There’s a lot of excitement in Montreal this week as Cannabis Culture opens 8 retail stores in the city. But recent cannabis contamination news gave CBC Montreal Daybreak host Mike Finnerty cause for concern on Thursday’s show. In an interview with Cannabis Culture owners Jodie and Marc Emery, Finnerty questioned the results of testing done by The Globe and Mail on cannabis purchased at their Toronto store. As a result, heated discussion aired on public radio over how the customer knows if the recreational or medical marijuana being purchased is safe to consume.

It seems that The Globe and Mail took it upon themselves to purchase a sample from a Toronto Cannabis Culture location, and send it out to the sole lab that would run tests on it for them. (Canada doesn’t allow lab cannabis testing.) Actually, they purchased cannabis from 9 different dispensaries in the city for the same purpose.

What possessed them to consider doing so in the first place? It’s not because several dispensaries in Vancouver tested positive for banned pesticides last July. The Globe’s decision to investigate dispensary cannabis safety predates that news. Perhaps Marc Emery is right in declaring The Globe as a propaganda publisher against cannabis legalization in Canada. Living in the US, it’s not a paper I read often, so I have no previously formed opinion. But based on the number of articles they’ve run on cannabis, and it’s looming legalization in the past several months, it looks like they’ve got a negative agenda. Many of those articles have links suggesting you read the Toronto testing articles too. But that’s not the purpose of this post – the stuff purported as found in the weed certainly is.

One thing Marc said in response to Finnerty’s Daybreak interview grilling is that he tests every pound of cannabis coming into his stores prior to offering it for sale. No stock resulted in testing positive for the contamination The Globe claims was present. Yet, it is possible, he says, that a bud they purchased contained things not present in all of it. No one in any industry tests every ounce of anything. Since the lab doesn’t return anything submitted for testing there would be no product to sell! And furthermore, no one would be able to afford to buy any food, drink, or smokable substance. Each lab test costs something like $450, and a cannabis sample is 1.5 ounces. So, it is possible that The Globe got hold of some rogue bad bud. But makes it look like one bad apple ruins not the whole bushel, but the whole store.

A little further on in the conversation, Emery’s wife Jodie enlightens the audience that these things made out to be harmful cannabis contamination by the newspaper are found on foods at the grocery store. This, by the way is also true, though the newspaper’s article leaves the reader only highly anxious over the safety of using cannabis not gained through government sources. How did this all start anyway? Cannabis Culture’s arrival in Montreal takes place over a year after the fact.

In early summer of 2015 (3 months prior to August), The Globe and Mail laid out about $5000 to investigate for this campaign of theirs. They reported the lab found cannabis contamination of mold, yeast, and bacteria, but no pesticides. According to their secret Health Canada-approved lab results, 3 of the 9 stores sold them contaminated marijuana. The particulars for those that failed to pass muster can be gleaned in the ‘Toronto testing’ link at the end of this post. But in the case of Cannabis Culture, the quoted total yeast and mold presence stated is more than 440,000 cfu/g in a single gram. An alarming amount of contamination based on the Health Canada safe level of 50,000 cfu/g.

Then there’s the presence of Citrobacter freundii, a potentially harmful bacteria found in soil and mammal intestines. So, anything grown in soil, in soil-based materials, or has contact with soil could carry the same microorganisms. And if you eat stuff from the soil, it will be inside of you, simply because humans are mammals. Just working in garden soil could cover your hands in this bacteria. Should we all get freaked out over a little harmless dirt and stop growing veggies and flowers? Ridiculous! Dirt is good for you.

Needless to say, the mystery lab reported the amount in the Cannabis Culture sample exceeded the safe limit of 10,000 cfu/g. How much more isn’t stated, and the lab report isn’t available, so it could be as little as .1 cfu/g. They go so far as to allude that this is a fecal contamination further on in the article, yet that isn’t necessarily true, and unproven in this instance. Meanwhile, the overall cannabis contamination for this sample was 560,000 cfu/g of total yeasts, molds, and bacteria. Yet, the allowable total isn’t so far removed at 500,000 cfu/g. So, what’s the remaining 120,000 cfu/g? Seems that’s omitted and unaccounted for in the lengthy exposé covering all the gory details.

I’m curious as to how a mere 1.5 ounces of healthy garden soil would test in this lab. Probably off the charts! But I have other questions. Questions directly related to these implications.

The first question that registered in my mind… How the hell do dried flowers contain yeast? I didn’t find any relative answers to that query. So, I expanded the search to include mold, and guess what? Tobacco was the front runner in Google’s results.

Tobacco has the same problems. And science, medicine, and industry have known about it for almost 60 years. Not that anyone is shouting about it from the rooftops like The Globe has elected themselves trumpeters of its presence in cannabis. Sure, cigarettes are the opposite of medicinal. But they’re legal, despite being proven lethal millions of times. No one needs a prescription or license to smoke cigarettes, a pipe, or cigars. These are highly addictive consumer products that anyone of legal age can purchase all over town. In fact, tobacco companies infuse their product with things that increase the addictive effects. God forbid they lose repeat customers while they’re still alive.

