David Downs, California editor for Leafly.com, joins us this month for another cannabis commentary. With the Sonoma County harvest in full swing, disrupted somewhat by early rains, Downs looks at the current state of the marijuana business. His commentary is below.
Can you smell it in the air? It’s cannabis harvest season in North America.
(Photo: Cannabis "nugs" courtesy of Weed Porn Daily)
Americans consume an estimated six thousand metric tons of marijuana each year, much of it harvested in October. This year cannabis gardening is legal for adults 21 and over in California and the harvest promises to be one for the record books. A much bigger bumper crop of commercial cannabis will hit store shelves this fall, but only after it runs an unprecedented, new gauntlet of safety tests.
Today’s legal weed is being tracked and analyzed like never before, as a new approach to battling the entrenched black market for this wildly successful plant.
For starters, regulators hope to lure consumers away from the illicit market and into adult-use stores with cannabis certified free of pesticides, mold, fungus and other contaminants.
Since July 1, “phase two” testing regulations have clamped down on impurities in the supply chain. Some 20 percent of all batches submitted to labs in the state failed tests that measured potency and purity, regulators reported in September.
One problem has been pesticides. About 400 batches out of 11,000 in the state failed for pesticides like myclobutanil, which creates toxic fumes – including hydrogen cyanide — when heated.
Cannabis farmers bringing crops to market this fall face tough, near-organic standards for pesticides like this and other contaminants. So they’re using organic, state-approved remedies.
Ladybugs and praying mantises feed on cannabis pests like aphids.
State officials deem certain types of bacteria, or certain plant oils like neem oil kosher. On the line is a multi-billion dollar crop that can be ravaged by powdery mold, mildew, caterpillars and mites, and a fungus called botrytis – which also attacks wine grapes.
Never has a crop so valuable become so tracked. The plants harvested this fall will be the last to go without a mandatory ‘track and trace’ tag on their stems. This winter, the state will put every commercial cannabis plant into a database run by a vendor called METRC. All plants bigger than 12 inches must get tagged and tracked in a system designed to prevent leakage into the black market.
So far track and trace’s record has been spotty. METRC has failed or suffered data breaches in other states. Oregon is tracking and tracing its cannabis, but few regulators are assigned to follow the results.
Meanwhile, this harvest season, federal authorities remain focused on large-scale interstate traffickers, of which there are still many.
An estimated four out of the five pounds of cannabis grown in California gets smoked in Chicago, Atlanta, New York and other states. So high is the demand for what amounts to a $40 billion crop that “trespass grows” continue to bloom on public and private wildlands.
Despite 80 years of prohibition, millions of people arrested, tens of billions of dollars spent, cannabis grows from the tip of Maine to the beaches of San Diego.
That is an astonishing rise for one humble hemp seed, which first came over with Columbus some 500 or so years ago.
All of which is to say — don’t let anyone tell you prohibition could eradicate cannabis from North America. You might as well declare a war on tumbleweeds. The best we may hope for is an uneasy truce. And peace in the fragrant fields, once and for all.
This is David Downs, California Editor for Leafly, with this Cannabis Commentary.