- Marc Brandl for DRCNet
In the late seventies and early eighties, contaminated marijuana brought one word to mind: Paraquat. Now, under a DEA plan which is already causing controversy, new herbicides under such names as triclopyr, or glyphosate may soon become synonymous with poisoned marijuana.
Last Wednesday (5/27) the DEA held public hearings in Washington, DC on the possible environmental dangers posed by using a herbicide called triclopyr in a program called the "DEA's Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program" or DCE/SP. The use of a new chemical in "aerial directed spraying" in the U.S. has raised the attention of environmentalists, industrial hemp advocates, and marijuana law reformers. Testifying before the DEA board, which also included EPA officials, NORML Director of Publications Paul Armentano, citing a Vermont State Auditors report said, "over 99% of the 422,716,526 total marijuana plants eliminated (in the DCE/SP program) nationwide by the agency in 1996 were 'ditchweed', non-psychoactive hemp." Most of the ditchweed eradicated by the program is thought to be the leftovers of hemp plants grown for military supplies in World War II.
Another concern of people testifying at the hearing was possible public health effects. The long term effects of smoking Triclopyr-laced marijuana have not been studied. "Poisoning marijuana users is an abominable drug war tactic" stated Marijuana Policy Project Director of Communication Chuck Thomas, "But it is not surprising, considering that the national health care policy for medical marijuana users is to arrest them."
Currently only three chemicals have been approved for marijuana eradication efforts: glyphosate, 2,4-D, and paraquat. Of those, only glyphosate (aka Round Up) has been used in "aerial directed spraying", in Hawaii, and has been approved for use in Oklahoma later this year. But even a commercially available herbicide like glyphosate has caused problems when used for eradication purposes in other countries. In written testimony submitted to the board, Armentano cites a February '93 issue of Global Pesticide Campaigner which stated, "International health workers in Guatemala report acute poisonings in peasants living in areas near eradication spraying, while farmers in these zones have sustained serious damage to their crops".
Whether more hearings will be held or if the DEA plans to move ahead with aerial spraying in other states remains to be seen. But the issue of aerial spraying of herbicides and its implicit dangers is unlikely to go away. The US government is also considering using a controversial new herbicide called Tebuthiuron in its efforts to eliminate marijuana, coca, and poppy plants in troubled Columbia. The editorial board of the Waco Tribune-Herald has already come out against its use, making references to Agent Orange and quoting the spokesperson for the maker of Tebuthiuron, Dow Chemicals, saying, "It is our desire that this product not be used for illicit crop eradication".