B.C.’s “community safety unit” and police raid an unlicensed cannabis store in Sooke, Oct. 27, 2019. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

B.C.’s “community safety unit” and police raid an unlicensed cannabis store in Sooke, Oct. 27, 2019. (Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror)

Illegal cannabis often contaminated with pesticides, B.C. study finds

Bacteria, heavy metals also present in some seized samples

The B.C. government is warning cannabis buyers to avoid illegally grown products, after a pilot study found most samples from unlicensed sources were contaminated with fungicides and other hazardous substances.

The samples were taken from dried cannabis seized by B.C.’s dedicated cannabis community safety unit and tested in a lab to see if they met federal standards for legal sales. A total of 20 samples from six illicit storefronts around Metro Vancouver were collected in February and tested, and 18 of them contained pesticide residues. Only three samples were found to be consistent with the standards for legal sales.

“The lab found 24 distinct pesticides, with almost every sample containing at least one,” B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said June 9. “There were also unacceptable levels of bacteria, fungi or heavy metals in many of the samples.”

The pilot test results were released by the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, showing detectable levels of contaminants in 18 of the 20 samples. The most commonly detected was a fungicide called myclobutanil in 16 of the 18 samples, followed by a plant growth regulator called paclobutrazol and an insecticide, spiromesifen. Traces of bacteria, heavy metals and other contaminants were also detected

B.C. started its community safety unit when cannabis was legalized across Canada two and a half years ago, and so far 160 illegal stores have been shut down or have closed voluntarily, Farnworth said. He highlighted another discovery by enforcement authorities, products in packages that imitate well-known brands of cookies, candies and snacks.

“With their familiar images, colours and names, these are obviously a attractive to children,” Farnworth said. “But their content isn’t candy, it’s illicit cannabis, often with a THC concentration that exceeds legal product limits by 10 times or more.”

RELATED: No surge in pandemic pot sales, B.C. sales figures show

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B.C. had the most established illegal cannabis market in Canada when the federal government declared recreational sales legal in October of 2018. Farnworth said B.C.’s experience is similar to Colorado, which went from 100 per cent illegal sales to 70 per cent legal in four years.

Growth of legal sales is shown by recent sales figures from B.C.’s network of government and licensed private stores. In March 2020, legal sales totalled about $20 million, and in March of this year, sales were more than doubled to $43 million.

“When you buy from a licensed seller, you can trust the label on the product, you know that you’re supporting legitimate, local businesses and workers, and you be assured that tax revenue will go to public services that we all rely on, such as health care and education, not into the pockets of illegal retailers or organized crime,” Farnworth said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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