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ForwardGro fined, on probation for using unauthorized pesticides

A medical marijuana plant.
A medical marijuana plant. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

The first licensed medical marijuana grower in Maryland has agreed to pay $125,000 and destroy cannabis products in its inventory after a state regulatory agency found the company had used unauthorized pesticides.

ForwardGro products were removed from the shelves of Maryland dispensaries Oct. 7, following an order from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, but officials offered little explanation for the “administrative hold.”

That hold was lifted Tuesday with the signing of a consent order by ForwardGro chief executive Gary Mangum and Brian Lopez, chairman of the state cannabis commission.

Mangum acknowledged in the legal document that the company used pesticides that were not approved by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, failed to ensure that employees used personal protection equipment and failed to implement required security measures. Some of those pesticides have since been approved for use by the state.

“We understand that we fell short of the expectations that we placed on ourselves related to compliance and that are set forth in state regulations,” Mangum said in a statement. “We must and will do better — for our customers, patients, industry, and our employees.”

The company will conduct more frequent internal audits and have enhanced training on state regulations, ForwardGro said in a news release. Patients, dispensaries, and processors who return ForwardGro flower and pre-roll products that are still in their unopened, original packaging and were produced before July 1 can get a full refund, the release said.

Mangum, a co-founder of ForwardGro, was the chief executive of flower wholesaler Bell Nursery and a top donor to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Former chief executive officer Michael McCarthy, whom Mangum replaced in November, will be required to divest all of his ownership interest in ForwardGro, according to the consent order.

The company’s grower license will be placed on probation for two years, during which there will be enhanced state inspections.

ForwardGro is one of 14 licensed cannabis growers in Maryland, which legalized medical marijuana use in 2013. The licensing of companies was delayed by several glitches and controversies.

The commission launched its investigation of ForwardGro in July following a complaint from three former employees of the company.