Colorado is cracking down on pesticide use in the marijuana industry, trying to end years of sloppy oversight of which chemicals are used on the nascent industry.
A state Senate panel voted 7-0 Friday to give the Colorado Department of Agriculture $300,000 to step up pesticide enforcement in the new marijuana industry. The appropriation came after Denver authorities found tens of thousands of marijuana plants treated with unauthorized chemicals, and ordered quarantines.
The Denver quarantines at 11 separate pot-growing warehouses in recent weeks have underscored an open secret in Colorado's nascent weed business -- that although the state outlines which chemicals commercial pot growers can use on their plants, it lacks manpower to enforce those rules.
A requirement that commercial marijuana undergo contaminant testing has been on the books for years in Colorado, but those testing requirements have yet to be implemented because of testing backlogs. And there's no contaminant testing requirement for medical pot, though a bill to require such testing by 2016 is pending.
The vote Friday and the recent quarantines by Denver health and fire-safety officials indicate those days are ending.
Sen. Pat Steadman, a Denver Democrat who sponsored the pesticide enforcement addition, told fellow senators the administration wants support for the Department of Agriculture to do more work with pesticide use.
Until now, Colorado's pot pesticide oversight mostly has been left to a patchwork of city and county health inspectors.
"I would prefer that the Department of Agriculture have the authority as it does on all other pesticide issues," said Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.
The amendment came on a larger marijuana taxing and spending proposal that awaits a vote by the full Senate.
The bill includes some new uses for pot taxes, including money for the Colorado State Fair and to start an anti-bullying program. The bill also sends voters a ballot measure asking for permission for the state to keep some $58 million in new pot taxes despite constitutional spending restrictions that would otherwise require them to be refunded.
The pesticide part of the bill is a reaction to concerns about the kinds of chemicals being used on commercial marijuana. In the Denver quarantines, health inspectors detailed the use of chemicals labeled for use on ornamental plants, not plants to be consumed by humans.
"It is fair to say there are some practices out there that could pose a public health risk, and we are intervening in those cases," Danica Lee of the Denver Department of Environmental Health told KUSA-TV.
The station estimated the value of quarantines and destroyed plants could reach into the millions, depending on the size and maturity of the plants. One facility alone was ordered to quarantine 60,000 plants, the station reported