The biggest medical marijuana retailer in Pennsylvania removed Standard Farms products from its stores Monday after The Inquirer reported allegations by former executives that the company broke laws meant to ensure public safety.

TerraVida Holistic Centers, headquartered in Jenkintown, operates three medical marijuana shops in the Philadelphia region. TerraVida removed Standard Farms vape cartridges, tinctures, and other cannabis extracts after The Inquirer reported that three former executives alleged that the company violated state regulations. Some of those rules were meant to ensure the safety of the products.

Former executives said the company used a banned pesticide, imported seeds and cuttings outside of the allowed one-month window, and failed to account for faulty vape cartridges that had been returned.

“Standard Farms has been a valued partner since spring of 2018. Our patients have reported tremendous results from their medicine," TerraVida’s vice president of merchandising, Heidi Broadbent, said in a statement to The Inquirer on Tuesday. "While the matter is further investigated, TerraVida has pulled Standard Farms product from our stores as the number one priority is the safety of our patients. We have erred on the side of caution and hope for the situation to be resolved quickly.”

Standard Farms released an unsigned statement Monday calling The Inquirer’s story “untrue and baseless” and maintained the former employees had not spoken “truthfully and accurately.”

In court testimony, the former head of quality assurance Renee Kelso said she quit after Standard Farms invited a vendor to apply a hydrogen peroxide product — a state-banned disinfectant — on drying marijuana.

“I tried to stop it,” Kelso said in court testimony. “I was told that compliance was no longer my job. And I walked out.” On her way out of the building, she snapped a photo of the SteraMist van that she said had come to apply the product.

Renee Kelso said she quit working at Standard Farms after the company intended to apply a state-banned pesticide, hydrogen peroxide, on drying marijuana. She took this photo of the vendor's van on her way out.
RENEE KELSO
Renee Kelso said she quit working at Standard Farms after the company intended to apply a state-banned pesticide, hydrogen peroxide, on drying marijuana. She took this photo of the vendor's van on her way out.

Standard Farms specifically denied the allegation.

“We have never sprayed any hydrogen peroxide in our facility,” the company said in its statement. “Our records will show that we have never done business with any company or vendor that engaged in such practices.”

Standard Farms said that when a van with a giant SteraMist logo showed up at its facility in White Haven, Luzerne County, “we sent it away as soon as we became aware that it might be considering the use of hydrogen peroxide.”

The CEO of Tomi Environmental Solutions, the California-based company that makes SteraMist, had a different story to tell.

Halden Shane told The Inquirer on Tuesday that Standard Farms had invited Tomi to participate in antimicrobial experiments on marijuana at the White Haven grow.

“It was a no-charge test that they wanted on a sampling of dead dry plants,” Shane said. “The results were then handed to an independent lab.”

SteraMist, a product first developed by DARPA, is based on hydrogen peroxide. The company chemically engineers the substance into a “hydroxyl radical,” Shane explained. The substance is highly effective. It explodes mold, bacteria, spores, and other microbial life on contact. He said the substance was not applied to material intended for human use.

Standard Farms also rejected claims made by Paul Karlovich, its former head of cultivation.

“We brought in no seeds or cuttings after any state deadlines and none of our seeds or clones resided outside the state track and trace system,” the firm said in the statement.

Karlovich said he resigned in July 2018, partly because “we were bringing in material illegally after the 30-day deadline.”

“Stuff just started showing up. I didn’t like it. I refused to allow them to do it at first," Karlovich told The Inquirer. "I would say I was coerced. They kept asking me. I relented. They’ll deny it, of course.”

Another executive alleged that Standard Farms did not properly record the return of thousands of medical marijuana vape cartridges. Lisa Pabon, the former director of administration, said the company did not report the returns to the state, and said she suspected the vapes were later recycled.

“Early in our history, we experienced a very small number of failures in our line of vape cartridges,” the company said in its statement. “At that time, all returned products were remediated and/or destroyed within strict accordance of all state regulations. We never recycled returned vape cartridges or oil products.”

Dispensary owners told The Inquirer that they returned thousands of cartridges in March 2018. One returned $60,000 worth of faulty cartridges to Standard Farms. Another returned carts valued at $15,000.

The company also batted away allegations that its grow operations reeked. “All of our odor mitigation systems have passed all state inspections,” it said.

Neighbors said passing an inspection isn’t enough. “The state came two weeks ago when the place wasn’t venting to the neighborhood because it was too cold,” said Gordon Ackers, who lives about 60 feet from the marijuana hothouses. “There’s still an odor in the air. It’s not all the time like it is in the summer, but it’s still there. It’ll be bad again when the spring comes.”