Nova Scotia

Proposed class action filed against producer of pot tainted with pesticide

A New Brunswick-based medical marijuana company at the centre of a Health Canada recall over the use of unapproved pesticides has been named in a proposed class action lawsuit.

Moncton's Organigram had its organic certification revoked over the use of unauthorized pesticides

Organigram CEO Denis Arsenault has said he was shocked to discover unapproved pesticide had been detected in his company's product. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

A New Brunswick-based medical marijuana company at the centre of a Health Canada recall over the use of unapproved pesticides has been named in a proposed class action lawsuit.

Wagners law firm in Halifax said a notice of action was filed Friday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court against Organigram Inc., a federally licensed producer, and its parent company, Organigram Holdings Inc.

In a news release, the law firm said the proposed class action lawsuit alleges negligent "design, development, testing, manufacturing, distribution, sale and marketing of [Organigram's] purported organic medical cannabis."

Organigram issued voluntary recalls of almost all of its products sold last year after residual levels of two unapproved pesticides — myclobutanil and bifenazate — were found. 

When burned, myclobutanil produces hydrogen cyanide, which interferes with how oxygen is used in the body and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

The Moncton company had its organic certification suspended in January and is now subject to federal spot checks.

Hundreds of calls

Organigram said in an emailed statement it was reviewing the claim's notice of action and expected to have a response within 24 hours.

Lawyer Ray Wagner said his firm has received hundreds of calls from Organigram consumers who are worried about the potential impact of pesticides on their health.

One of those consumers is Dawn Rae Downton, who has been named the proposed representative plaintiff in the lawsuit. 

"They purchased something that was not what they had bargained for," Wagner said in an interview.

Wagner said his firm did not initially intend to pursue a class action because Organigram had said it would refund customers. (CBC)

The law firm said Organigram initially told customers they would be refunded but switched gears and decided to provide credit for future purchases instead.

Breach of contract

"A lot of people don't want to buy their product," said Wagner. 

"They've been spooked from it because of the fact they were certified as organic and in fact it was not."

The claim, which seeks refunds for consumers on recalled products, alleges Organigram breached its contract with Downton and other consumers to provide certified organic products without any unauthorized chemicals. 

It also cites alleged breaches of the Competition Act, the Consumer Protection Act, the sale Sale of Goods Act and the Food and Drugs Act. 

Downton, who consumed Organigram products for nearly a year for inflammatory arthritis, said the company was "very unhelpful" when she asked for a refund.

"I find it outrageous," she said.

After asking Organigram for a refund, Downton said they were "very unhelpful." (CBC)

'I lost eight months of my life'

Downton said she was ill for a number of years with chronic pain that prevented her from sleeping through the night. 

Her doctor suggested trying medical marijuana. 

"I went to Organigram thinking they were safe; they were an organic, licensed producer. Within about a week or two of beginning to take their product, to smoke it and also to eat it in cookies at night, I got extremely ill," she said.

"I had intractable nausea, vomiting and anorexia and this went on for eight months.

"I lost eight months of my life last year."

Her doctor suggested she stop taking cannabis and Downton started to feel better after about a month.

Wagner said the proposed class action could be certified in as little as four to six months, but could take more than 10 months. 

With files from Radio-Canada's Nicolas Steinbach and Paul Emile d'Entremont