As responsible cannabis consumers and activists, we have a duty to keep talking about the many reasons we need a regulated cannabis market. Consumer safety and product standards come high up on that list.
What’s the problem with pesticides in cannabis?
The problem with finding pesticides in street cannabis is their harmful risk to human health. Ingesting pesticides causes multiple adverse health effects ranging from acute to life-long repercussions and even leading to terminal diagnosis. Neurological, gastrointestinal, psychological and cancer are side effects of pesticide toxicity. The pesticides used on cannabis are not designed to be used on cannabis; they are meant for crops that are washed before reaching consumers and for products that are not smoked. Some pesticides are systemic, meaning they stay inside the plant for the life of the plant, meaning you can’t wash them out. When pesticides are unwittingly smoked in cannabis joints, they go directly into the bloodstream in a concentrated quantity. The scariest thing about pesticides (besides causing lasting damage to the body) is that they are invisible and odourless, and using scientific laboratory equipment is the only way to identify them. For consumers, it means they only have trust to go by, but the more people the cannabis passes through the hands of, the harder it is for the end consumer to know if it is safe to use.
What are the side effects and consequences of smoking cannabis contaminated with pesticides?
People who exposed to pesticides have reported side effects such as nausea, vomiting, severe headaches, stomach cramping, complete body pain, dizziness, chest pains, burning lungs, struggle breathing, tight chest, convulsions, central nervous system disruption, involuntary urination, incontinence, coma and death, for people who are using cannabis as a safer alternative to alcohol, being at risk of any of the above unnecessary side effects from unregulated products kind of throws that out the window.
Alcohol went through the same phase in America before it was re-legalised in 1933 after a prohibition. Bootleggers were distilling commercial-grade alcohol to rebottle into drinks. The government, however, added methanol to try and prevent people from using it, despite expert advisers telling them it would lead to serious harm and even death. And it did.
Whatever the risk of harm that cannabis may have, the risk of health from pesticides is much worse.
How is cannabis contaminated with pesticides in the UK?
Thanks to the government, cannabis is completely unregulated; anyone can grow it and sell it if they are willing to take the risk. In the UK, the risk is low relative to the reward, which encourages international crime groups to profit from prohibition in the UK. The majority of cannabis grown and sold in the UK is produced by people known in the industry as cash croppers. The majority of foreign cash croppers in the UK are from Albania, who have largely replaced the Vietnamese gang’s domestic cannabis operations and dominated the market.
It is important not to lump everyone into one group and label them equally. But having said that, a cash cropper’s prime reason for being involved with the cannabis trade is to make money. Some have good ethics and know poisoning their customer base is not a good business move in the long run, but some people do not regard human health and safety. Therefore, they will do anything necessary to ensure they harvest their crop without failure. If they see signs of insects or already have an infestation, they will often use pesticides. Others who do not want to risk getting them will use them preventatively on every crop.
Then there’s the import market. Known by consumers as “Cali”, products from all over America are shipped to the UK by vendors. Why would this happen if there is a legal market in America? Because the products need to pass testing for shops to be able to sell them. Who better to sell products than people not restricted by those health and safety requirements? The “Cali Wave” has been booming for ten years, with countless tonnes of products reaching UK and European consumers. UK cannabis sellers can buy American-imported cannabis cheaper than UK-grown products, so again, it creates a situation where money is leading people to make decisions that don’t put people first.
Who is responsible for allowing pesticide-contaminated cannabis to be sold to UK consumers?
The government should be responsible for preventing the sale of contaminated cannabis to unsuspecting consumers who just want to feel good and enjoy themselves. It’s unfair that they are, in many cases, unknowingly a victim of being sold a product contaminated with a poison harmful to their health. They gave no one to complain to and very few avenues to even test the product after buying it, and certainly nowhere free.
Hydroponic shops are selling pesticides to cash croppers. They sell them under the counter, despite not being legally allowed to sell them. You have to question the morals of the shop owners who are complicit in allowing cannabis consumers to be poisoned for a few extra quid. But it’s not just the product they’re selling; they’re trying to maintain their big customers who buy large amounts of equipment because that keeps the shops in profit more than hobby growers with one or two lights. It’s a predicament, another elephant in a room crowded with elephants. More people would grow at home if they were allowed, but the hydroponics industry has shown very little support to UK cannabis campaigns over the past 20+ years, so it’s not like they have done much to improve the situation – no one is going to feel sorry for hydro shops selling pesticides to organised crime groups.
Why isn’t the UK government doing anything to stop pesticide-contaminated cannabis being sold?
The UK government’s response to people complaining about cannabis contaminated with pesticides is more than likely to be, “Well, you shouldn’t be smoking it anyway”. And if the excuse is that it’s for medical, they will reply again, “That’s why we legalised medical cannabis”, which is true. The real question is, why aren’t consumers coming together to do something about it when it has been going on for so long? This public health crisis doesn’t affect the lives of the people in government, so we need to raise the alarm and turn it into an issue that matters.
What can people do to avoid pesticide-contaminated cannabis?
There is no way to visually tell if cannabis has been sprayed with pesticides during the cultivation stage. Consumers can avoid cannabis contaminated with pesticides by buying from someone who grows their own or gets it directly from the grower. Cannabis social clubs only get their products from club members who grow for themselves and other members. Cannabis social clubs started because of this very reason. You may even consider growing your own cannabis for the first time. You can purchase a small set-up for under £300. Just be aware this is also a crime and can lead to being raided, arrested, going to a police station, going to court, and getting a criminal record. If you grow over a certain number of plants and are caught, you could end up in prison for up to 14 years.
What can the cannabis consumer community do to raise awareness about consumer safety standards and make change happen?
Consumers can raise awareness by talking about it to their friends and dealers, and sharing safety and harm reduction information is good form. Pretending like it isn’t happening allows it to continue, and what is happening here is a crime. We know who is doing it and what the solution is, so we need to keep talking about it. A regulated adult cannabis market is the most sensible and only solution after prohibitions, expensive, and harmful failure.
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How will a legally regulated adult cannabis market prevent consumers from buying cannabis contaminated with pesticides?
A legally regulated market must be safeguarded to prevent contaminated products from reaching consumers.
Licensed production for commercial use will mean only people who care about producing good quality cannabis products will be allowed to grow, process, and sell to retailers.
Testing labs provide a holistic solution to prove manufacturers are producing safe products for consumers to feel safe about using.
Retails can display test analysis and even use it to help sell the right products to the right people.
A transparent market at every stage benefits everyone, from consumers to producers and regulators.