It’s weed versus weed in parts of rural Oklahoma as the state’s medical marijuana growers argue with traditional agricultural producers over herbicides and pesticides.
State Representative Dick Lowe, R-Amber, said disputes broke out when the state entered the grass growing season and cannabis growers tried to discourage agricultural producers from spraying pastures because they feared the chemicals would drift away, accidentally making the lucrative ones new neighbors would wipe out marijuana plants.
While most farmers try to spray on windless days, experts acknowledge that herbicides and pesticides can accidentally get onto surrounding property. Farmers fear that they could be held liable if their herbicide or pesticide accidentally reaches a grow house and kills or renders a cannabis plant unusable.
Some grow houses have now been built to the line of property, Lowe said, and others have grow operations alongside roads, making efforts by the Oklahoma counties and Department of Transportation to use chemicals to control weed growth along public roads are difficult.
He said the issue had become more pressing due to the explosion in growing activity. Medical marijuana registration records show that there are more than 2,000 growers across the state. Lowe’s home district of Grady alone has 307 licensed growers, including four within two miles of his home.
“They’re scattered across the counties. It’s not like they’re just in a little place or two, it’s everywhere, ”Lowe said.
Lowe, who raises sheep, sprinkles his pasture land to remove weeds.
He is co-sponsoring an interim study examining how medical marijuana growers and traditional agriculture can coexist.
“These incidents are for the most part isolated, but the reason they are so serious is just the cost and price of a crop,” said Chip Paul, an advocate for the medical marijuana industry. “An acre of marijuana is worth a lot more than an acre of wheat or an acre of cotton.”
He said the problem needs to be addressed, maybe traditional agricultural producers need to give marijuana growers some advance warning before they start spraying their fields, and maybe favorable wind conditions before they can get a spray permit.
Paul said farmers have always treated one another with respect and are willing to change the way they act out of respect for their neighbors if it is not essential to their livelihood.
“For some reason, the cannabis grower just isn’t accepted into this community yet,” added Paul.
Lee Rhoades, director of laboratory program oversight for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, said pesticides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which sets allowable levels on food. But the EPA hasn’t approved or set pesticide thresholds for cannabis, so Oklahoma, like other states, is taking the position that there isn’t an allowable amount. The lab tests for the presence of pesticides in marijuana plants, and current regulations don’t allow remediation for cannabis that has tested positive for pesticides, meaning it cannot be sold or transferred.
He also noted that medical marijuana is consumed differently than other foods as some users smoke it, inhale the smoke into their lungs, and effectively bypass almost all of the body’s defense mechanisms by getting it directly into the bloodstream. Some pesticides, when ignited, also create toxic compounds like hydrogen cyanide, Rhoades said.
He said that a relatively small percentage of batches are currently failing due to pesticide use.
“Of course, as you can imagine, they resent this,” said Rhoades, adding that some of the growers blame pesticide drift.
The Oklahoma Wheat Commission has postponed a comment to the state’s Wheat Growers Association. Neither this group nor the Oklahoma Farm Bureau responded to requests for comment.
State Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee, another co-sponsor of the interim study, also said most farmers try to spray when the wind is not blowing, but the fans in the grow houses are making the problem worse by putting the pesticides on them Sucking marijuana plants.
“I think, as lawmakers, we have to diligently make sure that we set the appropriate guidelines for the future if we want to have that,” Newton said. “We’re just running the Wild West.”
He also said the problem is particularly pressing in western Oklahoma, where farmers often rely on no-till farming techniques to conserve water. It’s not uncommon for a farmer to spray his crop with some form of herbicide at least twice a year, Newton said.
Newton also said any new regulations would likely need to continue in order not to affect existing businesses, although lawmakers have also tried to limit the number of grows when the licenses expire.
“Granted, we’re late for the ball game, but it’s better to be late than not show up at all,” Newton said.
Janelle Stecklein runs the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach them under firstname.lastname@example.org.