California Pesticide-Use Rules for Cannabis Demystified
SACRAMENTO – Any cannabis grower can tell you that aphids, mites, molds and a bevy of other pests can decimate even the most carefully tended crop – wasting months of work.
But seasoned and budding famers alike should think twice before reaching for a pesticide. That could put you on shaky legal ground, not to mention place employees or customers at risk.
What's a would-be grower to do? Here's a primer, from Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) staff of experts.
Can I use any pesticides to grow cannabis?
The answer, at least for now, is mostly no.
To legally sell (or use) a pesticide for anything, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) must "register" it. Registration follows scientific studies which look at whether the product is effective and how it can be safely used.
Out of this process, a "label" is created. The label is the detailed list of instructions you see on, or packaged with, a pesticide container. Labels say how, when and where you can use the pesticide, as well as on what types of pests and plants. Labels are legally enforceable. So, besides potentially harming someone or something, misusing a product can result in hefty fines.
Remember cannabis is illegal under federal law, so there is no pesticide specifically registered by the USEPA for use on cannabis.
So you're out of luck?
Not really. Two possible alternatives are products with broad labels and federally "exempt" products.
Some USEPA-registered products have labels that allow use on a wide variety on plants and pests. This could be an option.
"For example, a label that says ‘This can be used on the following crops including but not limited to,' " explained Rachel Kubiak, DPR's cannabis program supervisor. "However, it's important for the user to read the entire label because it needs to be read in its entirety before a decision can be made. If someone is unsure, they should check with their county agricultural commissioner."
Other pest controls that growers could use are so-called "minimal risk" substances, which are exempt from the federal registration requirements. Generally, these are not considered harmful to people or the environment. Examples include clove oil, peppermint or baking soda.
While not specifically recommending their use, DPR has posted criteria that includes examples of minimal risk pesticides on the department's website here.
Using products that fit the criteria on your plants wouldn't violate California law. However, DPR does crack down on manufacturers and distributors of unregistered products that make "pesticidal claims."
A major reason is to ensure consumers aren't being duped.
"One problem is a lot of these products haven't been registered so we can't confirm they work. We found one that was 99.999 percent water being sold for $30," Kubiak explained.
What are the rules regarding employee safety equipment?
Products with federally approved labels list what type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to be used. Examples of PPE include goggles, gloves, respirators or coveralls.
When using a product with no label – like exempt products – employers are still required to supply employees with safety glasses and gloves, per DPR regulations, according to Kevin Solari, a DPR environmental program manager who specializes in worker protection regulations.
In addition, employers are also required to provide training on any PPE being used.
Caption: Tyler Kerns, who helps run a production facility in Sacramento, gives a tour to DPR cannabis program staff in April 2019
This article is available as a PDF here.
More information on pesticide use and cannabis here.
Employee safety posters here.
County agricultural commissioner contacts here.
For content questions, contact:
Public Information Officer I
DPR Office of Communications
1001 I Street, P.O. Box 4015
Sacramento, CA 95812-4015
Phone: (916) 445-5815