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How Much Cannabis Do Californians Use? Researchers Want To Ask In Order To Set Safe Pesticide Limits

Sammy Caiola / Capital Public Radio
Outside Perfect Union dispensary, researchers from Sacramento State ask survey-takers about their daily cannabis use. Scientists want to better measure consumption to set safer pesticide levels for marijuana.

Starting this January, California cannabis users can get a $20 gift card by anonymously sharing their consumption habits with a state-funded survey team.

Researchers from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and Sacramento State are trying to calculate how much cannabis the average California user consumes on a daily basis. The information will help them set more accurate safety levels for pesticide use on cannabis crops. 

The state has had concerns about pesticide levels in marijuana since the drug became legally available to non-medical users in 2016. The federal government sets pesticide levels for fruits and vegetables based on calculated American consumption, but that data doesn’t exist for cannabis. To calculate a safe quantity, scientists need to know how much cannabis people are ingesting, said department spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe. 

“We had talked to people in other states ... and looked at tobacco levels, but we didn’t actually have any data on cannabis consumption itself,” Fadipe said. “If it turns out that people are eating a lot more cannabis products than we initially thought, we might need to lower the levels.”

So starting in January, public health researchers will set up tables at dispensaries across the state to ask volunteers questions about their marijuana use. Participants will remain anonymous and will receive a $20 Amazon gift card for completing the 20- to 60-minute survey.

Perfect Union, a dispensary in the Arden area of Sacramento, hosted a pilot for the survey earlier this month. Participants detailed how much marijuana they smoked, ate or used in topicals on every day of the past week. Researchers asked questions about where users purchased marijuana and whether they shared it with others. They also had photos on hand to help survey-takers determine size and type. 

Holly Matzke, a 27-year-old Fair Oaks resident, said she was pleased to see the state making efforts to regulate pesticides in cannabis. She said she’s had severe allergic reactions to certain chemicals such as sodium benzoate and titanium dioxide.

“I feel like we do need some kind of regulation, just so people like me who are so sensitive don’t have a reaction,” Matzke said. “That’s a very scary thing, especially if you’re a new cannabis user.”

She said it’s why she buys her products only from dispensaries. She also works on an all-organic pot grow. 

As it stands, California farmers can legally spray pesticides that meet specific criteria, but many pesticides are banned. The health effects of pesticides vary depending on the type of chemical and the length of exposure, but chronic pesticide exposure can increase the risk of cancer, birth defects and immune system damage, according to the California Department of Public Health.

There’s very little research on the health risks of pesticides in marijuana specifically, but other states haveissued health warnings about excessive pesticide levels in certain cannabis products. 

California started testing legal marijuana in 2018. At first, about 20 percent of products were found to contain unsafe levels of pesticides and taken off the shelves, but that number dropped to 14 percent after a few months, according to the Associated Press

There’s still concern that pesticide testing labs are not getting enough oversight. In late 2018, Sequoia Analytical Labs in Sacramento surrendered its license after state regulators found it was conducting faulty tests for pesticides. 

Fadipe with the pesticide department said the goal is to get between 300 and 400 respondents. 

People can sign up to take the in-person survey here. Dispensaries who want to host surveyors can sign up here

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio