Illegal pesticides are a key issue in the marijuana industry. They are harmful to users and the environment. Now a bill punishing illegal pesticides is being introduced. Its sponsor is arguing that it will protect the health of consumers. 

What are the Details of the Bill Punishing Illegal Pesticides?

A hearing took place last Thursday to consider the bill punishing legal pesticides. The legislation was introduced earlier this month by Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA). The House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee is currently handling it. 

The bill punishing illegal pesticides may seem like an extension of other bills targeting the illegal marijuana market. But lawmakers have stated that the primary mission of the legislation, also known as the Targeting and Offsetting Existing Illegal Contaminanat (TOXIC) Act, is to protect consumers and the environment. 

“When cannabis plants are treated with illegal pesticides, the chemicals can be absorbed by the plant and ultimately end up in the consumer product,” Peters said at the meeting. 

“Consuming cannabis that has been treated with illegal pesticides can trigger a range of negative health effects from lingering nausea and respiratory problems to acute sickness.

“This is particularly concerning for medical cannabis users who rely on the plant for relief from symptoms associated with various medical conditions but may struggle to afford safe market rate cannabis at current prices,” he stated. 

The Bill Punishing Illegal Pesticides is an Environmental Issue

While Peters focused on consumer safety, advocates, industry stakeholders, and regulators show a broader concern for the environment. They are focused on the potential damage pesticides can do when they get into the soil and water systems and poison wildlife. 

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Tiffany (R-WI) noted that growing cannabis illegally causes “significant environmental degradation, harm to wildlife, increased crime, and catastrophic wildfires.

“The Mexican drug cartels operating these sites are causing enormous damage. At one site alone, cleanup crews donning hazmat suits removed 3,000 pounds of waste and trash and over 11,000 pounds of fertilizers and banned pesticides. The chemicals they use are so dangerous. One teaspoon could kill a 600-pound bear,” he went on to say. 

U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief for Forest Systems Chris French also spoke out at the hearing for the bill punishing illegal pesticides saying, “illegal cannabis cultivation affects public safety and the environment with pesticides poisoning wildlife, soil, and water.” He added that the legislation would bring resources to his agency that would be useful for remediation.

He also submitted a written testimony stating that his agency “would like to work with the bill sponsors and subcommittee on technical changes to better define the Forest Service’s enforcement authority and the appropriate remediation activities to be undertaken.”

Pesticides are also an issue for consumer safety. Advocates argue that a market where testing and compliance processes are in place would mitigate the risk of people consuming contaminated products. 

The Bill Punishing Illegal Pesticides Targets a California Problem

Map of California, Polygonal mesh line map, flag map

The senators who introduced the bill punishing illegal pesticides, La Malfa and Peters, represent California, a state that has been seeing issues concerning illegal pesticides. 

Although most California localities ban at least some types of marijuana businesses, several public lands make it easy for illegal growers to mask their activities. Additionally, there is a huge demand for illegal products in the state. 

La Malfa is known to be against cannabis and even posted an iconic video of himself bulldozing illegal grows alongside California law enforcement in 2021. However, he feels that if it’s going to be grown, it should be grown legally. 

What Would the Bill Punishing Illegal Pesticides Enforce?

The TOXIC Act is a two-tiered approach that would provide $250 million in funding to the U.S. Forest Service over five years to remediate areas where illegal pesticides are used for unsanctioned cannabis growing.

It would also increase penalties for people using banned pesticides. It would treat them the same way people who smuggle those pesticides are treated. They would be looking at fines of up to $250,000 and up to 20 years in prison. 

“The stakes are high for our environment and our health, but too often those who manage illicit grow sites receive a slap on the wrist when they’re caught. The TOXIC Act will help us restore the long-term health of our ecosystems, restrict the cross-border flow of toxic contaminants, protect public health and consumers, and support regulated cannabis businesses that comply with the law,” Peters said at the hearing. 

The panel did not vote on the bill punishing illegal pesticides on Thursday. Although the TOXIC Act was considered the last session, it did not advance. 

Other Steps to Stamp Out Illegal Cannabis

Successful pest control.

The bill punishing illegal pesticides is not the first attempt to address the illegal growing. Last year, Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) proposed a defense bill amendment calling for federal, state, tribal, and local remediation of lands damaged by illicit cannabis cultivation. 

California officials have also been working at the state level. In 2021 they announced that they were soliciting concept proposals for a program to help small marijuana growers with environmental cleanup and restoration efforts. 

They separately announced last month that the state would launch a first-of-its-kind grant program to support cities and countries in establishing local business licensing programs to address growing consumer demand and curb the illegal market. 

Last year, California lawmakers passed a bill signed by the governor that will eliminate state cannabis cultivation tax to reduce legal growers costs and combat the illegal market. 

Moves have also been made at the federal level. A pair of GOP congressional lawmakers asked the Biden Administration’s key cabinet officials to study the environmental impact of marijuana cultivation regarding electrical demand and consider how legalization can set regulations in place.