Cannabis, on the other hand, has never killed anyone, it’s just not legal in most places beyond medicinal use. And even that is highly disputed. It’s much “safer” to prescribe addictive, destructive, and deadly opioid pills. Not to mention that those pain-killers are more profitable for long standing, acceptable, and supposedly beneficial industries.

While we’re on the subject of dried plant parts attracting potentially harmful molds, yeasts, and various bacteria – consider everything in your spice cupboard. Parsley, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, sage… a long list of dried leaves. As is tea. These too are the perfect environment for the same microorganisms, but they go into meals and refreshments without any resulting illnesses. Homegrown and air-dried the old fashioned way, or purchased in a sealed jar at the store. Is the safety of adding herbs to your recipes under scrutiny? Personally, I dry all my homegrown herbs the old fashioned way, and the only food I’ve ever eaten that made me sick came out of a McDonald’s drive-thru window!

The second question that came to mind… Are we testing food this closely? Of course not! No one has a bone to pick with fruits, vegetables, grains, or the products made from them unless an outbreak of E. coli, Salmonella, or Listeria erupts. Yet, they are just as likely to contain the same molds, yeasts, and bacteria as these cannabis samples supposedly tested positive for. And exactly what kind of testing did they do on these cannabis samples? That’s not revealed either. Was it food testing or a more appropriate process? True, some people eat cannabis instead of smoking it, but these contaminants aren’t all destroyed by heat or fire. Baking, boiling, or inhaling the smoke would all pose possible health risks. BUT so will breathing the air, eating an apple, or weeding your flower bed.

The reason tobacco, cannabis, tea, and culinary herbs can become contaminated with molds, yeasts, and bacteria is from the curing/drying methods in use. Apparently, this is a known problem to some in the cannabis industry. If it wasn’t, no one would have come up with the idea of drying chambers that do away with the possibility of these microorganisms populating the leaves, flowers, and stems. Nor would there be special cannabis safety testing. But both exist.

An article in Marijuana Times published the other day introduces the reader to Yofumo post-harvest cannabis handling systems. Specially designed for totally sanitary harvest drying and dispensary storage using ozone treatment. They’ve even developed a small personal storage chest that provides consumers of cannabis the same protection because the contamination can happen once you take your beneficial herb home. These organisms come alive on dead leaves. So, shouldn’t that oregano bought in a sealed jar come with an ozone lid? I mean if we’re so intent on guarding against anything potentially harmful, then that is the right thing to do. Oh, and it’s probably very unsafe to open the kitchen window or venture outdoors without first donning a space suit complete with bubble helmet and oxygen tanks. SOMETHING potentially harmful could be lurking out there.

I think this entire thing poses more questions than it provides answers. There are lots of potentially harmful things you can buy at stores and restaurants anywhere – without a license, without official permission. Going to the hospital can kill you, for Pete’s sake. Yes, they should test all weed for banned pesticides. No, it shouldn’t be moldy when purchased. And if it’s for medicinal purposes, by all means, the grower, the retailer, and the processor in the case of cannabis edibles, need to have protective equipment and practices in place. But let’s not go on a witch hunt to further our personal or political agenda.

Cigarettes are legal. Booze is legal. Pain killers are legal until you like them too much. So is sugar, chlorine bleach, GMOs, sewer sludge fertilizer, glyphosate, rat poison, and a rash of other questionable, potentially harmful things. Get over it, already. No one is forcing a person to smoke a joint, or ease their pain with cannabis. It’s a matter or choice. If you don’t want to partake, you don’t have to, which unfortunately is not the case with GMOs, sludge fertilizer, and glyphosate. It’s also damn hard to avoid sugar – they stick it into everything in some form or another. And sugar-free? Well, that’s another scary scenario altogether.

Cannabis is not manufactured, which is a big part of the problems surrounding it. A weed that’s going to be legal to consume, if not today where you live, it will be in the not so distant future. People have been enjoying it for centuries, air-dried and full of natural things. This politically-based prohibition has outlived the people that started it and ceased to serve a purpose of public good. It does, however, inflate jail population, legal system cash flow, and true criminal activity while ruining more lives than it’s supposed to save.

Although Cannabis Culture was raided with 10 arrests, only a day after they opened, Marc and Jody’s message was clear and concise. They feel like they are making inroads to not just change laws but mindsets too. Task Force has even announced that a new form of testing, specifically for Cannabis, will be put in place once legalized. After over 60 years of propaganda, it falls on deaf ears. Cannabis fans, recreational and medical, from around the world cheer for the Emerys’. They understand the long journey ahead and from all accounts, it appears that they have packed their bags and are ready to go.

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Top image courtesy of Cannabis Culture.

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