AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s medical marijuana growers are appealing to the Legislature to let them use a greater number of organic pesticides that will help them better control bugs, fungi and other pests while ensuring the safety of the final product.

Some of the organic pesticides cultivators want to use are soap, sesame oil, neem oil and sulphur, which can guard against powdery mildew or other harmful organisms.

Last year, the Legislature enacted a bill, LD 1531, which allowed medical marijuana growers to use certain “minimum risk” products that are listed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. However, according to the state’s medical marijuana industry, those products aren’t doing the job, and when a plant is infested, all they can do is destroy it.

“We just want to make sure that our medicine is safe and that a supply is readily available for patients,” said Glenn Peterson, president of the Maine Association of Dispensary Operators, in testimony for the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee on Thursday afternoon.

LD 1674, An Act to Further Ensure the Provision of Safe Medical Marijuana to Maine Patients, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, is the new bill under consideration by the Legislature. Saviello proposed an amendment to it on Thursday that, in itself, would not expand the list of allowable pesticides but rather puts in place a process that would allow expansion of the list.

The process allows medical marijuana cultivators to reach out to organic pesticide producers and try to convince them to alter their labeling to say that the products are recommended for growing cannabis or something general like “all plants,” for example. That labeling would satisfy federal Environmental Protection Agency rules, which in turn would satisfy the Maine Department of Agriculture’s Board of Pesticides Control.

Henry Jennings, director of the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, said during testimony Thursday that he doesn’t have major objections to the bill as amended.

“We feel pretty comfortable that this essentially leaves us in a place where we’re not going to be in trouble with the federal government,” said Jennings. “[The bill gives growers] the opportunity to go to the manufacturers and see if the manufacturer has enough comfort level around broadening the label. … This bill essentially says, yes, the label is the law.”

A work session has not yet been scheduled for the bill.

Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.