On April 6, 2023, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) issued an urgent memo to licensees regarding potential pesticide contamination in Okanogan County, located along the U.S.-Canadian border. The LCB identified a pattern of pesticide testing failures for detectable levels of dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE). DDE is a remnant product of DDT, the pesticide banned in the United States in the 1970s.
The LCB has been randomly testing cannabis for pesticides since 2018 and contracts with a state Department of Agriculture (WSDA) lab in Yakima to perform pesticide tests. An LCB chemist uncovered the pattern of DDE, which is isolated to a small geographic area. The chemist believes the cause could be soil contamination from decades-old DDT use.
The potentially-contaminated area has 18 licenses, 16 producers and two processors. When the LCB first learned of the cannabis products containing DDE, it placed an administrative hold on five licensees whose products came back with levels exceeding the allowable limits of pesticides.
Last week, the LCB collected samples from the 13 other licensees, while the Department of Ecology collected soil samples. LCB officers also purchased retail products for contamination testing. On Friday, the LCB learned that the first six product tests were positive for DDE above acceptable levels. As a result, the retail stores have voluntarily pulled the products.
LCB leaders and experts from the Departments of Ecology, Health and WSDA recently held three meetings with affected licensees, industry trade groups and concerned legislators. During the discussions, the LCB discussed its authority to ensure that cannabis products in Washington State are safe and do not contain unapproved pesticides. The current rules in place are sufficient, and emergency rules, which the LCB previously considered, aren't necessary to address the problem.
The LCB will continue to monitor WSDA lab results over the coming weeks and take action as needed to ensure any contaminated products are recalled.
The LCB has thus far issued five voluntary recalls for high DDE levels, including cannabis products from Kibble Junction, Bodie Mine, Walden and Okanogan Gold, each located in Brewster, Washington, which is in Okanogan County. Cannabis materials were also recalled from Okanogan Gold.
The LCB hopes to resolve the DDE problem quickly and understands the potential hardship faced by all affected licensees as well as consumer health and safety concerns.