Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

Going green, not glowing green

Tantalus Labs grows cannabis in a greenhouse in Maple Ridge, B.C. (The Canadian Press/Tantalus Labs handout)

Irradiated cannabis — sounds scary, right?

Why would a cannabis producer irradiate their bud? One cannabis farmer says irradiation could play an important role in building a more ecologically sustainable industry.

Dan Sutton is founder and CEO of licensed cannabis producer Tantalus Labs, which exclusively grows its product using environmentally-friendly greenhouse technology. Sutton, who used to work in the nuclear fuel industry, describes nuclear technology as "probably one of the most maligned sectors in human existence."

"When we think of nuclear power, we think of glowing fuel rods being juggled around in The Simpsons, we think of nuclear disasters like Chernobyl or Three Mile Island or more recently Fukushima," explained Sutton in an interview.

Aware of that perception by some cannabis consumers, Sutton has been researching the use of irradiation in the Canadian medical cannabis industry. He estimates irradiation has been used by "at least 80 per cent" of current legal cannabis producers, and said he might use it to sterilize his company's product in the future. (Tantalus has not yet received its medical cannabis sales license from Health Canada.)

Canada's medical cannabis regulations, said Sutton, represent "far and away the most stringent quality assurance standard on earth for cannabis." The standards for acceptable amounts of contaminants are set extraordinarily low to ensure that vulnerable medical cannabis users, like those with compromised immune systems, are safe.

Most Canadian medical cannabis producers aim to prevent fungal and bacterial contamination by growing their product in sealed structures, using artificial light and filtered air.

"Because we grow in a greenhouse and not a pharmaceutical cleanroom, we're subject to more risk around sterility and contamination from moulds and fungus that are normally occurring in other crops, and would inhibit passing the (legal medical cannabis program's) quality assurance paradigm," he said.

That's where the irradiation comes in. By sterilizing the final product with gamma waves, Sutton said, greenhouse cannabis producers can be confident their sustainable product is pathogen-free. The irradiation process does not pose any risk to the end consumer, he said.

"Ultimately, to enable a natural, sun-grown, greenhouse cultivation style of cannabis production, which has a host of social benefits, irradiation needs to be a rational part of the conversation so that we can avoid producing all of our cannabis in energy-intensive pharmaceutical cleanroom-style infrastructure," said Sutton.

Want to learn more? Sutton makes his argument for safely irradiating cannabis in this Twitter thread, which includes his explanation of why irradiation doesn't degrade the cannabis itself.


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  • Few places to toke: Dear Herb reviews where Canadians will be allowed to use cannabis after legalization. (Spoiler alert: very few places.)
  • Trans-Pacific cannabis scheme busted: U.S. police have seized "roughly 100" California marijuana grow-ops tied to a Chinese organized crime group.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Got to give the people what they want: Senator Peter Harder, who represents the government in the Senate, makes the case that his colleagues "should not vote down a legislative proposal that has its origin in an election promise," like cannabis legalization.
  • Weed inspectors at the door: Saskatchewan will have a handful of special cannabis enforcement officers to enforce provincial marijuana laws.
  • How Canadian cannabis travels south: A U.S. court case reveals details of a cross-border weed smuggling operation.

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