Canadian licensed producer Redecan is suffering from a major public relations blow after online reports accused the company of selling moldy cannabis and cannabis that contained bugs through the Ontario Cannabis Store.
Photos of Redecan weed posted on Reddit claimed the product contained mold, bugs, and burrows from bugs. On Thursday, the company issued a voluntary recall of a group of cannabis over which it said it received five complaints. However, Redecan also said it "visually inspected the batch samples of this lot … and found no evidence of any mold in these samples." In another statement, the LP said "there are no dead bugs in the RedeCan product. There are no holes that have been burrowed by insects. "The company went on to say the black specks in the photos are not bugs, but" harmless non-volatile organic matter (protein carbohydrates). "Later, the LP's master grower Rick Redecop told CityNews that it uses a mite called persimilis to ward off spider mites, as part of its organic growing process. "On a microscopic level it's possible that this could be on our product," Redecop said.
It's an explanation longtime BC grower Travis Lane is not buying.
"If you make a mistake like that and there's physical evidence you made a mistake, do not lie about it," Lane, the founding director of the BC Independent Cannabis Association, who advocates for craft growers, told VICE. "The fact that they recalled it makes it pretty clear there is a problem."
Lane, who also runs a consulting firm specializing in organic weed cultivation, said he does not see the mold issue has a health risk as much as it is a consumer quality issue.
He said cannabis is susceptible to mold and that it's common "when things are not done properly."
Lane said the two types of mold most common to weed are powdery mildew, and light, powdery coating that starts on the leaves, and rarely goes onto the buds, and botrytis (bud rot). Botrytis "rots the bud from the inside out" and has the potential to completely destroy the crop, Lane said, noting that black market weed has the same issues.
He said two of the key factors in preventing the mold are controlling the levels of humidity and air movement around the plants. But it can be a lot harder in a 100,000-square-foot-room, he said, or a greenhouse that was retrofitted for weed but was previously used for a different crop.
"You've got this huge, huge space and you're trying to regulate so many plants. One thing can happen in one part of the room and it can move around, "he said.
Ronan Levy, Chief Strategy Officer at Trait Biosciences, a biotechnology research company, told VICE he is thinking of a mold is a big deal, both from a health and safety perspective and a business perspective.
"Obviously, because you're growing it on a mass scale, there are more plants, there are more people, there's more movement. One small issue of mold developing, it propagates super fast. "
Levy, who previously co-founded Canadian Cannabis Clinics, which connects people to Canada's medical cannabis program, said he would be concerned with people who have compromised immune systems such as cancer, consuming a product containing a mold.
Under Health Canada regulations there are 22 approved pesticides LPs can use. (Organigram, Hydropothecary, Aurora, and Mettrum have all been found to have used pesticides in the past.)
Levy said LPs have to limit the amount of pesticides on the product before it is consumed, which generally means applying them early on. But he said more and more producers are applying pesticides later in the process of growth, which means there's more residue in the final product.
Trait is currently developing a technology that will use the bacteria naturally occurring in cannabis plants to create small molecules of ribonucleic acid to block the development of mold and viruses.
"What happens is that you do not have to apply any pesticides at all to block the development of these diseases," he said, noting the technology is likely one or two years away from being brought to market.
Lane told VICE LPs can pass health Canada's quality assurance tests with a mold on the plant. He was encouraging Health Canada to adopt a cannabis specific quality control test and identify all pathogens specific to weed.
VICE has reached out to Redecan for additional comment and awaits the company's response.
In a statement, the Ontario Cannabis Store said it is taking steps to address mold complaints with Redecan. It offered to give customers refunds. The OCS also advised customers with product complaints to contact Health Canada and the LPs directly.
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