Legalize marijuana
Ending Marijuana Prohibition

New Challenges As Marijuana Legalization Advances; Nice Problems To Have

Legalize marijuanaBy Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel

Two recent developments illustrate the progress we have made towards ending marijuana prohibition, and the new challenges we face as we push forward into this Brave New World of legalized weed.

In a handful of states, instead of worrying about whether those who grow marijuana will be arrested and jailed, we have the luxury of worrying about such things as whether the marijuana was sprayed with unhealthy pesticides during the cultivation process, and how to minimize the impact the odor from marijuana cultivation sites may have on the neighbors.

Let’s start with the pesticide issue.

One of the principal public health advantages that legalization brings is the ability to require that marijuana be tested by a certified lab before it is sold, assuring the consumer that it is free from potentially harmful insecticides and pesticides. At NORML, as a consumer lobby, this is something we have always supported, but so long as marijuana remained illegal, those protections were impossible to implement. In fact, in states where marijuana prohibition remains intact, any laboratory that tested the product would be risking criminal prosecution for possession and conspiring to sell marijuana. And any elected official, when confronted with this suggestion, would have laughed us out of their office. There is simply no mechanism for assuring the safety or purity of illegal substances, so legalization is a necessary precursor.

But now that marijuana is fully legal in four states; fully decriminalized in Washington, DC; and legalized for some version of medical use in 37 states, this common-sense step to assure the product is safe is feasible.

Breaking with their traditional position that so long as marijuana remains illegal under federal law, they would not provide guidance as to which pesticides and insecticides were safe for marijuana, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced they are offering a process under which certain pesticides could be approved for use on marijuana, in those states that now permit legal marijuana use for medical purposes, or for all adults.

This has already surfaced as an issue in Colorado, where the state has reportedly quarantined tens of thousands of marijuana plants because of concerns the crop was doused in harmful chemicals. Without some guidance from the EPA, the licensed growers are caught between their need to protect against infestations such as spider mites, powdery mildew and root rot, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost inventory; and the demands of state regulators and the public for a safe product. Concerned consumers have begun picketing certain retail outlets in CO, claiming they are putting their customers at risk because of their use of pesticides, and advocating for the use of organic pest controls.

This new process announced by the EPA appears to offer a relatively quick process for legal growers to learn which pesticides are safe for use on marijuana, and which are not. The director of the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Division of Plant Industry has called this regulatory shift “a huge step forward for the EPA, the industry and us. It allows us to move forward in a very normal manner on pesticides for marijuana, just like any other crop.” An important step towards NORMLization of marijuana.

Next, let’s consider the problem with marijuana odor potentially effecting the quality of life of the neighbors.

Some contentiousness between marijuana growers and their neighbors has been simmering for some time, even under prohibition, but with the advance of full legalization, those problems are gaining more attention. And different jurisdictions are dealing with this problem differently.

In Oregon, a state with a “right to farm” statute, farmers are protected from nuisance complaints that might arise because of “customary noises, smells, dust or other nuisances associated with farming.” But that has not kept some neighbors from complaining, and some are asking that growers be required to have a set-back from the adjacent property where marijuana cannot legally be grown, to protect neighbors from the strong odor of marijuana in the late growing cycle and the harvesting period, which some neighbors claim keeps them inside during those times.

And in Colorado, the small town of Basalt in Pitkin County, only a few miles outside of Aspen, is the site of High Valley Farms, a 25,000 square foot indoor cultivation center that supplies one of the 6 retail outlets (the Silverpeak Apothecary) in Aspen. Because of public complaints about the odor of marijuana, the Pitkin County Commissioners have issued a stern warning to High Valley Farms to eradicate the marijuana odor that has infuriated nearby neighbors, or face the termination of their agricultural license when it comes up for renewal in September. The license was granted with the condition that the farm would not emit any smells to the detriment of the lifestyle of nearby residents.

In addition to the complains about the impact on the quality of life, a number of Basalt property owners have also complained that their property values have declined and “what smells like money” to the cultivation center “smells like property devaluation” to the home owners. The CEO of High Valley Farms has acknowledged some technical problems with their smell-mitigation technology, but has promised the problem will be resolved within a few weeks. They obviously have a strong financial incentive to resolve the problem, and quickly.

