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Over 40 percent of the pot the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) tested between March of 2017 and July of 2018 showed illegal levels of pesticides, according to a new report from a group of medical cannabis advocates.

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The state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) has used the WSDA’s labs to test legal pot for pesticides for over three years. Patients United, the medical marijuana group that released the pesticide information, found that 43 percent of samples tested by the WSDA during a 16-month stretch contained either banned pesticides or illegal amounts of approved pesticides. Patients United said 37 percent of the 387 tests during that time period contained banned pesticides with some of the tests showing pot contained pesticides with over 90 times the allowable limit.

John Kingsbury, a longtime cannabis advocate and an organizer with Patients United, said in a letter to the LCB that the tests showed that pesticide contamination in the state’s cannabis constituted a “public health emergency.”

“Likely tens of thousands of Washington consumers are consuming regulated recreational cannabis during any one day. With pesticide testing failure rates of 30-43%, it is statistically guaranteed that those consumers will consume product with illegal amounts of pesticides in it every third use,” Kingsbury said in the letter.

Washington is one of the only places in the country where recreational pot sold on retail shelves is not tested for illegal pesticide use. Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, and Massachusetts require every single recreational product be tested for pesticide use before it is sold.

Washington relies on sporadic testing based on complaints and some random testing to curb illegal pesticide use and hold producers accountable when they break the law. Kingsbury and Patients United is calling on the state to require pesticide testing for all products.

Brian Smith, a spokesperson for the LCB, did not dispute the Patients United findings but said because most of the WSDA tests are based on complaints, the WSDA data may show more pesticide use than is representative for the entire legal cannabis industry.

“It’s possible that samples submitted based on complaints could result in positive for pesticides results in greater frequency than the average population,” Smith said in an e-mail.

Kingsbury said a separate report conducted by one of the state’s private cannabis labs confirms the severity of illegal pesticide use in the state. Confidence Analytics, a state-approved pot lab in Redmond, found that an average of 30 percent of the products they tested for pesticides contained illegal amounts of pesticides, according to Kingsbury. The Confidence Analytics report showed significantly higher failure rights for concentrated products versus loose-leaf flower products, according to a graph included in Patients United's letter to the state. Kingsbury said the private lab’s report confirmed Washington's pesticide problem.

“What is clear is that no matter who is doing the testing, or where the sample sections are coming from, or their context, the rate of pesticide testing failures are consistently unacceptably high,” Kingsbury wrote in the letter to the state.

Kristen Maki, a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Health (DOH), said DOH is aware of the Patients United report and is currently “having ongoing discussions” with the LCB about cannabis product testing.

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“The Department of Health is aware of the report and does have concerns whenever there is misuse of pesticides on product,” Maki said in an e-mail.

The WSDA conducts the pesticide testing for the LCB but does not provide any analysis of those results, according to Hector Castro, a spokesperson for the WSDA.

The state is currently considering requiring pesticide testing on all products. The LCB started the rulemaking process for adding pesticide tests to the state’s list of required tests on legal pot back in August. The filing said the agency expected to decide about any new testing rules sometime after Oct. 31 of this year.

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