Colson: Our government once poisoned our pot, you know
November 26, 2015
We certainly have come a long way, baby — and I'm not referring to the iconic Virginia Slims cigarette advertising from the late 1960s.
But I am discussing a related topic, in a way — the increasingly decriminalized/legal nature of another smokable product, marijuana, and the use of pesticide in cultivating that product here in my adoptive home state of Colorado.
Tobacco, as we all know, carries a heavy dose of pesticides.
And now the Denver Post has been reporting for weeks about the use of pesticides to grow pot, and how the government is dealing with its role as the guardian of consumer health and safety with respect to the use of potentially harmful chemicals on crops.
But before we get into the details of the current pesticide problem, let me explain why I think we've come a long way from where we once were in this matter, back when the U.S. government decided it would be OK to poison kids if it meant winning at least a skirmish in the War on Drugs.
I'm referring to the use of an herbicide called paraquat on cannabis fields in Mexico and other places, as part of a program sponsored by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the 1970s and later.
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Paraquat, I have learned, is an herbicide that indiscriminately destroys green plant tissue on contact, and is toxic if ingested by humans or animals.
I recall hearing the paraquat stories back in those days, as my friends and I partook of just about any old kind of pot that we could find, and wondered why our own government would do such a thing.
We knew the government hated pot and anyone who used it, and had ever since the 1920s and '30s when pot was mainly used by blacks and jazz musicians and was called "the demon weed."
It was all part of a generalized atmosphere fostered by the more bigoted faction of the white majority in those days — blacks were not to be trusted, they liked to smoke marijuana, therefore marijuana must be evil, too. And by the 1960s the federal government was convinced pot should be stamped out before it turns white kids into something their parents might not recognize.
But the paraquat thing, that was a little overboard, we thought, even for the DEA — although it must be admitted, we didn't think about it too long or hard before rolling another one and smoking it. We were indestructible and immortal, you know.
Subsequent studies by the Environmental Protection Agency supposedly concluded that paraquat posed only a "slight" toxic threat to the lungs of those teenagers and 20-somethings puffing away in basements and on back roads. Never could find a definition of "slight" as used in this context.
Things are a little different these days, however.
Marijuana, in one form or another, is now legal to use in 23 states and the District of Columbia, nearly half the country, and here in the Centennial State the state government has been grappling with growers who like using pesticides to prevent damage and losses in the multi-million-dollar industry that has grown like a, well, like a weed since medical marijuana was legalized in 2000 and recreational herb in 2012.
Interestingly, the EPA is only marginally involved in regulating the use of pesticides on pot, because as a federal agency it cannot be seen as advising growers of a substance that remains classified as a dangerous drug by the federal government.
So, in Colorado, the regulating is up to the Colorado Department of Agriculture and other state agencies charged with overseeing the pot industry.
Except that the city of Denver has stepped in, after watching the CDA fumble around in confusion and dismay, and has recalled several batches of pot and related products, including edibles, that have been found to be tainted by pesticide residues.
In a series of articles over the past few months, the Denver Post has been watching this unfold with what seems like thinly veiled amusement, to judge by the headlines and the articles.
The most recent was last Friday, about how the city has decided that the industry is responsible for making announcements to consumers about the products that have been recalled, rather than leaving it up to the state and its various agencies to let people know what's going on. Which makes sense to me, since I sure don't know many people who check the CDA website for the latest news. Do you?
The city reportedly is requiring that companies subject to recalls must put up postings on social media to alert consumers.
Of course, the companies have pointed out that the recalls — nine of them have occurred recently — typically come weeks or even months after the products have been sold and, in the way of things, probably consumed.
But, just to be clear, I hope they figure it out because I'd rather not smoke pot that had been plastered with paraquat, or 2,4-D, or any other damned pesticide or herbicide.
How about you?
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