Should You Worry About Contaminated Cannabis?

Written by Asia Mayfield

Cannabis consumers like to imagine that the buds being sold at dispensaries sprung from the earth untainted and pure. The reality, however, is far more troubling. are prone to using the same pesticides coating non-organic produce.

Unlike the fruits and vegetables sold at the grocery store, the cannabis market was almost entirely unregulated until recently. Growers who produced contaminated flowers were never chastised, leading some to abandon health concerns and focus purely on profit.

Cannabis can be tainted by pesticides, mold, and other irritants. Until recreational laws were put into place, California authorities only tested about five percent of cannabis sold at dispensaries.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons for regulation: to establish rules that protect public safety and improve the quality of the product,” Alex Traverso,   spokesman, said.

“When people see a sticker that says, ‘Not tested,’ at least they know and they can choose whether they want to purchase that or not.”

Is Cannabis Sold at Dispensaries Safe?

First comes legalization, next comes regulatory oversight. States with recreational laws on the books require Cannabis growers to produce clean, tasty buds if they want to be sold at dispensaries.

However, change has been slow.

Random California, Colorado, and Washington found that over 90 percent of cannabis samples were tainted with pesticide residue. Harsh chemicals like myclobutanil, imidacloprid, and abamectin had seeped into the buds.

“I want these companies to take a step back and look at what they are putting into their products,” medical patient Brandon Flores, 24, said. In 2015 Flores sued LivWell, a Colorado grower, for coating its flowers with pesticides.

“These warehouses are getting big and really sloppy. They’re adding chemicals to make things more efficient and more potent. But there are so many chemicals now that you might as well get prescription medication.”

In February of 2016, however, a Denver judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the consumers behind the case were not actually harmed by the pesticide contamination. Judge J. Eric Eliff wrote “Plantiffs bought the cannabis and consumed it. There are no allegations that the product did not perform as it was supposed to.” (

In November 2016, Oregon officials released a public-health alert. Certain batches of Cannabis being sold were tainted with a host of harsh chemicals. The state warned growers that if they didn’t shape up, they were at risk of being investigated by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Change is being impeded by a belief that state safety concerns don’t really matter. Pesticides and other contaminants are clearly bad for you in certain doses, but it isn’t obvious that smoking trace amounts of the same chemicals will cause damage.

“I think it’s a little funny that this year everybody’s caring about pesticides… People have been smoking weed 30, 40, 50 years, and it’s never been an issue,” Mike Winderman, manager of Los Angeles’ The Green Easy, said.

How Does Contamination Occur?

Growers don’t have to douse their buds with pesticides to produce contaminated Cannabis. There are a lot of ways that healthy flowers can be spoiled. Pesticides from neighboring farms can drift onto the plants while they’re growing. A diseased plant’s offspring may be tainted.

“A number of cultivators tell us that they’ve never used pesticides on their plants whatsoever, and yet we have unmistakable traces of these pesticides on those same plants,” Donald Land, a University of California, Davis, chemistry professor and the chief scientific consultant at  , said.

“We suspect that the clones or even the mother plants may be contributing [to this].”

If a mother plant is coated in pesticides, there’s a reasonable chance that it’s clones will be contaminated as well. Certain poisons sink into the plant’s cells and cause permanent damage. Concentrates also can easily become contaminated, as pesticides can be extracted out of the plant matter alongside the cannabinoids.

What Should You Do?

If you’re looking for quality Cannabis, talk to your budtender. Don’t look for an “organic” label, as that’s a federally protected term that’s meaningless when applied to Cannabis. There are independent, third-party certifications that you can search for instead, issued by groups like Clean Green and the Organic Cannabis Association.

Cannabis in its natural state is incredibly safe and nontoxic. It’s important to keep it that way.

About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at

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