Uncle Ike’s random pesticide testing program caught another company selling pot laden with what appears to be illegal amounts of pesticides. The Seattle weed retailer recently posted results to their website showing three vape cartridges from Ionic contained illegal amounts of pesticides, sometimes almost five times over the state limit according to Ike’s test results.
Ian Eisenberg, the owner of the three-store chain, started paying a state-certified lab to retest products and sharing the results in October because, in his opinion, state regulations are unable to keep tainted pot from customers. This is the third time Ike’s random testing program has found pot for sale that failed to meet the state’s testing standards when retested. But this time Uncle Ike's is exposing an even bigger problem than just illegal pesticide use.
No one can agree where the tainted pot came from.
Finding out who grew the pesticide-laden pot should be easy, as state law requires that pot companies track every gram of cannabis they grow or process and label the farming source on all packaging. But the only thing everyone can agree on with these three tainted vape cartridges is that the farm labeled on the packaging is definitely not the correct source. The state's pot regulator confirmed that they are investigating the incident.
John Gorst, Ionic’s CEO, admitted that the company mislabeled the products. Tobias Coughlin-Bogue, a journalist and former Stranger contributor who now manages the pesticide testing program at Ike’s, said Ionic’s mislabeling exposes larger problems for Washington’s pot industry.
“Ionic really misrepresented what was in their product to us and that exposes a huge hole in the current traceability system that we are really concerned about,” Coughlin-Bogue said.
Ionic claims that three cartridges—which the company labeled as Dutch Treat, Cinex, and Northern Lights—were sourced from oil processed by a Seattle company called AuricAG which was made from flower grown by a grower in Shelton called OG Farm. The owner of OG Farm vehemently denies growing the pot and provided test results to show that his other products are pesticide free. AuricAG’s owner, Mark Greenshields, is declining to wade into the fight. He told me he sold oil made from OG Farms flower to Ionic but he can’t know what exactly was in the Ionic cartridges because once he sells oil to the company it’s out of his hands.
“I’m going to let Ionic and OG speak for themselves. I’m not here to throw anybody under the bus,” Greenshields said. “I cannot address that because once I sell the oil to ionic I don’t know what happens to their production line after that.”
Ionic provided me with pot tracking data and test results that they claim proves the flower came from OG Farms. They shared a spreadsheet that appeared to show AuricAG receiving 35 differently named batches of flower material from OG Farm which were then processed into one single batch of CO2 hash oil. A second flow chart provided by Ionic claims that this batch of oil was then sold to Ionic and responsible for the three differently named vape cartridges. Ionic said as soon as Ike’s published the failed test results they sent out a sample from this same batch of oil for their own third-party testing, which confirmed that it had one of the pesticides, myclobutanil, present. They shared that test result with me, which shows the same pot tracking number as what was put on the spreadsheet.
Ionic’s evidence raises a number of questions. The company was caught selling three different vape cartridges with illegal amounts of pesticides, but they said all three came from the same batch of oil. Why give three different names (Cinex, Northern Lights, Dutch Treat) to oil that came from the same source?
Ionic’s follow-up test result, which they say proves that the flower came from OG Farm, also doesn’t correspond to the same levels of pesticides as to what was found in the products on the shelves. Uncle Ike’s test results showed the three cartridges contained different levels of a fungicide called myclobutanil, ranging from 0.277 parts per million to 0.978 parts per million; the state’s legal limit is 0.2 parts per million. One of the cartridges contained 0.677 parts per million of a different pesticide called imidacloprid; the state limit on that compound is 0.4 parts per million. But Ionic’s test on a sample from the lot they say traces to OG Farm shows no imidacloprid and shows myclobutanil at 0.127 parts per million, which does not correspond to what was found in the cartridges.
The state investigates
Washington's pot regulator, the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), has taken the samples from Uncle Ike’s and is waiting on results from the state’s own testing lab in Yakima. LCB spokesperson Brian Smith said the state would be able to determine the source after testing results are completed.
“They are currently being tested by [the] WSDA. They are not completed,” Smith said in an e-mail. “Once we have that, we can backtrack the lab analysis and the sources.”
Smith declined to answer if the appearance of Ionic’s illegal labeling and a possible failure to accurately track cannabis was concerning to the LCB.
Joel Brattin, the owner of OG Farm, denies that the pesticides could have come from his farm.
“We run the cleanest farm, the only thing that we ever use is neem oil,” Brattin said.
Brattin said as soon as Ionic claimed he grew the pesticide-laden pot he took six different random samples from his facility and sent those for testing. He provided those test results to me and all six showed no pesticides were detected.
Brattin said Ionic has not been responsive to his requests to provide evidence.
“We’ve asked them repeatedly for the evidence and we know they opened the emails but they won’t respond to them,” Brattin said. “They’re either acting out of malice or extreme recklessness. We’ve never even had a bottle of any of those pesticides that they talk about on our farm.”
Brattin said he has lost orders since this ordeal surfaced.
“It’s cost us a lot of money, people have said we don’t want to buy from you. You are involved in that dirty pesticide stuff.”
This latest incident exposed by Ike’s pesticide testing program is likely to put additional pressure on the LCB to clean up how they test for pesticides and enforce their own rules. Washington currently uses complaint-based pesticide testing to enforce pesticide rules, while almost every other state that sells legal weed requires mandatory testing. California, Oregon, Nevada, and Colorado require pesticide testing for all products.
Gorst, Ionic’s CEO, said it’s clear that Washington’s regulations are weak compared to California and Oregon, where Ionic also has operations.
“Based on our experience in other states, other states have extremely stringent pesticide testing guidelines and the state of Washington does not. And it’s put us all in a very precarious position. From producers to manufacturers to retailers, none of us are at fault here,” Gorst said. “We believe the regulatory system has gaps.”
Adrienne Airhart, a spokesperson for Ionic, said the company is now requiring pesticide testing before they buy any flower or oil for their products.
"Just because the state of Washington allows .2 ppm myclobutanil, doesn’t mean we have to. We are no longer allowing that in any form because once it’s concentrated it’s too much. We use our own products, no one wants to inhale that," Airhart said.
Airhart said the company is happy Uncle Ike's is conducting the random testing.
"We welcome more testing, bring it on," Airhart said.
Coughlin-Bogue said he expected Ike’s testing program would uncover other problems in the industry.
“I knew it would bring up a lot of other issues. Traceability has been broken for a while. Testing had been broken for a while,” Coughlin-Bogue said.
Eisenberg said it’s surprised him to see how often pot companies break the law and mislabel their pot products.
“I didn’t think the labeling rules were being patently ignored like they are,” Eisenberg said.
Coughlin-Bogue said it has been clear for some time that vape cartridges and other cannabis concentrates are not being accurately tracked.
“We started testing concentrates to try to figure out the rules for what happens when a concentrate fails. I was like, this is a whole can of worms trying to figure out what went into the concentrate in the first place,” Coughlin-Bogue said.