Ignorance in bloom: Cannabis cultivation and the casual use of illegal poison

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      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. Check back for part two next Friday (January 26).

      By Travis Lane

      Two-spotted spider mites are the arch enemy of cannabis growers everywhere. Cannabis growers are not generally a hateful bunch, but that changes when these minuscule pests come up in conversation.

      Pests will harm your plants, effecting your yield and quality. If left unchecked, many can lower the quality of the final product beyond the point of use. Spider mites are one of the few common pests that can result in complete crop failure.

      Spider mites are all over the place. They are common pests on a surprisingly wide range of plants, including tomatoes, squash, blackberries, strawberries, hollies, roses, azaleas, and chrysanthemums.

      As a result, they are carried into grow rooms on clothing, pets, and supplies. They also tend to find their way in to indoor gardens and greenhouses from outside when the weather cools in the fall.

      One big reason that growers despise these tiny plant killers is the fact that they are very resilient. It requires multiple treatments to get rid of them once you have them, and they become resistant to pesticides quickly.

      These are not the only pests that a grower has to contend with either. Powdery mildew, root aphids, thrips, russet mites, and broad mites can all target cannabis. The path that is chosen in finding a long-term pest control solution depends on the grower’s philosophical views on how to garden.

      It can be handled in two ways. One is to use a variety of preventative measures, and treatment only when absolutely necessary, which is known in horticulture as integrated pest management, or IPM.

      The other, which is much more common among large illicit commercial producers, is to use more poisonous pesticides, and more of them, even when it is not evident you have pests.

      Readily Available: Easy Access to Highly Toxic Pesticides

      I was very young when I killed my first cannabis plant.

      I was a teenager, and figured I could just stick a plant in my closet, and I would magically have a big bag of top-notch smoke in a couple of months.

      As you might expect, I was mistaken. After over-watering, then under-watering, then messing up the light cycle, the plant finally got infested with bugs and died.

      Of course, I was dismayed. I did not give up, though, and I kept trying. Eventually I would have a measure of success. Over time, I would also have many run-ins with my old nemesis, the spider mite.

      When I was a bit older, I had graduated to a small four light basement grow, and I got mites again. This time, I had learned to identify them early, so strolled down to my friendly neighbourhood hydroponics store. They had recommended strange-coloured GH three-part feed, so I asked them to recommend something to kill mites.

      Instead of pointing to a product on one of the shelves, the proprietor stepped into the back, and emerged with an un-labelled brown glass eye dropper bottle. He pulled out a sheet of sticker labels, wrote the dilution rate on it, told me that this stuff would kill anything, and asked me for $200.

      At the time, I knew no better, so I paid him, and asked him if there was anything I should know. He said that I should probably wear a mask and gloves. I didn’t bother.

      The product he sold me, while still in my teens, is known as Avid, and it is the most common pesticide used in the commercial cultivation of cannabis. It is made by Syngenta, one of the biggest poison manufacturers in the world, and the active ingredient is abamectin. It has been approved for a bunch of different food crops, despite that fact that human side effects identified in peer reviewed studies include low sperm maturity.

      Avid is very toxic, but it is just one of many options. Meltatox, Floramite, Forbid, Eagle 20, Nova 40, and TetraSan are easily accessible at either brick and mortar shops or online. If you have bought and smoked cannabis, the chances are that you have inhaled the residues of more than one item on this list.

      While some of these are approved for certain food crops, there are not that many smoked crops being farmed. There is tobacco, but it is practically dripping in pesticides, being the sixth most heavily sprayed crop in North America. Studies on the inhalation of smoked pesticides in cannabis are starting to be seen, with the expected result that pesticides can efficiently transfer from bud to lungs through smoke.

      The fact that these highly regulated and restricted toxins are so readily available comes as a surprise to many outside the cannabis community.

      The fact that a segment of the industry feels entitled to poison patients for profit is offensive to many inside the cannabis community.

      Greed and Ignorance: Unethical Disobedience

      “That is what everyone uses. Who cares if it is illegal? This is all illegal.”

      These are words that I have heard many times over the years as I tried to find other solutions for pest control. Sometimes, these same people would later spout off about civil disobedience, and how they were part of the positive change that was coming.

      Those who are truly civilly disobedient do care that it is illegal. Is it unjust to punish people for growing and using a plant? If the answer is yes, then I will intentionally break that law.

      Is it unjust to prohibit growers from making more money at the expense of the consumers’ health?

      Anyone who answers yes to that question, and knowingly acts this way, is not acting civilly.

      There is nothing civil about poison.