In June 2017 the California Legislature passed SB 94 which made the recreational use of cannabis products legal for adults over 21 years of age. Since cannabis is an agricultural product, it was left to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to stand up the regulations.
Buried deep inside the hundreds of pages of text was a clause that mandated CDFA to create an organic cannabis program by 2021.
The time remaining will go by like a whiff of smoke and CDFA is quickly preparing to meet the deadline.
CDFA created a special division to manage the process.
CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing is the division of CDFA that handles the licensing and regulating commercial cannabis cultivators in California. They also manage the state’s track-and-trace system, which tracks all commercial cannabis and cannabis products—from cultivation to sale. CalCannabis is organized into three branches: Licensing, Compliance and Enforcement, and Administration.
The newly formed “OCal” project is a four-person team inside CalCannabis dedicated to establishing an organic Cannabis program comparable to the National Organic Program (NOP).
A few potholes need to be negotiated first.
The first being the NOP only certifies agricultural products. Since Cannabis is classified as a Federal Schedule 1 Drug, it isn’t considered an agricultural product that can be certified to the standard.
And the NOP owns the USDA organic logo, so it will not be available for California organic cannabis labeling.
The other weedy issue is that there are many products on the market already making organic claims with no oversight or enforcement.
CDFA started testing every 50 # batch of cannabis in the lab for toxic pesticides and inputs that are already prohibited in the regulation. The test results found that there is plenty of room for improvement if we are to get to a clean organic product in the market.
What’s the timeline to get us to 2021?
Charlene Graham from OCal elaborated at a presentation she gave to the California Products Advisory Committee (COPAC) in early September.
OCal will be the official certification and logo mark for organic cannabis in California. When you see that logo, you will know it’s organic per CDFA regulations. But it will take all the time remaining to create an organic cannabis program.
From now until March 2019 OCal will gather as much information as they can by visiting organic producers and cannabis growers. They plan to see how much education is needed and what organic cannabis growers are already doing.
They will immerse themselves in knowledge by attending industry events, and they will work closely with COPAC for advice as they develop the program.
From April 2019 until August 2019 OCal will be evaluating resources and soliciting input from stakeholders.
September 2019 through April 2020 OCal will be dedicated to drafting the regulations. Expect a formal rulemaking process with the ability to provide public comment. Once the regulations are adopted, the program will be created so that certification can begin in 2021.
What’s the long-term goal of the program?
Ultimately CDFA will be looking at the NOP and how it fits into the CalCannabis regulatory environment. The intent is to craft the program so that when the cannabis is allowed federally, it will be a seamless transition to the National Organic Program.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were organic producers who are already certified to be able to use their organic certification agent to certify their cannabis to the California organic standard?
California Certified Organic Farmers has already met with CalCannabis to work on this idea.
Kelly Damewood, CCOF’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs, said, “Right now CCOF is focused on ensuring that OCal maintains the integrity consumers associate with organically grown crops as well as streamlining this certification opportunity as much as possible for USDA organic growers who may want to incorporate cannabis into their operations.”
Phil LaRocca from LaRocca Vineyard agrees with the idea, saying “Organic is the only way to go! No matter what the crop is, cannabis included!”
Why organic and why now?
In the end, organic cannabis cultivation can make a distinguishing mark to organic growers competing with the increasing production greening the state.
Taxes from the sales of organic cannabis will enhance and invigorate rural communities, helping to build and maintain county infrastructures.
Cancer patients and all medical cannabis users deserve to be guaranteed access to a certified product free of toxic carcinogens.
Organic cannabis in California will have to be a joint effort with organic producers, certifiers, CDFA and cannabis growers all weighing in to create a prosperous effective program