LA Times "Dirty Weed" Article Summary

Created By Long Beach Green Room /
June 27, 2024

My name is Pam. You might have seen me around the shop. I’m a cannabis educator, I conduct our in-house training, and hold a master degree in Public Health. For the safety of our patients and consumers, We want to take the time to address the recent LA Times article: The dirty secret of California’s legal weed to mitigate the impact of our community. 

As a new above ground industry (7-years since Prop64), cannabis state regulations are still in need of great change. New industries experience ups and downs and regulation issues may not come up right away, and may unravel simultaneously as new studies, supply-chain bottlenecks, and, unfortunately, loops and gaps in the new systems are uncovered and addressed. 

Let’s summarize and unpack the LA Times article: 

The article opens with the image of the state’s current campaign that states that cannabis has changed and is “regulated by the state to protect consumers.” The visual quickly changes with a report uncovering high amounts of pesticides in legal cannabis products from an investigation led by the LA Times and WeedWeek. 

Private Labs Sound the Alarm

Josh Swider is co-founder of Infinite Chemical Analysis Labs who launched their own testing campaign and sent complaints along with other private laboratories to the Department of Cannabis Control. These tests identified 45 dangerous chemicals, with 29 exceeding state or federal limits. Pesticides like chlorfenapyr, pymetrozine, and trifloxystrobin were found in concentrations far above permissible levels, posing significant health risks. Symptoms of exposure to these chemicals range from nausea and headaches to severe respiratory issues and long-term cognitive impairments. 

State Regulations

As a new industry, the state of California’s Department of Cannabis Control regulations change every year through the policy changing processes in Sacramento. Just like all other governmental changes in industry, bills are introduced at the beginning of the year and then advocated and/or lobbied through committees and boards making it to the governor’s desk towards the end of the year to be approved or vetoed. 

Currently, the state of California tests for 66 pesticides. Read more about Legal Cannabis Pesticide use and Pesticides that Cannot be Used in Cannabis. Comparatively, starting July 1, 2024, Colorado cannabis labs will be required to test for nearly 100 pesticides in cannabis products, significantly more than current regulations (Read more here. )

The article goes on to report that the state's regulatory framework is riddled with gaps, leaving much of the industry policing to private labs. These labs, often financially dependent on the companies they test for, face conflicts of interest. Legislation to mandate independent checks and balances has stalled for years with just this year seeing some movement towards standards. 

Back to Where Regulations Began: Toxic Chemicals

Let’s go back before 2016 Prop 64 for a moment to understand how testing for pesticides came into play. 

During California's Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, allowed patients with a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana for medical purposes. It provided legal protection from prosecution under state law for patients and their primary caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. 

However, there were no regulations on the supply chain; nothing like what we know today under Prop 64. There were no testing or packaging regulations. This invited ‘greedy players’ who wanted to grow for maximum profit not matter the impact on the environment, especially natural waterways; or impacts on human life. During that time, it was best to “know your grower or farmer,” so you know what they were or were not using on their plants. 

With the rise of dispensaries and concentrated cannabis products, supply chain regulations were needed under Prop 64 law. 

California's cannabis operations further complicate the issue, with banned insecticides like carbofuran and methamidophos smuggled from other countries or are legal and permitted in the United States when they are banned in other countries, and are  just not mandated for testing, which may be the bigger issue here. 

Mitigating Risks: Impact on Consumers

The article continues with public health risks and the rise of vaping, especially among young adults who perceive it as a healthier alternative to smoking, has escalated concerns. Vapes are found to have the highest levels of contamination. 

Pesticides delivered through smoking or vaping enter the bloodstream directly, bypassing the body's natural filtration systems like the liver and the rest of the digestive system. Some pesticides in ingestible products (edibles/drinks) may be less harmful because they are filtered through the body’s systems rather than if they were inhaled through vapes or prerolls. 

Despite the recognized dangers, California has not updated its pesticide testing list since 2018. 

The health risks are particularly dire for medical cannabis users, who are more vulnerable due to their conditions. 

