A closeup of a marijuana plant grown at a Denver cultivation facility in March 2014. (Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

Colorado issues first state-level holds on marijuana due to pesticides

Updated Feb. 19, 2016 at 5:44 p.m.

Colorado marijuana regulators announced Friday they have put a large but undisclosed number of plants and products on hold from two cultivation facilities in Colorado Springs over concerns they were treated with unapproved pesticides.

The health-and-safety advisory by the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division is the first use of an executive order issued in November by Gov. John Hickenlooper declaring pesticide-laden pot a “public safety risk.”

Though Denver health officials have issued several recalls and health advisories about pesticide-tainted pot, this is the first similar move by state officials.

Plants from Dr. Releaf Inc. and High Mountain Medz were placed on administrative hold pending an investigation, the division said.

High Mountain operates as Levity Wellness.

Each location has plants and products that include dozens of strains of marijuana grown since at least August 2015, officials said.

It’s unclear how much of the affected marijuana has been sold and ingested, officials said.

Neither business could be immediately reached for comment.

MED investigators were alerted to the pesticide problem by Colorado Department of Agriculture inspectors, officials said.

Officials said the inspectors had identified the presence of myclobutanil on plants from each location. Myclobutanil is a powerful fungicide that, when heated, converts to a potentially hazardous form of hydrogen cyanide.

“We want to ensure we’ve been very thorough about the underlying circumstances and the use of the pesticides, and that we’ve identified all the product that’s been affected by this,” said Lewis Koski, deputy senior director for the Colorado Department of Revenue’s enforcement division.

He said the agency will decide whether the licenseeswould face disciplinary action.

“The Department of Revenue, Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health and Environment have been working tirelessly to enact the governor’s executive order,” said Andrew Freedman, Hickenlooper’s director of marijuana policy. “Over time, we anticipate that compliance rates will improve and these instances will become less prevalent.”

Consumers who have product from these businesses are advised to return it to the place of purchase, revenue department spokeswoman Lynn Granger said.

Unlike Denver, which has released pot it held over pesticide concerns when trace levels dropped below those allowed on other food products, Hickenlooper’s order requires the destruction of any pot found to have been treated with unapproved pesticides.

Most destructions, Koski said, occur voluntarily, though none has happened as a result of pesticide enforcement.

Hickenlooper’s order came after months of wrangling over how to handle pesticides on pot, which has no legal use under the federal laws that govern pesticides.

Agriculture officials have limited those pesticides whose label would not prevent their use on marijuana, while warning that it’s unclear what pesticides are safe since no reliable testing has ever been done.

Marijuana is a unique crop because it can be smoked or ingested by other means. Most pesticides are tested for safety using ingestion methods specific to the crop.

But federal law still deems marijuana a dangerous and illegal drug, precluding any pesticide testing.

David Migoya: 303-954-1506, dmigoya@denverpost.com or @davidmigoya

This story was first published on DenverPost.com