Denver health officials are requiring marijuana companies that recall products tainted with unapproved pesticides to use websites and social media accounts to alert consumers.
The move comes amid concerns that few customers are learning about nine recalls the city has announced affecting tens of thousands of items across dozens of product names.
Just three of the companies involved told their customers directly, a Denver Post check of their social media accounts showed.
The others appear to have relied only on news releases issued by the city’s Department of Environmental Health.
Those news releases are so difficult for consumers to find on the city’s website that, after an inquiry from The Post, officials said they plan to amend it and make it simpler.
The city’s recall notices do not appear on the websites of any state agencies regulating marijuana.
Coverage of marijuana pesticides in Colorado pot
“This is public safety. We need to be looking out for consumers’ best interests,” said Larisa Bolivar of the Cannabis Consumers Coalition, a watchdog group. “It strikes me as irresponsible and greedy. When the government issues press releases, it does not reach everybody. A company posting about its recall on social media would ensure consumer confidence.”
City officials say they’re learning as the process evolves and the industry grows.
“This issue is unique to the marijuana industry, and certainly unique to the city as well, since the city has not issued or managed recalls of consumer products in the past,” said Dan Rowland, spokesman for the mayor’s office of marijuana policy. “We have gone beyond just issuing a news release when these recalls happen, including notifying the industry directly, but we are limited in scope since we don’t have contact information for each consumer.”
Several businesses involved in the recalls told The Post they have seen little or none of the recalled products returned from consumers and that much of it was likely consumed long ago.
“Consumers brought none of it back,” said Larry Nassau, whose TruCannabis issued a recall Oct. 14 over pesticide concerns. “We had some calls from folks, but most times it was already consumed, or they just weren’t particularly interested in bringing it back.”
Many of the recalled products were months old and sold. What little they got back, Nassau said, came from what was left over on their own store shelves or from businesses that bought the product to resell.
Another company, EdiPure, says it has seen less than 5 percent of the 20,000 packages of marijuana edibles it recalled in late October returned — all of it from store shelves, not consumers.
“Don’t be too surprised,” said Mark Smith, CEO of EdiPure. “All this happened in July.”
The edict by Denver is an unusual step in recall authority, which typically stops with a government agency issuing a press release on the company’s behalf.
Companies can reach consumers more easily today than before, with frequent-shopper cards, e-mail and text-message blasts about specials, and Facebook pages trumpeting the latest sale or promotion. Tweets about super deals and Instagram messages about the latest acquisition make the information nearly instantaneous.
The city’s order requires companies to keep the recall notices posted on websites indefinitely.
“This is all new to us, but we want to address our customers in any form or manner that we can,” said Jason Martinez, co-owner of Lab710 Concentrates, which was given the city’s social-media order this week. “We contacted dispensaries the product was sent to. We’ve asked them to let customers and patients know about the recall. We also are going to put this on our social media and put something on our website linking to … the city of Denver’s press release.”
Three of the eight companies that voluntarily recalled marijuana over pesticide concerns this year — Lab710, Mahatma and Gaia’s Garden — have used a social media account to tell their customers.
The others — TruCannabis (Colorado Care Facility), Nature’s Cure (Colfax Pot Shop), Green Cross (EdiPure), Sacred Seed and Denver Recreational — have not, The Post found.
More on pot pesticides
Requiring businesses to inform consumers directly — nearly all recalls are voluntary — ensures a recall notice reaches the lowest tier of commerce.
At least two shop owners selling recalled products say they were never asked to let customers know about the tainted pot they purchased.
“If there’s a recall, the business will communicate that with (the shops), and the city is also sending out a bulletin,” said MMJ America owner Jake Salazar. “It seems like every week I’m getting an update on another recall. But we haven’t had a company ask us to post recall information inside the store yet.”
The other company was the one from which The Post purchased marijuana that later tested positive for unapproved pesticides.
Until now, it hasn’t been a requirement to tell consumers about a recall.
“EdiPure sells wholesale to shops, so the recall was to the shop customers and they check the inventory,” said Smith of EdiPure, which is owned by Green Cross. “We didn’t direct the dispensary to (post signs about the recall). It’s not our job to direct them. They probably have their own way of doing that.”
Federal agencies that issue food and product recalls require only a press release to the public, although businesses must contact other companies within their supply chain. Some agencies “encourage” the use of social media platforms.
Companies such as those impacted by an automotive safety recall, for example, occasionally will flag customers directly — but it’s not mandated that they do.
“I really like transparency, and I think it benefits everybody,” said Cannabis Patients Alliance founder Teri Robnett. “If they work hard to fix the problem and let their customers know what’s happening, I think that works in their favor. But if they continue to try and hide or mislead their customers, that doesn’t show me that they’re being very responsible.”
But most times, consumers aren’t told directly about a recall. In some cases recalled products can be sold to consumers for years. Recently, Home Depot was flagged by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for selling more than two dozen products that had been recalled as long ago as three years.
CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye recently told a Senate committee that the agency has an “expectation” that companies will use social media to let consumers know about recalls, although it’s not required.
“There are no penalties for not doing it, but the potential exists for the chairman or other officials to make it known publicly we’re disappointed in how a company handled a recall,” CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson said.
Advocates say it’s not enough.
“If you’ve got a product recall and it presents any risk to public health and safety in any shape or form, the industry has an obligation to make sure that the patients and customers are aware of it,” said Rex Powers, president of Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards, a nonprofit.
David Migoya: 303-954-1506, firstname.lastname@example.org or @davidmigoya
Ricardo Baca: 303-954-1394, email@example.com or @bruvs