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Discovery of Pesticides in Medical Marijuana has Maine Patients Concerned
03/27/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

This week's consent agreement between Maine's largest medical marijuana dispensary operator and state regulators has some patients questioning the source of their medicine and some looking to go elsewhere. Wellness Connection of Maine has agreed to discontinue the illegal application of pesticides in its grow operation. It must also provide weekly status reports with the Division of Licensing and Regulation for the next two years. But as Susan Sharon reports, the case is also fueling interest in organically grown cannabis.

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State regulators say they found nine pesticides used on medical marijuana plants, and in tinctures and bakers mix sold at Wellness Connection's dispensaries in Portland, Hallowell, Brewer and Thomaston. There were also problems with lax security and the sale of an illegal product traced back to a large, indoor grow facility in Auburn.

As part of a consent agreement with the state, Wellness Connection is expected to end the practices and notify its 2,500 patients.

So far, Brian Lee says he only knows what he's read in the papers. He's received no communication. And he says, as a patient of Wellness Connection's, he's angry that the dispensary operator has been allowed to remain in business.

"When we put poison on things that you ingest, it's foolishness, and they're slapping us all right in the face and they think we're ignorant," he says.

Lee says he got a prescription for medical marijuana after a motorcycle accident that left him with chronic pain. He's been getting his medicine at Wellness Connection's Portland dispensary. But he says that will soon come to an end.

"Well, I won't be going to them," he says. "If I decide to continue with alternative medicine, I'll look to somebody else who's doing it more naturally and not with pesticides. I don't want poison in my medicine, thank you very much."

Brian Lee is not the only one reconsidering where he gets his medical marijuana, says Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist with the Medical Marijuana Caregivers Association of Maine. McCarrier represents growers who are allowed to provide medical marijuana to five patients. And he says he's been getting dozens of calls since the consent agreement involving Wellness Connection was made public earlier this week.

"We're getting dozens of calls from patients who are currently, or are formerly, patients at Wellness Connection who are very concerned that they have been using medicine that has been - not only had pesticides used on it, but also may have mold," McCarrier says. "And many of these patients could be immune-compromised, and if any of these patients who are immune-compromised have been smoking a moldy product, then they may be having additional health issues when this medicine should have been helping them."

Speaking with reporters earlier this week, the director of the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services, Kenneth Albert, said one of the reasons the state does not allow pesticide use in the production of medical marijuana - for caregivers or dispensaries - is because the health effects are unknown. Albert's department oversees Maine's Medical Marijuana Program.

"The state is unable to - as I think any state who has a medical marijuana program - is unable to, because of a lack of research in the industry, know what the risk is associated with igniting pesticides on cannabis," he says.

Albert says there is one documented case in California in which a medical marijuana patient died after inhaling cannabis laden with pesticides. But the lack of information about the health effects related to pesticide use on cannabis is just one reason Paul McCarrier says some patients prefer to get their medicine from caregivers, or may choose to grow their own.

"It comes down to what kind of agriculture are you looking to do? The caregiver is the small, organic farmer model. Well, then you have the dispensary, which is like the large, agri-business," he says. "I think it's all about having an informed consumer and that these patients should have a choice of what medicine they want to use."

Allen St. Pierre, of the group NORML - the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws - says he's impressed that Maine regulators are setting quality control standards for medical marijuana.

On the West Coast, he says, "veganic cannabis" grown without animal byproducts sells for top dollar. And he thinks it won't be long before consumers demand a green or organic label for medical marijuana. "The situation in Maine right now indicates that that's likely where the industry's going."

Several calls and emails to officials with Wellness Connection of Maine this week seeking comment for this story were not returned.


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