Ignorance in bloom: Creating consequences and finding solutions for cannabis cultivators

In this three-part series, organic cannabis grower and entrepreneur Travis Lane delves into the world of pesticide use in the

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In this three-part series, organic cannabis grower and entrepreneur Travis Lane delves into the world of pesticide use in the cannabis industry and beyond. Click here for part one and part two.

While there are many reasons to be concerned about what a legal cannabis framework will look like here in Canada, the one guaranteed positive will be a ban on many of these pervasive poisons.

When pondering how this could work, and how it would be enforced, it’s worth considering what has been happening in Colorado.

Now that their cannabis distribution businesses are licensed and legal, they become targets for a variety of non-police enforcement options that can simply be ignored by illegal businesses. All of a sudden, these legal entities are subject to direct government oversight, can have their products recalled, must pass inspections, and need business licenses to stay open.

The use of fungicides and pesticides has become a major cannabis issue in Denver. The first lawsuit was brought in 2016 against dispensaries whose products showed residual chemicals that are not on the list of accepted cannabis pest control agents. It was dismissed, but it was heard, and that doesn’t happen in an unregulated environment.

Here in Canada, medical producer Organigram has faced a similar scandal, with a pending class action lawsuit, and their organic certification revoked.

As it stands right now, the vast majority of the cannabis business is still illegal. The laws are largely unenforced, though, and there is no public or political will to enforce them. By legalizing cannabis, it allows non-criminal enforcement in areas like pesticide use, labeling, and licensing.

Limiting and controlling the use of pesticides and fungicides is one instance where the strictest of regulation is actually the right course to take. In the case of Organigram, the screening eventually worked, though the punishments were far from severe.

Based on historical evidence, the government will not go nearly far enough. The rules will likely resemble current food and tobacco regulations, which are not exactly strict.

It is time that we had a remodelling of accepted practices for such poisons. People should not face a small fine for using such substances, but instead face a potential loss of their business, if it keeps up.

The government is a big part of this. It is crucial to have proper testing and inspection regimes to hold people accountable.

Too bad there has never been a war on pesticides.

Tiny Ecosystems: True Pest Solutions

As I mentioned in last week’s post, there has been some push-back against Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, and their cronies on a large scale, with national governments taking on the big corporations.

This is nice to see, but it will be a long, drawn-out process.

Where changes are really being seen are on a more local scale. We see farm-to-table restaurants, local butchers, farmers markets, backyard chicken coops, craft brewers, small coffee roasters, and community gardens becoming more common. These sustainable models are proliferating quickly, and doing things organically is slowly becoming closer to the standard.

In commercial cannabis cultivation, just like in modern industrial food farming, the current standard is to grow a single varietal, fed with ammonia-based fertilizer, and sprayed with pesticides to make it to harvest.

This practice of mono-cropping in sterile or homogeneous environments often leads to the need for pesticides, largely because of the lack of any biodiversity.

In nature, there are bugs everywhere. They are crucial to the food cycle, as they help break down soil, and release nutrients as waste when they eat smaller organisms. This is how plants eat in the wild, through the nutrient cycle of the life in the soil.

Biodiversity is also the key to integrated pest management. By having balanced competition for nutrients, and a thriving micro-life in the soil, both pest control and fertilization can be addressed at once.

If any invasive pest seems to be gaining the upper hand, which is very rare when the system is healthy, then essential oils, capsaicin, insecticidal soaps, and neem oil are organic options. There are also preventative measures, like introducing beneficial bugs, and companion planting.

Toss in a living cover crop, some worms, some aloe, and some kelp, and you just started growing organically. It is all about building a tiny ecosystem in each garden, where the abundance of life prevents any one species from gaining the upper hand.

Call it living organic soil, no-till organics, or simply common sense, it is a system of gardening that is quickly gaining adherents among the cannabis cultivating community. It is based on the way nature does things on its own. Feed the system, feed the soil, and there is no need to feed the plant. Diversity leads naturally to balance.

Decades ago, we were driven away from a focus on sustainability and balance by the adoption of new agricultural technologies that seemed to increase convenience and yield. Chelated liquid fertilizers, mono-cropping, and unpredictably powerful herbicides and pesticides were all seen as tools that would help feed the growing population of the world.

They also came with the potential to do great harm.

We need to be more careful. It should not be the goal of humanity to improve and manipulate only what nature does for us, but also to become a part of it, and contribute to it in a way that is best for the whole.

In the end, Rachel Carson had it right.

“The “control of nature” is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”

-Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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