Toxic Weed: It May Be More Prevalent Than You Think

Proponents hope that marijuana is well on the way to legalization, and the numbers back it up. In 2018 alone, investors pumped over $10 billion into the North American industry. The legal weed industry’s economic impact has been estimated at between $20 billion and $23 billion per annum according to recent figures, and the industry is only going to grow.

To date, 33 states plus D.C. allow medicinal marijuana; and 11 of these states plus D.C. allow recreational use. In several of the states with a ‘medical marijuana program,’ provisions for the sale of the herb have barely been implemented. Once these states get their respective acts together, expect an even greater jump in the figures. It is also inevitable that other states will get in on the act; a combination of mounting public pressure and potential tax revenue should see to that.

Despite the growth of the legal industry, however, the black market continues to exist and, in some cases, thrive. Back in 2016, an estimated 87% of all weed sales came on the black market. The figure has doubtless fallen since but remains extremely high. In Canada, matters are only slightly better, with 71% of sales coming on the black market this year despite full legalization in October 2018.

It is easy to understand why black-market weed is popular in states such as Texas, where the herb remains illegal. However, even in legal states, the problem is getting out of hand. The primary reason is the price; most pertinently, the high taxes associated with purchasing cannabis, especially in a recreational state.

What many customers don’t seem to realize is that this black-market weed is often polluted with harmful pesticides. You could be ingesting toxic weed without even realizing.

The Black-Market Problem

A recent survey by MarketView Research in California revealed something interesting. Out of the 1,419 people questioned by the firm, 18% had bought weed from an unlicensed source within the previous three months. 85% of them said they were satisfied with the purchase, and 84% said they would buy from the same seller in the future.

Greg Meguerian owns the Reefinery in Los Angeles but is being badly hampered by illegal competition. He was interviewed by Natalie Fertig for an article in Politico magazine, and he lamented the fact that rival dispensary, 15 Spot, is seemingly not legal, and is getting away with it. 15 Spot isn’t on the list of L.A. authorized retail businesses, but customers don’t care.

Clearly, the weed on sale at 15 Spot is far cheaper since customers don’t have to worry about paying 20% extra in taxes. The unlicensed seller offers up to four ounces of weed per transaction; by all accounts, four times the legal limit. It also stays open well beyond the legal closing time of 10 pm. According to Meguerian, the authorities aren’t too bothered either. It is a major problem in L.A., where unlicensed businesses outnumber their licensed counterparts.

The issue of black-market cannabis is rearing its head across the United States. In Oregon, there is a surplus of Mary Jane; an issue that’s driving down the price and causing growers to illegally export it across state lines to places where you can’t legally obtain the herb. Idaho is one of Oregon’s neighboring states, and law enforcement there has reported a huge spike in the amount of weed seized.

Cannabis remains illegal in Idaho with severe penalties handed out if you are caught selling the substance there. The potential punishment hasn’t perturbed black market sellers, however. In 2016, Idaho troopers confiscated just over 500 pounds in the year when Oregon’s adult use laws took effect. In 2018, over 2,000 pounds of marijuana was confiscated!

Bear in mind that recreational marijuana is still illegal in 39 states. As long as this state of affairs continues, and the herb remains legally unavailable to well over half of the population, the black market will thrive. Unfortunately, despite the growing availability of high-quality herb, even from illegal suppliers, a significant proportion of it is potentially toxic.

Taking a Risk with Illegal Marijuana

toxic weed

California allows recreational cannabis purchase and usage in what is the nation’s largest market. Recreational weed carries taxes that aren’t added to medical cannabis. As such, it seems as if the price is too high for prospective tokers in the Golden State. If you have tried black market weed in California, or plan to do so, perhaps the research published by the Integral Ecology Research Center will change your mind.

Researchers from the center tested water, soil, and other ecological samples from illegally grown weed locations, and found something VERY disturbing. Overall, they found highly deadly toxic chemicals in a whopping 89% of samples! Illegal growing operations use destructive farming practices and unregulated chemicals to grow their plants; all in the name of profit.

In mid-2018, California announced that its black-market eradication effort had to date resulted in the seizure of 25,000 pounds of processed bud and 640,000 plants, not to mention 60 tons of trash. According to state officials, there has been a huge increase in the use of carbofuran, a chemical so potent that only 0.25 teaspoons is required to kill a 300-pound bear.

