Why Did California Intentionally Destroy So Much Cannabis?
The state just intentionally eliminated hundreds of thousands of pounds of perfectly good marijuana. Here’s how they did it, “with tears in our eyes.”
A new set of California regulations demanded that gargantuan amounts of weed be “destroyed,” and hundreds of tons of marijuana, vape oil, and infused edibles have gone up in smoke. When restrictive new cannabis laws kicked in July 1, any and all marijuana products that did not meet strict new childproof packaging and lab testing standards had to be sabotaged out of existence.
SF Weekly looked into how California just legally destroyed hundreds of thousands of pounds of cannabis, and just what state-licensed cannabis waste entities do when called upon to destroy marijuana in legally compliant fashion.
“With tears in our eyes,” one industry founder said when we asked how they destroy marijuana under the watchful eyes of state regulators.
Marijuana is actually destroyed all the time, often because of mites or mold, or if lab testing shows unsafe levels of pesticides. But July saw an unprecedented blowout of cannabis destruction, with at least 50 tons of the stuff having been destroyed statewide because of the new rules.
“For the month of July, we’ve picked up approximately 100,000 pounds of cannabis waste,” says Megumi Reagan, director of policy and marketing for California’s first-ever licensed, full-service “cannabis waste” disposal corporation Gaiaca Waste Revitalization.
Neither the San Francisco Office of Cannabis nor the California Bureau of Cannabis Control could provide estimates of how much cannabis has been destroyed in their respective jurisdictions, as many industry operators do not have the track-and-trace inventory data systems fully implemented. And according to Gaiaca, many dispensaries still have that discarded July 1 weed sitting in locked-up trash bins.
“We are certainly still handling July 1 waste,” Reagan tells SF Weekly. “July 1 was the date that non-compliant products had to be taken off the shelves, but immediate destruction was not required.”
So dispensaries didn’t just set all of that non-compliant weed on fire at midnight July 1. According to state laws for anyone with a cannabis license, “A licensee shall dispose of cannabis waste in a secured waste receptacle or in a secured area on the licensed premises,” meaning it has to be locked up. The bunk weed must then be hauled off by “a local agency, or waste hauler permitted by a local agency.”
Gaiaca is permitted to haul that wasted weed, and so is Recology. Which gives the term “green bin” a whole new meaning.
The wasted marijuana is indeed composted, but state laws demand the weed be rendered “unusable and unrecognizable.” In the case of plant matter, it’s often ground up with dirt, wood chips, or even kitty litter.
But the cannabis waste companies are very attentive to composting, recycling, and renewable energies.
“Cannabis plant material and biomass from cultivation and manufacturing can be composted,” Reagan says, referring to marijuana flower, trim, and stalks. “Raw edible cannabis product can be put through an anaerobic digester, turning food waste to energy.”
Even the little plastic jars and Zip-loc bags are subject to these rules if they ever touched any kind of cannabis product.
“Retail and distribution waste, mainly packaging, can be sorted and processed, pulling out materials such as paper, glass, metal, and plastic to be further recycled,” she notes.
And you can’t secretly pocket or smoke any of that weed. Regulators and law enforcement demand that all destruction is filmed, and measured down to the nanogram.
“All of our waste destruction is video recorded and documented via waste manifests,” Reagan says, adding that the waste manifests must be submitted to state authorities.
Surprisingly, it’s not dispensaries that produce the most marijuana waste. That distinction belongs to the manufacturing plants, which package your jars of weed and infused edible treats.
“Manufacturing operations have both a larger volume and range of waste collection needs,” Reagan tells us, noting that even gloves, shoe covers, and bodysuits that touch rejected pot must be destroyed under strict guidelines.
There are very good reasons the state is so picky about how marijuana products are disposed of.
“One, particularly concerning environmental hazard related to vape pens, are their lithium-ion battery components, which are known to cause fires in waste management facilities,” Reagan points out. “When compacted or compressed, lithium-ion batteries combust. It is extremely important that vape pens not be thrown into the municipal garbage bin.”
So don’t throw your vape pens in the trash, people. You could end up causing a situation even more tragic than the destruction of 50 tons of weed.