Market Pressures and Ethical Dilemmas

Like the growth of the cannabis farms under Prop 215, the rapid growth of the legal cannabis market has led to intense cultivation practices that prioritize yield over safety. 

Clean cannabis can be produced, it has been done since ancient times. Here, at the Long Beach Green Room, we do not use pesticides at all. Growing cannabis requires time and care, which many commercial operations bypass in favor of chemical treatments. This practice, coupled with the increasing demand for vape products, has led to the widespread use of contaminated cannabis.

Continued Education 

Long Beach Green Room leads with education. Education for its crew and for the community has been a focus since the beginning in 2010. When educated budtenders pass their knowledge to cannabis patients and consumers, we as a community can make better decisions and empower each other with better choices.

At the Long Beach Green Room counters, this education looks like a budtender explaining the difference between a package that is labeled “cannabis oil” vs “live resin” vs “hash rosin” vs “diamonds” and the materials and processes used for such products. 

The LA Times article continues 
“Legalization has also brought large-scale cultivation out of the mountains and into agricultural areas, including Central Valley farmlands, where airborne pesticides drift from almond groves and grape vineyards.

At the same time, the explosion in vape sales has created heavy demand for distillate. California vape sales tripled from 2020 to 2023 to become a $1.4-billion market, and now only slightly trail those of packaged flower.

To feed this demand, bulk oil manufacturers seek out lower-quality weed, much of it contaminated, to buy at discounted rates. To meet state screening limits, the extracted oils, or distillates, are blended to dilute pesticides.

One manufacturer who solicits farmers for “dirty” weed defended the practice, saying he provided struggling growers an income source while keeping otherwise unusable cannabis out of the landfill. The amber-colored bulk oil moves on an opaque market, traded by brokers who operate without license or regulation. It is bought by manufacturers who sometimes will use oil from the same batches to fill thousands of vape cartridges for competing brands.

This cheap commodity oil now dominates the market, selling for a fraction of the cost to produce a clean product. The cannabis industry’s reliance on low-quality weed enrages old-style farmers such as Mary Gaterud, who nurtures her sun-grown plants on a Humboldt County farmstead that has been her principal means of support for decades.

She is offended by the pleas she regularly receives from those seeking “old, moldy or even dirty trim,” as a San Luis Obispo distributor put it in a text to her in February. A Humboldt buyer, with “Turn That Trash into Cash” in the subject line, asked for “trim with all levels of pesticides and heavy metals.”

“The people who are doing it right get crushed,” she said. “The bad actors are encouraged and rewarded. And the consumers are poisoned while being told they are safe.”

Consumer Safety and Industry Accountability

The belief that a certificate of analysis guarantees safety is foundational for consumers and dispensary owners. Seemingly, it was a Prop 215 issue that was addressed: bad actors using bad chemicals so test for pesticides.

 However, the revelation of widespread pesticide contamination undermines this trust. The state’s reluctance to disrupt the market and mandate the additional pesticide testing has resulted in a system where bad actors continue to skirt safety regulations, jeopardizing the public health of our community. 

Moving Forward in Comm-unity 

The state must prioritize public health over industry interests, ensuring that all cannabis products meet safety standards. As consumers, it's vital to demand accountability and push for reforms that protect health and wellbeing.

As part of the cannabis community, we must advocate for ourselves and the products we consume. Call or email your representatives: 

Find your State and Assembly Representatives Contact Information at 

Contact the DCC or submit a complaint - Department of Cannabis Control

The article ends with the beginning of this report: with a group of frustrated testing lab operators united in advocacy to address the erroneous claims of high potency. In accordance with the history of cannabis advocacy, a group of united advocates implemented their actions to create a movement that this infant industry has not seen since the Packaging Extinction of July 1, 2018. 

The state still has a long way to go to smooth out all cannabis-related regulations. Perhaps with community unity, we can (again) give them a little push. 

The article also published the list of products they tested and the results. If you do not have access to the LA Times article, we have a copy in store with the list of results, if you would like to peruse, ask for it at your next visit. Questions and discussions are always welcome here and in store.

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