Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 1, 2010
L.A. dispensary case stirs probe of toxic buds

A poignant issue lurks in the pot club saga in Los Angeles' Eagle Rock neighborhood: whether unhealthy levels of insecticides are winding up in some medical weed.

First the back story:

Los Angeles City Attorney Carman Trutanich is trying to close the Hemp Factory V dispensary. He argues it is a retail sales operation - not a legal "collective" distributing amongst patient members.

On Jan. 29, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant granted an injunction stopping dispensary operations, invigorating a legal fight over whether medical pot transactions may constitute illegal sales.

Now the rest of the story:

Authorities say laboratory tests on marijuana varieties undercover officers bought at Hemp Factory V reveal levels of an insecticide, Bifenthrin, registering 170 times "tolerable" guidelines that the Environmental Protection Agency sets for human food or animal feed.

They claim the cannabis also contains traces of insecticides banned in the United States, stirring law enforcement speculation that some dispensaries may be selling pot smuggled across the border or grown illicitly.

In court documents, authorities said Hemp Factory V employees "claim that they did not grow the marijuana, do not know the conditions in which it is grown" and were unable to label their products for pesticides. But legal papers also reported that dispensary president Gevork Berberyan and six other patients grew pot for the operation.

Regardless of the circumstances, the insecticide discovery may send tremors through medical marijuana country. Most dispensaries boast of offering pure, healthy organic medicine grown directly or purchased from certified patient cultivators.

Assistant Los Angeles City Attorney Asha Greenberg said the Hemp Factory investigation brings a consumer warning - pot buyer beware: "You may have no idea what it's been treated with."

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