Peter Perrone, center, lab director at Gobi Analytical, tests marijuana for pesticides in August in Denver. The city has released more than 28,000 packages of edibles back into the market after recalling the products late last year when they tested positive for pesticides that are banned for use on cannabis. (Denver Post file)

Denver releases 28K pot products it had recalled for pesticides

The release comes despite Gov. John Hickenlooper's executive order mandating all contaminated cannabis be destroyed

The city of Denver has released more than 28,000 packages of marijuana-infused edibles back into the market after recalling the products late last year when they tested positive for pesticides that are banned for use on cannabis.

The release comes despite Gov. John Hickenlooper in November issuing an executive order mandating that all contaminated cannabis be destroyed as “a risk to public health” and “a threat to public safety.”

But Denver officials say that while they recalled the products in the wake of the executive order, they released certain low-level batches after the city attorney’s office verified that “the XO (executive order) doesn’t tell us, the city, to do anything,” said Dan Rowland, spokesman for Denver’s Office of Marijuana Policy.

“What the governor’s XO does is give advice and guidance to state agencies, which is great,” Rowland said. “It’s certainly guidance and advice that we can use. Obviously we looked at it, and it’s good to see that information out there.”

The released pot edibles, made by EdiPure and Gaia’s Garden, contain trace levels of banned pesticides, amounts that are below the lowest allowed on food. The releases are the first time Denver has allowed recalled pot products back into stores.

The city agency behind all 19 pesticide-related recalls of marijuana products, Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, is confident the released products are safe for human consumption, Rowland said.

“They wouldn’t (release the products) otherwise,” he said. “While there may be residues still present, they’re below that standard we’ve developed.”

State agriculture officials say that although Hickenlooper’s order is “zero-tolerance” for the use of unapproved pesticides, it’s difficult to measure zero in the lab.

“Denver is proceeding with their own investigation based on their local health powers,” said Mitch Yergert, director of the division of plant industry for the state Department of Agriculture, which regulates pesticide use.

The state is unable to enforce the executive order because it has not developed standards for certifying labs to test marijuana products for pesticides, officials say.

There are 17 private labs licensed by the state to test marijuana products for potency, residual solvents and contaminants, but not pesticides. Although state law mandates pesticide testing, it has not been enforced because of the lack of certification. The state Department of Public Health and Environment said it plans to begin certifying labs for pesticide testing in six to 12 months.

Marijuana pesticides: Denver releases 28K marijuana products recalled for pesticides
Peter Perrone, center, lab director at Gobi Analytical, tests marijuana for pesticides in August in Denver. The city has released more than 28,000 packages of edibles back into the market after recalling the products late last year when they tested positive for pesticides that are banned for use on cannabis. (Denver Post file)

“For now, that changes the ability to enforce the governor’s order quickly,” said Andrew Freedman, Hickenlooper’s director of marijuana policy. “The city has its own approach, and the state has its own. Once certifications are in place, then it will move along swiftly.”

Denver’s exclusive lab-testing partner, Gobi Analytical, lacks state certification for measuring pesticides.

EdiPure and Gaia’s Garden each issued multiple voluntary recalls after city health inspectors found banned pesticides in the companies’ edible products. The city’s recent release includes 24,606 packages of EdiPure edibles and 4,137 units of Gaia’s Garden infused candies, only a portion of what initially was recalled.

EdiPure — the first company to have recalled products released into the market — said the release of their product was a boon for business.

“It’s a big deal when they say, ‘25,000 bottles are not safe,’ and then they say, ‘Actually they are OK,’ ” EdiPure spokesman Kyle Forti said. “That means a lot for a business, and for consumers, too.”

Voicemails and e-mails to Gaia’s Garden managing partner Eric White were not returned.

In December, EdiPure attacked Denver and Gobi, calling the lab’s testing methods dubious. Gobi officials responded by saying the lab utilizes industry standard equipment and methodology.

Now others have joined in criticizing Denver’s pesticide enforcement.

“If there are no certified labs, then how are local enforcement cracking down on pesticide application on marijuana,” Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, asked marijuana-enforcement regulators during a legislative hearing last week about the state’s marijuana code. “How is that happening?”

When OpenVape partner Organa Labs became the subject of the city’s 17th and 18th pesticide recalls in late January, the company responded with a scathing indictment of the city’s recalls.

“(Denver) has gone rogue on these pesticide screenings and these attacks on cannabis businesses,” said Tyler Henson, a lobbyist and president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. “This is an orchestrated attack by using DEH and the mayor’s office to damage the reputation of reputable businesses with the intent to push their agenda of banning these businesses in Denver and reclaiming property that Denver wants for future development.”

The cannabis industry’s complaints had nothing to do with Denver’s decision to release products, the city’s Rowland said.

Ron Kammerzell, deputy senior director for enforcement at the state Department of Revenue, spoke to Denver’s unusual pesticide predicament.

“Some local jurisdictions are using laboratories that have not received certification for pesticide testing,” he testified last week before the state House Finance Committee. “I can’t really speak to how they’re using those test results.”

Mandatory tests can happen only when labs are certified to do the testing, Kammerzell said.

The state is also about to begin checking that lab results are uniform.

“We’re now instituting blind tests across the laboratories to make sure we’re getting consistent results,” Kammerzell told the committee. “We haven’t been doing that before. And so I’d say, as we roll out this proficiency program, that’s going to ensure a much higher level of confidence of the testing laboratories provide.”

Until then, Denver’s environmental health department will continue with its pesticide investigations, the city’s Rowland said.

Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394, rbaca@denverpost.com or @bruvs

This story was first published on DenverPost.com