The Need for Responsible Corporate Citizenship

So while these two new issues are real, there are solutions available and they must be quickly implemented by those in the industry. The pioneers who hold the licenses in this new industry must not be allowed to put the health of consumers at risk, or diminish the quality of life of their neighbors, in their rush to get rich. They must demonstrate they are responsible corporate citizens, or be replaced by others who will.

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  • Ken A Bis

    Keith has done the cause a whole lot of good…but there are still states without legalization and this is a preemptive discussion…let’s get to full legalization first 50 then have this discussion

    • Kajira M

      So long as there are any reasons for the opposition to complain, no matter how inconsequential the gripes may appear, there will be that much more ammunition they’ll have to resist the change that we’re all seeking in the remaining holdout states. Every issue that crops up (pun most definitely intended) warrants correction in order to avoid adding fuel to the opposition’s fire. Correction can only help our cause as it allows them to see we’re not all just a bunch of lazy stoners they’d like to think we are, rather, it illustrates that we are responsible citizens who care about problems and will continually work to find solutions for the good of all.

  • Nathaniel

    Reduced property values only matter if you plan to sell anytime soon, otherwise the devaluation is a civil service as it reduces the property tax paid [provided that devaluation is legitimate].
    There were some here concerned about smell ordinances and yet there is the right to farm statue that will be tested by both side and I have a sneaking suspicion the farmers are going to win that battle [pissed off citizens vs a fledgling but robust industry and the verge exploding, thus goofy amounts of tax dollars coming in: which is going to win in court?]
    Testing is extremely important and I am now officially seriously concerned and excited because the EPA is now involved. Over the last 20yrs the EPA has a terrible track record for assessing what is dangerous and what isn’t when it comes to human consumption and spraying of ag crops.

    As it is nice for legitimizing the cannabis movement it also has a chance to mire us in Monsanto EPA rulings that would effectively make this healthy plant into a bastardized version of itself.

  • Lawrence Goodwin

    Articles like this one always send me deeper into depression and hopelessness. Fifteen years of fighting for cannabis freedom in my home state of New York, only to be blocked year after damned year by ornery, poseur lawmakers, aided and abetted by governors who have no qualms about wielding power in the manner of fascist dictators–all of these NY public officials refusing to do what is so clearly right: to LET NEW YORKERS GROW these magnificent plants again, unimpeded by the “severe restrictions” tyrannically imposed on “legal” grows by those same heartless officials. It’s a f@#$ing nightmare in New York. Somebody, please, HELP US!

    • MrBudWyzer

      Amen fellow New Yorker…Yes Cuomo has his head up his ass!!!…vote him out next time…he didn’t carry Upstate this last time…

      • Kathy

        In NJ, so I feel your pain; a sad state of affairs indeed. Our fat f?$&k governor, Christie, can go right out and get himself a surgical muzzle, effectively, because he is unable to control his food intake, endangering his health, and ultimately being a part of the rising health care costs, but we choose to ingest the safer alternative and instead he lords over us like he thinks he’s saving society from some scourge. I’ll be so glad when that halfwit is out of office.

      • Kathy

        In NJ, so I feel your pain; a sad state of affairs indeed. Our fat f?$&k governor, Christie, can go right out and get himself a surgical muzzle, effectively, because he is unable to control his food intake, endangering his health, and ultimately being a part of the rising health care costs, but we choose to ingest the safer alternative and instead he lords over us like he thinks he’s saving society from some scourge. I’ll be so glad when that halfwit is out of office.

  • besommer

    I wonder if Cultivators have considered alternate strains as a harm reduction strategy where smells are concerned? For example, planting a strain, with similar medical effects, that contains more pleasant smelling Terpenes as opposed to a strain that has a “skunky” smell.

  • coolwithit

    One of the fights I’m disappointed to say is not being talked about is the unethical power that employers have. Just because I don’t have to worry about jail time anymore here in the great northwest, I can still lose my job or get turned down for employment for exercising my new rights. So, the people said “it’s cool,” the state government agreed but the employers simply get to disregard the will of the voters. Why is it okay to hire the wine drinker but not the toker? This over reaching intrusion of privacy is morally and ethically wrong. If your state hasn’t ended prohibition yet, be aware of this when the day comes. We’re making progress my friends but we have a long way to go.