Grow, Gift, Repair

Pot company Garden Remedies, with Newton branch, to pay $200k fine

After being fined $200,000 last week by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), a Garden Remedies spokesman this week said the company is owning up to its mistakes and making improvements.

“We take responsibility for this and we’ve made substantive changes to how we do business” said director of marketing Jim Comber during a phone interview on July 14.

The CCC found that the company, which has a branch on Washington Street in Newton, used pesticides and tried to cover up their use by falsifying records.

“Unfortunately, mistakes were made early in 2019 related to the rooting hormone Clonex that we used in our cultivation facility,” said Karen Munkacy, M.D., founder and president of the company in a July 9 statement.

According to the stipulated agreement between Garden Remedies and the CCC, inspectors visiting the company’s Fitchburg manufacturing and cultivation facility in January 2019 found a banned pesticide, Wood’s Rooting Hormone. The inspectors requested invoices of purchases, which the company provided digitally. But an anonymous tipster subsequently told authorities that the invoices provided were falsified to conceal buying pesticides, which authorities documented by comparing the provided invoices with accounting invoices. Those accounting invoices showed the purchase of a pesticide, Clonex, and its use since December 2017.

Garden Remedies said in a statement that it fired the employees involved – whose actions were unknown to the executive team – and banned buying from the vendor that supplied the prohibited pesticides, among other actions.

Mukacy emphasized that “Clonex is registered with the EPA and is approved for use on all food crops, including medical plants,” but not in Massahuchusetts.

Because it is EPA approved, the chemical “was never putting anyone in harm’s way,” said Comber.

“All Garden Remedies products are third-party tested and none of our product has ever tested positive for pesticides,” said Munkacy in the statement.

Comber said he did not immediately have information on how much marijuana with Clonex was sold at the Garden Remedies branches in Newton and Melrose – the only stores open at the time (the company also has a store in Marlborough).

He said the incident “lead to major changes in how we’re organized.”

The company’s structure has changed to more adequately supervise staff members and there are new training programs about ethics and understanding the history and regulations surrounding marijuana, said Comber.

“The company and I will continue to strive to ensure that ethical and regulatory violations never again occur,” said Munkacy in the statement. “We are very sorry this happened, but we have come out of this experience a better company.”

“It’s obviously a lot of money to pay,” said Comber about the $200,000 fine, adding that the company believes “the CCC treated us fairly throughout the process.”

On the same day that the CCC handed down a fine to Garden Remedies, regulators also fined Healthy Pharms, Inc., $350,000 for pesticide use over several periods from July 2018 to February 2019. Healthy Pharms is owned by 4Front Holdings, LLC, also known as Mission, which also operates a medical dispensary in Worcester.

The Botanist, owned by Acreage Holdings, Inc., was fined $250,000 for going forward with applications for licensure while trying to own or have a controlling interest in more than the allowed maximum of three stores. The Botanist has a medical dispensary in Worcester and plans to open similar facilities in Leominster and Shrewsbury.