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Issues Of The Environment: Protecting Environment And Public Health In A World Of Legal Marijuana

Andrew Brisbo

Michigan voters approved Proposal 1 last year, which legalized the sale and adult use of recreational marijuana.  But, actions still need to be taken to protect the public health in the products it consumes and the environment as a new cash crop takes hold in Michigan.  What's being done?  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair gets answers from Andrew Brisbo, executive director of Michigan's Bureau of Marijuana Regulation.


  • The sale and use of recreational marijuana became legal in Michigan under Proposal 1 on November 11, 2018.  Since then, the fledgling Bureau of Marijuana Regulation (a new division of Michigan’s Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs - (LARA)), has been working overtime to inspect, test, and regulate marijuana and marijuana-containing products to keep consumers safe.
  • Under Proposal 1, adults 21 years of age or older are legally allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis outside of their home and up to 10 ounces in their home.  Additionally, adults of age may possess and cultivate up to 12 cannabis plants in their home and possess no more than 15 grams of concentrate at any given time. 
  • Cannabis use and its long-term effects on human health have long been studied to protect the safety of patients and recreational users alike, but the possible presence of contaminants can pose a health risk.  For this reason, LARA employs safety compliance facilities to collect samples of plants from marijuana growing facilities, collect samples of marijuana containing products from provisioning centers, and analyze and test these samples for contamination.
  • Microbes, pesticides, and heavy metalsare possible cannabis contaminants.  Bacteria,fungi, and molds can lead to infections, especially in immunocompromised patients.  Pesticides and fungicides are used to control these microbes, but these chemicals can also cause health problems, including cancers and endocrine disorders.  Certain pesticides are damaging to human health, and others are believed to be safer so long as the dose is very low. 
  • Heavy metals are also a concern because cannabis plants are “hyperaccumulators,” meaning they take up elements from the soil more readily than most plants.  Toxic metals like cadmium can concentrate in plant parts, and exposure can lead to kidney damage.  Finally, marijuana can come into contact with contaminants from solvents that remain when extraction methods are used. 
  • The method by which marijuana is consumed can also change the level of risk from contaminant exposure.  For example, marijuana with pesticide residue might become more dangerous if smoked because heating pesticides can greatly increase their bioavailability. 
  • LARA also test for THC content (the psychoactive chemical in cannabis that produces the high) of marijuana products.  Products must remain below established limits, to pass safety inspections.
  • Unfortunately, news that products have failed these testing procedures has not been uncommon, and recently one of only six safety compliance facilities (Iron Laboratories in Walled Lake on Aug. 16th) was shut down for failure to meet state regulatory standards.
  • Andrew Brisbo, Executive Director of the Bureau of Marijuana Regulation, believes consumers can trust LARA to stay on top of the safety of marijuana they are consuming.  LARA recommends that consumers report any occurrence of suspected marijuana contamination to LARA.  Signs of contaminated products include visible mold, mildewy smells, unusual color, and illness that appears to follow ingestion. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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