By Kellen Brent Pierce
On November 1, the state Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office ordered all marijuana retailers to immediately stop selling any and all Calm N Collective products, and to quarantine them until further notice. AMCO said that it had been provided enough evidence to suspect that a potentially harmful — though not illegal — fungicide had been used at some point in the cultivation process.
Ron Bass owns Calm N Collective with his wife Lacey. Since AMCO’s notice, Bass has been unable to sell a single cannabis product. By his estimate, this means a loss of nearly $10,000 a day in sales.
Bass says that a disgruntled employee, one who knew his days with the company were numbered, sabotaged the business by taking photos holding dangerous pesticides next to the company’s marijuana plants, to imply that the fungicide had been, or was about to be, applied.
Bass said the now ex-employee waited long enough — 40 days by state law — for the video footage to be scrubbed from the company hard drives before contacting AMCO. “If [the sample] tests positive for Eagle 20 it’s because he sabotaged it walking out,” Bass said.
It is worth noting that last July, Calm N Collective received an AMCO Notice of Violation for failing to meet state video surveillance requirements in a separate incident. Without that footage, even if the marijuana samples test positive, there is no way to prove or disprove that the pesticide was applied by a lone disgruntled employee or as mandated by Calm N Collective management.
(That former employee spoke on the condition that his name not be used, though in an another Anchorage Press story, Nick Callahan reveals himself as said whistleblower to writer Aimee Altman.
The former employee says he was hired in 2017 and promoted to Lead Cultivator (LC) in Spring 2018. LC says that the facility was facing a particularly bad case of an otherwise common marijuana grow problem — mold, mildew, and insects.
“Ron was desperate to get the facility clean,” he said. “Myself and the crew were able to combat the powdery mildew, bud rot and insect infestations by using natural oils and other approved agents.”
However, as winter approached, LC says condensation problems worsened, exacerbating the problems.
“It was once our test results started failing for mold (it was visually visible) and insects that Ron said it was time to go ‘nuclear’ and said he was ordering Eagle 20. I thought he was joking but shortly after he brought in cases of the Eagle 20 along with Avid and Floramite, which I refused to spray on the crops. Ron hired lower level employees that probably did not even understand what they were spraying dressed in hazmat suits spraying plants that were not only in vegetative state but also in full flower with these chemicals.”
When asked why he didn’t immediately quit, LC said, “I fixed as much as I could and made as many changes possible to prove he didn’t need to use that stuff, but he would send weekend guys in all the time to spray.”
Bass blames the severity of the problems on what he calls LC’s gross negligence and absenteeism, and maintains that Calm N Collective only ever used natural fungicides and pesticides. “Of course we have problems just like every other grow room in this whole entire planet,” Bass said. “But we use all-natural; like OG Biowarfare, Tea — it’s all organic and natural.”
LC’s last day with the company was September 23rd.
Shortly thereafter, LC was active in the Facebook group ACR — Alaska Canna Review — posting his allegations:
On October 8th, posting a photo from Washington-based extract page “Dabstars” of a man holding several pounds of marijuana alleged to have been sent by Bass, alluding to a previous AMCO violation back in May when Bass was cited for attempting to transport a large amount of marijuana over state lines.
On October 9th, that part of the grow had been “completely covered in feces and other excrement from an explosive plumbing failure.” Further down in that thread, LC posted a photo of an unidentified hand holding a half-empty bottle of Eagle 20 fungicide near marijuana plants in a grow operation with the caption, “If you just spray the plants with this, it should kill the germs right?”
On October 15, 16, and 17, LC posted several memes further alluding to Bass’ alleged use of Eagle 20 fungicide.
On October 23rd, AMCO investigator Jeff Dukes was presented with LC’s version of events. On November 1st, AMCO took action.
At the center of this scandal is a chemical compound called myclobutanil. Eagle 20 is a myclobutanil-based fungicide which is approved for and used in a wide variety of agricultural applications — grapes, apples, spinach, and hops, for example. When applied correctly, myclobutanil is known to have low toxicity to humans. However, upon combustion, myclobutanil releases hydrogen cyanide.
Hydrogen cyanide exists in everyday encounters; cherry pits, apple seeds, car exhaust, even our own neurons and white blood cells produce the compound. However, in even the smallest amounts, hydrogen cyanide is an incredibly deadly poison. In World War I it was used as a chemical agent. In World War II, produced commercially as Zyklon B, it was the weapon of choice in Nazi extermination camps.
Because of this, the single agricultural commodity not approved for myclobutanil use is tobacco, and the compound is banned in Canada, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon for the production of medical and recreational marijuana. Alaska can’t even test for it, which is why Calm N Collective samples had to be sent to Washington state, where the process is estimated to take up to 60 days.
In the meantime, Bass says that he supports the process and is committed to doing the right thing.
“Public safety and public health is my number one,” Bass said. “If I have to cut down every plant in this grow room — a half a million dollars, six hundred grand — whatever it takes to contain what’s going on, then that’s the steps I’m willing to take.”