Beginning in the 1970s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been charged with the duty to protect the environment from human activity, including, to a great extent, agricultural production. The EPA’s efforts also protect people. Whether farm workers applying pesticides or consumers simply making routine purchases at the grocery market, the agency aims to safeguard Americans from harmful levels of exposure to agrochemicals through enforcing regulations backed by scientific risk assessments.
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Of course, it’s common to correlate the majority of the environmental impact of, and human exposure to, agricultural chemicals with the major crops grown—corn, soybeans, and cereal grains. Nevertheless, it is equally important to protect the producers and consumers of crops such as cannabis.
Shield the yield in the field
What was once a completely illegal plant to possess, much less grow, is rapidly becoming a significant agricultural product in economic terms. It is also a catalyst for a new, invigorated development of crop-protection chemicals oriented toward increasing yields. Additionally, cannabis’s value is uniquely eclectic: Uses range from medical to recreational, industrial to farm-lot feed. And it’s certain that the total acreage grown throughout the nation will increase as prohibition finally fades away, creating a place for commonsense cannabis laws.
As the production of cannabis increases, so does the need to regulate the use of agrochemicals applied in production. Current regulations protect people and the environment from exposure to pesticide residues. These rules are the outcome of careful scientific scrutiny by specialists employed by the EPA.
However, these experts are currently unable to apply any oversight over cannabis production, due to its illogical “Schedule I” DEA status (supposedly for dangerous or lethal drugs having no medical use, such as heroin). This potentially leaves patients, recreational consumers, and growers at risk due to a significant lack of understanding of how pesticides degrade and remain within the cannabis plant and products created from it. Considering that cannabis is widely used medicinally by people suffering serious health conditions, the federal government’s ignoring of these chemical risks is completely intolerable—period.
None of this is to say that cannabis producers themselves are intentionally putting anyone at risk; quite the opposite. It has been clear, particularly from the prevalence of organically grown cannabis, that the vast majority of producers have every intention of growing safe, high-quality plants. Plus, there are many solutions to pest problems, such as neem oil, that the EPA has concluded pose no risk to human health. Cannabis growers and enthusiasts have detailed the success of other similarly safe chemicals; however, these certainly do not provide the full range of pest-protection tools that cannabis growers need to employ.
Government: here to help?
Because pesticide use on cannabis, either organic or conventional, has never gone through the same analysis that the EPA performs on pesticides to approve usage on crops, there are still many unknowns. This wide gap of knowledge must be filled to ensure that human and environmental concerns stemming from pesticide use in cannabis production are understood and mitigated.
When the federal government acknowledges and translates into law the reality and the will of the American people concerning cannabis freedom, the EPA will have the authority to extend its protection into the realm of cannabis-related agriculture. We deserve nothing less than a healthier, protected environment, complete with cannabis free of pesticide residues.
The right moral decision for the federal government is to make that a reality by de-scheduling cannabis—that is, if it’s at all coherent to use in the same sentence the terms “moral” and “federal government”.