limited due to the war. Farmers were considered patriotic if they grew hemp, fifty thousand acres in 1943, and Extension agents from the land grant colleges like Colorado State University provided guidance on its cultivation. To grow hemp, farmers needed permission which they obtained through the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Four hundred thousand acres of hemp were grown for the war effort between 1942 and 1945. You might have noticed the spelling on the Tax Act of 1937 is different than how we spell I today. Marijuana is the accepted spelling of today. Canada is one of the countries where industrial hemp is legal and heavily regulated and by July 1, 2014, Colorado should have regulations governing the “cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.” This is part of Amendment 64 Coloradan’s passed on November 6, 2012. Until the regulations are in place I would not suggest anyone get too excited about the commercial production of industrial hemp. The cost to abide by the regulations might outweigh the value of the crop. If however, you grow industrial hemp and create your own value-added products you might find this a profitable endeavor, unless the U.S. Attorney General gets involved. This article originally appeared in the GJ Free Press Article on January 11, 2013.