Banned by 60 countries, the herbicide behind a 1970s marijuana scare persists in the US.

When Americans of a certain age hear the word “paraquat,” the first thing that might leap to mind is Mexican weed. That’s because, in the late 1970s, the United States government thought it would be a good idea to pay the Mexican government to spray this potent herbicide on marijuana fields south of the border.

Pot was illegal in every US state then, but plenty of Americans smoked imported weed, and the fear that people were inhaling a nasty chemical along with their THC caused quite the stir.

Bill Allayaud, who is of a certain age, knew immediately what I was talking about. He’s vice president of California government affairs for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer advocacy organization that’s rallying behind a new state bill to ban the spraying of paraquat in California—where I was surprised to learn it is still applied in large quantities by growers of almonds, pistachios, and cotton. The feds’ paraquat ploy “blew up in their face,” Allayaud recalls. “Everyone’s like, ‘What, you’re spraying weed that’s being imported into the United States? Are people getting sick smoking it?”

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