Capitol Hill and the Central District’s top provider of pot, Uncle Ike’s has begun randomized pesticide testing on products directly from its shelves in an effort to incentivize vendors to provide clean cannabis and push the state to act.
The program, called Ike’s OK, started in October with five products and will continue testing five more products each month indefinitely as a way of regulating a market that is under very little government supervision. The state only requires potency testing certificates of analysis with each product, but no similar documentation for pesticide testing.
For Tobias Coughlin-Bogue, a journalist who has written extensively on pesticide use in pot, the legalization of recreational marijuana, which came in December 2012, was just the first step toward it becoming a safe consumer good.
“It’s not complicated, it’s not like we did any real wizardry,” said Coughlin-Bogue, who helped develop the program. “It’s just a basic safeguard, but it’s one that we should have had four years ago.”
Uncle Ike’s is one of a handful of companies in the retail pot business but its sales outstrip competitors by a long shot. And soon, even more Capitol Hill pot will come through Uncle Ike’s as the chain prepares to open a new location on E Olive Way.
Products that fail to comply with state pesticide standards will be immediately removed from shelves, and if producers fail twice, all of their goods will be removed from Uncle Ike’s until they can provide pesticide-free results.
“A lot of pot companies say that they’re clean or don’t use pesticides,” Uncle Ike’s owner Ian Eisenberg told CHS. “Pesticides aren’t bad, you have to use some kind of pesticide, I just want to keep them honest.”
Both Oregon and Washington use a tolerance of .2 parts per million of myclobutanil residue per sample, for example, but testing is not required in the Evergreen State and is only done during spot inspections or, more frequently, following complaints. When heated to a certain level, myclobutanil can release cyanide gas.
While the Environmental Protection Agency sets federal allowable pesticide levels in longstanding consumer products, such as fruit, it does not do the same for marijuana due to the legal prohibition of the substance.
Dr. Jim MacRae, a cannabis consumer safety advocate, will do the testing. Whereas past results may have been skewed by improper delivery procedures for the goods, MacRae will pick up the products and test them at Medicine Creek Analytics for both pesticides and heavy metals. The cost of the program is less than $2,000 per month, according to Coughlin-Bogue.
Despite Uncle Ike’s starting this program, Eisenberg stressed that his shop is not where pesticide testing should occur. State guidance is necessary, and he hopes that by carrying out this project, the government and other businesses in the industry will become interested.
“I smoke the product; my family smokes the product; my staff smokes the product,” Eisenberg said. “If there’s something bad in it, I think we all have the right to know. If you eat a bad, I don’t know, oyster, the state can track it down to what oyster bed it came from.”
Uncle Ike’s had one recall in the past year, so it removed the product from its stores, but didn’t receive state guidance for over a week.
The testers have not found a way to test for pesticides in edibles.
Results from the monthly tests are published on the Uncle Ike’s website in full for transparency.
Though Uncle Ike’s has been in the legal pot business for four years now following its 2014 opening at 23rd and Union in the Central District, the company continues to innovate, grow, and compete for new turf. The next frontier is E Olive Way where competitor The Reef debuted in August.
In September — the most recent month of sales data available from 502data.com — the combined three existing Uncle Ike’s location turned in nearly $2 million in sales combined. Ike’s original CD location is still setting the pace for the chain but the 15th Ave E location is gaining. Capitol Hill competitor Ruckus does around a third of Ike’s business, in the Central District, nearby Ponder, around a quarter. The Reef’s new location doesn’t have sales data available via the 502data interface yet.
Eisenberg says that Ike’s revenue remains “steady,” but profit continues to fall due to increasing competition in Seattle and its suburbs. While differentiation between stores is minimal, Eisenberg says that his shop has used low product markups as a way of setting Uncle Ike’s apart from competitors.
Uncle Ike’s, which currently has three stores, is planning to open a new Capitol Hill shop at 1411 E Olive Way. The opening date of that location, which used to be a law office building, is unknown due to the currently ongoing permitting process, according to Eisenberg.
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