Pesticides remain a hot topic for professional cannabis growers, especially considering all pesticide use on cannabis remains a state issue. The Environmental Protection Agency, our federal regulator for pesticide use, has not yet gotten directly involved since cannabis remains a Schedule I substance.
However, the EPA conducts extensive tests and studies on pesticides. Although the agency keeps mum about pesticide use on cannabis, that does not mean we cannot use the EPA’s data, labels and recommendations to our benefit.
What does “minimum risk” mean?
“Minimum risk” pesticides gained their classification under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) revision of 1972. The EPA designated certain pesticides a “minimum risk” so growers and farmers would not need to register these relatively safe products. The idea behind the minimum risk classification was to avoid unnecessary regulations for pesticides that posed little to no danger to humans and the environment.
The EPA website features a list of accepted active ingredients and inert ingredients that qualify as “minimum risk.” In brief, ingredients from natural sources such as plants or bacteria typically qualify as minimum risk.
Additionally, minimum risk pesticides cannot contain active ingredients used to control for pests that carry or cause diseases in humans. Those kinds of pesticides must be regulated and registered.
Most minimum risk active ingredients come from natural sources. Neem oil, garlic oil, castor oil, mint oil and potassium sorbate are common active ingredients that get a pass as minimum risk. Inactive ingredients that fall under the “minimum risk” label include peanut butter, carbon dioxide, citric acid, and humic acid. In other words, these pesticides tend to be the ones with labels that read “organic” or “all natural.”
Facts about minimum risk pesticides
Does “minimum risk” mean completely safe? No. A great example is vinegar. Vinegar comes from natural sources, and we buy and consume it as a food product. Vinegar is often added to minimum risk pesticides as a buffer. However, in high concentrations (greater than 8%), vinegar acts as an indiscriminate herbicide and can cause minor burns on human skin. So in this sense a minimum risk ingredient, even if it comes from a natural source, can pose hazards to a grow operation.
Also, keep in mind that any minimum risk pesticide products may contain unidentified or unlabeled chemicals. Minimum risk pesticides are not federally regulated, so they are not required to undergo any product testing. However, this is only true at the federal level; state or local laws may require testing.
Do minimum risk pesticides work? Yes, they can. Consider neem oil. Cannabis cultivators use it to repel and control spider mites. Mint and garlic work well to keep other insects off of leaves and buds, because these insects find the smell or flavor of these natural oils repulsive.
The key to most minimum risk pesticides is that they do not kill the pest, but rather keep the pest off the plants. Full-on infestations that fail to respond to milder pesticides, however, may require heavy duty stuff that is, in fact, regulated.
When employing minimum risk or heftier pesticides, consider all parameters of your grow operation. Do you have proper protective gear for your growers and trimmers? Is the space well-ventilated? Will children or pets be going through the area (that answer should always be “no”)? Are other hazardous herbicides or pesticides being used on the grow? Do local laws restrict the use of certain pesticides, and will their residues pose a danger to the environment?
In the end, remember that your product, even if grown for recreational use only, is a medicine to many customers. Growers may rely on minimum risk pesticides for daily control of pests, then fall back on heavier pesticides in the event of an otherwise uncontrollable infestation.
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