Update: This story has been updated to include responses from Redecan.
Canadian licensed producer Redecan is suffering from a major public relations blow after online reports accused the company of selling mouldy cannabis and cannabis that contained bugs through the Ontario Cannabis Store.
Photos of Redecan weed posted on Reddit claimed the product contained mould, bugs, and burrows from bugs. On Thursday, the company issued a voluntary recall of the batch of cannabis over which it said it received five complaints. However, Redecan also said it “visually inspected the batch samples of this lot… and has found no evidence of any mould in these samples.” In another statement, the LP said “there are no dead bugs in RedeCan product. There are no holes that have been burrowed by insects.” The company went on to say the black specks in the photos aren’t 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 is possible that this could be on our product,” Redecop said.
It’s an explanation longtime BC grower Travis Lane isn’t buying.
“If you make a mistake like that and there’s physical evidence you made a mistake, don’t lie about it,” Lane, founding director of the BC Independent Cannabis Association, which advocates for craft growers, told VICE. “The fact that they recalled it makes it pretty clear there is a problem.”
In a statement, Redecan told VICE it "acted quickly, with transparency" when the complaints surfaced. "The events of this week show us that we have a job to do in educating consumers about organic style growing practices. What we do, how we do it, and what they might see in the end product."
Lane, who also runs a consulting firm specializing in organic weed cultivation, said he doesn’t view the mould issue has a health risk so much as it is a consumer quality issue.
He said cannabis is susceptible to mould and that it’s common “when things are not done properly.”
Lane said the two types of mould most common to weed are powdery mildew, a 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 mould are controlling the levels of humidity and the air movement around the plants. But that can be a lot harder in a 100,000-square-foot-room, he said, or a greenhouse that’s been 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 does think mould 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’s more plants, there’s more people, there’s more movement. One little issue of mould developing, it propagates super quickly.”
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 mould.
Under Health Canada regulations there are 22 approved pesticides LPs can use. (Organigram, Hydropothecary, Aurora, and Mettrum have all been found to have used banned pesticides in the past.)
Levy said LPs have to limit the amount of pesticides on product before it’s consumed, which generally means applying them early on. But he said more and more producers are applying pesticides later in the growth process, which means there’s more residue in the final product.
Trait is currently developing a technology that will use the bacteria naturally occuring in cannabis plants to create small molecules of ribonucleic acid to block the development of mould and viruses.
“What happens is you don’t 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 currently pass Health Canada’s quality assurance tests with mould on the plant. He’s been encouraging Health Canada to adopt a cannabis specific quality control test and identify all the pathogens specific to weed.
In a statement to VICE, Redecan said it is still in the middle of investigating the complaints, and issued the voluntary recall to conduct third-party testing "with the goal of understanding at what point in the process moisture could have been introduced and mould could have grown." It noted that it releases insects like ladybugs onto crops as a means of dealing with pests and avoiding pesticides.
The black specks in the photos "are safe for consumption and will not affect the taste, consistency, quality or effects of the cannabis. They are in no way a health concern," Redecan said.
In a statement, the Ontario Cannabis Store said it is taking steps to address the mould 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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