Enforcing penalties for pot pesticides still foggy issue


The Colorado marijuana industry is stepping up its fight against the state’s efforts to regulate the application of pesticides on cannabis.

After passing in the state House, a bill that would have codified Gov. John Hickenlooper’s November executive order — telling state agencies that any marijuana grown with unapproved pesticides is a threat to public safety and should be removed from commerce and destroyed — died in a state Senate committee last week.

Those who successfully voted the bill down in the state Senate Veterans & Military Affairs committee described Hickenlooper’s vision as “unreasonable” and “unconstitutional.”

“It is my position that government should not take someone’s private property and destroy it,” said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling. “The property owner should be able to see if there are other avenues to dispose of the plants, and it should be their responsibility to destroy their own property. … I also think that it is unreasonable to have a zero limit rather than an acceptable limit according to like plants and uses.”

Added Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs: “Government is abusing and overstepping its power when they are destroying agricultural crops. This bill would have furthered unconstitutional government destruction of private property.”

Hickenlooper’s top cannabis official called the bill’s failure “disappointing” and said the state will continue with its enforcement actions, including its more than 20 pesticide-based recalls of marijuana in less than 10 weeks.

“Pesticide use is a public health issue, and we wanted clear enforcement penalties and due process provided by the legislature,” said Andrew Freedman, Colorado’s director of marijuana coordination. “We’ll continue to enforce proper pesticide use to protect consumer and worker safety under the Pesticide Applicators’ Act and other existing statutory authority.

“Absent this legislation, the governor’s (executive order) remains in place.”

Cannabis industry insiders have said the existing law offers them no due process, allowing the government to come into their cultivations and destroy their valuable crops and giving the industry no leeway to challenge the testing and ruling.

Marijuana businesses EdiPure and Organa Labs are appealing their recalls by the city of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, which has also recalled cannabis on more than 20 different occasions over pesticide concerns. In such cases, businesses and their attorneys make their case in front of the Board of Environmental Health.

Neither city appeal has yet concluded.

A representative with the state Department of Revenue, which houses the Marijuana Enforcement Division, said there’s a similar appeals process on the state level — but could not comment on businesses that might be appealing their recalls because they are ongoing investigations.

A determination that there was a pesticide violation can be appealed to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said DOR communications director Lynn Granger.

Several industry officials celebrated the bill’s demise last week.

“We are continuing to work for responsible, fair regulation. That is a win for us and consumers,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group. “Responsible regulation creates certainty for industry and reassures consumers that the products are safe.”

Cannabis industry attorney Sean McAllister called Hickenlooper’s executive order a “feel-good proclamation” and said he was glad to see the related bill get voted down.

“We don’t need political proclamations to set policy — we need science to set policy,” McAllister said. “We really need the hard work and expertise of the state agencies like the Department of Agriculture, like the health department, like the MED.”

McAllister said he and others in the industry are meeting with the three state agencies addressed in Hickenlooper’s executive order — the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and Environment and the Marijuana Enforcement Division.

“I believe the agencies understand that the approach to date has had a lot of problems, and we’re working on a new approach to both satisfy the concerns of the agency and also address the concerns of the industry,” McAllister said. “I think we’re getting closer to an agreement on how to handle this so it’ll be better going forward.”

DOR’s Granger said she could not comment on any conversations between the agency and the industry because of open investigations.

Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394, rbaca@denverpost.com or @bruvs

This story was first published on DenverPost.com

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