Bees & Cannabis in Humboldt, California

This May I got to venture into the “belly of the beast” of the cannabis industry in the US: Humboldt, California.  I was asked to provide some information about cannabis and bees, and facilitate a discussion between beekeepers and cannabis growers.  I’m not a grower, or a user, and the cannabis industry is about as foreign to me as Jupiter, but I love organizing community around helping bees, so I gave it a “yes.” 

I believe the reason I came on their radar was because of a symposium that I had previously organized here in Southern Oregon, attempting to bring growers, beekeepers, county officials, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture together around the topic. 

The question(s) of the hour are – do bees visit cannabis and are weed growers killing all the bees?

These are both complicated questions with a lot of unknowns.  Particularly because there isn’t a lot of data out there.  Seeing as how cannabis isn’t legal on a country-wide scale, universities who receive federal funding aren’t able to freely study the plant and it’s interactions to the environment.  Small, very fenced up, test plots?  Yes.  That is happening, so I’ve heard.  But nothing on pollinator interactions in “real world” scenarios.                         

When I ask the “experts” from the Oregon Department of Agriculture if honey bees visit cannabis, I get about a 50/50 hard yes vs. hard no.  Growers, themselves, are also adamantly attached to their experiences of “never seeing a bee” on their plants, vs. “yeah, I see them all the time, they’re everywhere!” 


After a full house, and a lively discussion, on:

1. Defining the issues between cannabis growers and beekeepers,

2. Group-thinking up possible solutions, and

3. Creating individual and group action items.

The general consensus was:

- Bees do visit cannabis.  Honey bees harvest wax cuticles from the plants, as well as pollen (from male plants).

- If you are growing hemp for food/fiber, you probably have pollen-producing male plants. This pollen (as long as it’s pesticide-free) can actually be beneficial for the bees.

- If you’re growing for CBD, or THC, you probably don’t have many (or any) male plants.

- Female plants DO NOT have nectar, and cannabis honey isn’t really a thing (unless to physically soak the flowers in honey, but that’s an infusion, not an actual bee product).

- It’s not necessarily a negative to the grower to have bees around their crop - the bees are harvesting pollen and putting it in their pollen baskets (without visiting the female plants, as their is no nectar) and flying away. This means there can be little fear of pollination and the crop going to seed.

- Cannabis growers can, and do, effect bee health.

- Large fields of cannabis can replace bee habitat.

- Black plastic and constant tillage prevents ground nesting bees from establishing a nest.

- Commonly used inputs like spinosad and pyrethrins are extremely toxic to bees.

- Pot growers are not evil masterminds, or henchmen; they are not trying to kill bees on purpose.  But if they use a lot of inputs, they can! 

- So, the best way forward is education and outreach within the community.

- However, that’s tricky, because the large majority of growers are still “in the dark.”  As in- they are not registered with the state as an official “certified” grower, and don’t commonly access to state ag regulators and educators. The group estimated that over 90% of growers are “in the dark.”

- The Humboldt Beekeepers, and also growers, that were in the room took on many “action items” to reach both registered and unregistered growers.  A few of the “to-dos” were 1) to create an educational flyer that let growers know how to use pollinator-aware management strategies. Then 2) put that flyer on the counters at grower supply stores and dispensaries, 3) to show up at grower meetings to hand out the flyer (and have open and positive conversations with the growers), and 4) to infiltrate social media groups with bee-friendly growing information and resources. 

In short – respect your neighbor, and their crops and animals, and communicate with each other.  

In researching this topic for my visit to Humboldt, I came upon a goldmine of information, which I promised I would share with the group:   

Here is an article (and a workshop recording) on growing cannabis in a holistic way from the 2019 EcoFarm Conference.

If you do suspect a bee kill - any complaint of drift or pesticide exposure (human or environmental, like bees) must be reported to the County Agricultural Commissioner of the county (like Humboldt) where the alleged exposure occurred.    

2018 CA DPR’s Managed Pollinator Protection Plan “MP3”:

Pages 9-12 also discuss certain laws and regulations if pesticide applicators drift onto beehives, which occasionally happens with commercial managed bees during big crop areas, especially CA almond acreage in the San Joaquin Valley.

What pesticides can I use on cannabis in CA?” 

Q&A Outreach to CA growers and applicators, with additional links:

DPR Neonicotinoid Risk Determination – active ingredient reevaluation:

and July 2018 addendum

Humboldt County Annual Crop Report:  2016 was the latest I could access online.

As I mentioned their County Ag department is very small – list of County Agricultural Commissioner (CAC) and staff names are included in their crop report.

Key Enforcement Code Sections:

CA Food and Ag Code section 12973 – use in conflict with registered labeling or restricted material permit conditions:


The use of any pesticide shall not conflict with labeling registered pursuant to this chapter which is delivered with the pesticide or with any additional limitations applicable to the conditions of any permit issued by the director or commissioner.

Title 3 CA Code of Regulations referenced in our MP3 and other publications:

6600. General Standards of Care.

Each person performing pest control shall:

(a) Use only pest control equipment which is in good repair and safe to operate.

(b) Perform all pest control in a careful and effective manner.

(c) Use only methods and equipment suitable to insure proper application of pesticides.

(d) Perform all pest control under climatic conditions suitable to insure proper application of pesticides.

(e) Exercise reasonable precautions to avoid contamination of the environment

6614. Protection of Persons, Animals, and Property.

(a) An applicator prior to and while applying a pesticide shall evaluate the equipment to be used, meteorological conditions, the property to be treated, and surrounding properties to determine the likelihood of harm or damage.

(b) Notwithstanding that substantial drift would be prevented, no pesticide application shall be made or continued when:

(1) There is a reasonable possibility of contamination of the bodies or clothing of persons not involved in the application process;

(2) There is a reasonable possibility of damage to nontarget crops, animals, or other public or private property; or

(3) There is a reasonable possibility of contamination of nontarget public or private property, including the creation of a health hazard, preventing normal use of such property. In determining a health hazard, the amount and toxicity of the pesticide, the type and uses of the property and related factors shall be considered.

The following CA Food and Ag codes are enforced by CACs under CA Dept of Food and Ag, not DPR.

If beekeepers are unsure whether they need to register bees with the county, they should ask the local CAC.

CA Food and Ag Code Article 13, Chapter 1:  Bees (Sections 29000 – 29321)

Oregon beeple!  Not to worry, I have seen the thousands of acres of hemp {and black plastic} popping up all over Southern Oregon {at the expense of flower-rich pasture and hay fields}, and I haven’t forgotten about you, or our bees right here in my own backyard!  I’m part of a very exciting new mini-think tank group called “The Bee and Habitat Diversity Working Group,” and we are putting our heads together on the best way forward in advocating for bees to the growers of this new crop.  Stay tuned for local action items and resources.       


Sarah Red-LairdComment