The use of such deadly pesticides damages waterways, wildlife, and the ecosystem in general. Unfortunately, some of these chemicals find their way into the final product. Given the herb’s federally illegal status, there is little research into the effects of ingesting such chemicals. Suffice to say; it isn’t a question of whether it harms you, it is a matter of how badly it does.

The problem has been ongoing for a very long time, and not enough is being done to stop it. Back in 2004, Mourad Gabriel and his wife, Greta Wengert, founded the Integral Ecology Research Center. They never intended to research marijuana, but when wildlife began to die in California, they decided to investigate the reasons why and were stunned by the outcome.

While working on determining the causes of the increased death rate of a threatened species called Pacific Fishers, the couple found that the birds were dying due to the ingestion of poison. Eventually, they tracked the source to illegal cannabis growing sites in remote forests. In a study published in PLOS One in 2012, they discovered that over three-quarters of the fisher carcasses they tested were exposed to rat poison (anticoagulant rodenticide).

The California Forest Service has been engaged in an enormous number of raids on these illegal grow ops. While analyzing these farms, Gabriel found lots of containers with over-the-counter pesticides, and a milky white substance he believes is carbofuran. For the record, the EPA banned carbofuran back in 2010.

Other Chemicals in Illegally Grown Marijuana

Legal commercial growers occasionally use the same type of pesticides as what you’ll find in fruit and vegetables. However, reputable sellers tend to provide third-party lab reports which outline whether any insecticides, GMOs, or pesticides, are included in the product. You get no such peace of mind with illegal growers and sellers.

Of the compounds discovered in black market cannabis, two of the most common are myclobutanil and imidacloprid. The former is a fungicide often used on grapes. It is also known as Eagle 20 and is believed to cause negative reproductive effects in animals. The latter is a neurotoxin that is especially bad news for bees and other pollinators and is linked with dizziness, vomiting, and eye irritation.

Processed marijuana products such as edibles, oils, concentrates, and topicals could carry residue from these pesticides. Things get even worse if you decide to smoke your weed. Myclobutanil releases hydrogen cyanide when heated. In case you were wondering, this particular chemical is used in chemical warfare! Alas, as there is little research into what happens to the active ingredients in pesticides when they are set on fire, toxicologists remain in the dark as to how bad it is.

But It Is Only Black-Market Marijuana… Right?

We wish that were the case! In states where cannabis is legal, there aren’t ample regulations on the type of treatments one can legally use on marijuana. In many cases, states have simply approved the same commercial treatments used on food crops; which are far from ‘safe.’ Things are changing as more tainted weed is being discovered in legal states, but there is a LONG way to go.

In 2015, an Oregon news outlet found pesticides in almost all of the marijuana products it tested; these were legally available from a licensed dispensary. In June 2017, the same newspaper, The Oregonian/Oregon Live, found that three out of ten tested samples were contaminated.

Josh Wurzer is the president of SC Labs, a marijuana testing company, and he told Bloomberg that up to 40% of the samples they test are contaminated.

Way back in 2012, a former employee of Idaho Springs, a medical marijuana growing facility in Colorado, complained that employees didn’t have protective clothing when spraying plants. Despite the initial outrage, no samples were tested by state regulators for two years. When they finally got around to it, they found that almost half of samples contained banned pesticides. The list of violations is long and occurs in almost every state.

Final Thoughts on Toxic Weed

As recently as September 2018, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control found that almost 20% of marijuana samples tested failed to pass the recently introduced purity and potency tests. Overall, from approximately 11,000 samples, close to 2,000 did not meet state requirements. To be fair, a significant proportion of these failed samples didn’t have the requisite potency, but some were not pure enough for human consumption.

In the black market, tainted marijuana is extremely commonplace, and we recommend avoiding it at all costs. However, you are sadly not guaranteed to get clean weed from licensed sellers either. When purchasing cannabis products, whether you do so online or from a dispensary, make sure you only buy from a reputable seller who proves purity in the form of a third-party lab report, from a trusted laboratory.

By doing anything else, you are taking a risk with your health; which is the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen when you use marijuana.