Environment, Organic Policy and Regulations, Social Implications in Agriculture, What is Organic

Organic Cannabis is Likely to Be a Joint Effort

California led the nation in legalizing medicinal marijuana in 1996 when Proposition 215 passed. Fast forward to November 2016 when the use of both recreational and medicinal marijuana has been legalized in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon Washington, and the District of Columbia.

According to a report by Arcview Market Research, North American sales came in at a smoking $6.7 billion in 2016 and are projected to top $20.2 billion by 2021. The industry is booming larger and faster than the dot-com era, and there is no bust in sight. 

With the market expanding at a 25% compound annual growth rate, the “O” word will certainly be part of that growth. Always in the lead, the CA Legislature in June passed SB 94 which mandates that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) creates an organic program by 2021.

A CDFA spokesperson indicated that they are preparing cannabis licensing and track and trace programs for introduction in 2018. The agency will turn its attention to the organic cannabis program within the next “several months.”

While it’s unclear at this time whether CDFA will utilize NOP accredited organic certifiers in verifying the future California standard, CCOF is advocating for it. According to Kelly Damewood, Policy Director at CCOF, “Our top priority for the state’s new cannabis certification program is to ensure that it upholds the integrity pioneered by organic growers and certifiers like CCOF over the last 40 years. It is also crucial that the new program’s paperwork, inspections, and fees do not overburden small and mid-scale organic growers who may want to incorporate cannabis production into their diverse operations. Using NOP accredited organic certifiers is the most cost-effective way for CDFA to achieve both goals.”

There are also questions about how the California Organic Products Advisory Committee (COPAC) will interact with the new organic cannabis program. Kelly Damewood indicated that CCOF is “encouraging COPAC to consider whether it should have a role in overseeing the new program. The committee members’ expertise in organic production and certification as well as their commitment to ensuring streamlined, effective regulation for producers could be critical to creating a successful, meaningful certification for cannabis.”

In the meantime, organic producers do have a few options to avoid the potholes in the road to organic cannabis production. Scaling up from your backyard to large multi-acreage production is a totally different system that has a specific set of unique challenges.

Andrew Black Founder has been in the organic industry for some time and is currently the Executive Director of Certified Kind, an alternative verification solution. They began certifying to the NOP standard in 2014 when Oregon passed its medical marijuana law because many dispensaries were making organic claims on products with no justification. They saw the need to offer professional certification services to put truth in those “organic” claims.

Andrew indicated, “There is definitely increasing demand for pure cannabis that hasn’t been grown with synthetic pesticides and herbicides—especially in concentrates and oils. We are working to educate on what organic actually means and what organic farming is all about so the retailer can educate the consumer. “

He also added, “What we’re doing is different than USDA organic because there is a lack of academic research on how to grow cannabis. So we provide agronomic education almost like an extension service.”

The company offers the Certified Kind logo for use on their clients’ marketing labels. They avoid using the word organic because that is a label regulated by the USDA. Instead, they prefer to use the term “organically grown” cannabis.

Ian Rice is a Co-founder of Envirocann, another company that provides certification for producers. They offer multiple levels of compliance such as pesticide residue testing, state cannabis law compliance, and an organic-like certification which mimics the NOP standards.

Envirocann President April Crittenden has an extensive background in organic certification and has helped the company to adopt CCOF’s documentation and auditing steps. They also utilize CCOF field inspectors to assist with site audits and interviews. With certification in California, Oregon, and Nevada, they plan to expand into Colorado and Washington soon.

Ian said, “There is a big pesticide issue in the industry. We see in very high levels of pesticides, chemical and plant growth regulators in many of our lab tests. Many of these are extremely dangerous to ingest. We have an unregulated market reaching commercial scale, and a lot of people are being exposed to chemicals and [producers] making a lot of false claims about organic. We want those producers who are achieving the highest level of production to be able to assure their customers they are providing clean organic cannabis.”

While we wait for a state or federal solution, companies like Certified Kind and Envirocann are good options for those who want to practice good organic agricultural practices. And be part of a market that is on fire.


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