Seeing the word “organic” on cannabis labels is nothing new. Cannabis producers and dispensaries have taken liberties in referring to their products and flowers as organic, grown using organic methods, or even grown on an organic farm. Organically grown agricultural products are generally considered healthier and more sustainable, but there is a problem with organically grown cannabis. It does not exist. Or rather, it does not exist according to the federal government.

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Smoke Reports is extremely interested in the future of organic certifications for cannabis. As states move toward legalization, many portions of the cannabis industry reveal the discrepancies between state laws and federal laws. Organic certification is preparing to be the next marquee issue, as states like Colorado begin cracking down on businesses using the organic label to market their products.

The Issue with Schedule I Drugs

The federal government, under the direction of the DEA, classifies cannabis and cannabis infused-products as Schedule I Drugs. This means that cannabis plants are a controlled substance and not eligible to be considered as an agricultural product. The USDA (Department of Agricultural) is responsible for certifying farms and providing them with an organic label. Farms seeking organic certification must comply with several different facets of the USDA organic agriculture checklist:

  • Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
  • Support animal health and welfare
  • Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
  • Only use approved materials
  • Do not use genetically modified ingredients
  • Receive annual onsite inspections
  • Separate organic food from non-organic food

Farmers who are seeking organic certification must adhere to these practices of the USDA’s organic standards. Cannabis cultivators are never even considered for this certification, which has led to the general practice of misidentifying cannabis as organic.

Cracking Down on “Organic” in Colorado

In a recent report from The Denver Post, Colorado’s attorney general is beginning to investigate licensed cannabis businesses that are labeling their products or brand as “organic.” According to The Denver Post, and also visible at retail locations in other states, many cannabis companies are skirting the truth in order to include the word “organic” on their labels. Some of the misleading terms are “grown using organic methods,” “grown in organic soil,” “grown to standards of USDA’s organic certification process,” or for some edibles, “created with organic ingredients.”

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The Attorney General of Colorado will be charging cannabis companies using the “organic” term with potential fraud penalties. Under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, falsely labeling a product as organic can lead to fines of up to $10,000 per violation. While this may protect consumers against purchasing “organic” cannabis, there is still a lack of action that can be taken by cannabis cultivators who are actually growing sustainable cannabis using methods that would be considered organic with any other agricultural product.

California Bills Call for a State-Approved Solution

California lawmakers have been taking strides forward to establish a more regulated cannabis industry. SB 643, one of three bills recently passed by both the California Senate and Assembly, directly addresses the issues with denying cannabis cultivators an organic label without providing an alternate avenue for the certification of positive farming techniques.

SB 643: 19332.5.
(a) Not later than January 1, 2020, the Department of Food and Agriculture in conjunction with the bureau, shall make available a certified organic designation and organic certification program for medical marijuana, if permitted under federal law and the National Organic Program (Section 6517 of the federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (7 U.S.C. Sec. 6501 et seq.)), and Article 7 (commencing with Section 110810) of Chapter 5 of Part 5 of Division 104 of the Health and Safety Code.

California is essentially taking the organic certification process into their own hands. The medical cannabis program in California is the oldest in the world, and is often the pioneer in establishing operating standards when it comes to cannabis. Hopefully, other states will recognize the importance of offering cannabis cultivators the opportunity for recognition of their commendable farming methods. Organic farming is not easy, and the cannabis created using these methods deserves to be highlighted as safe and sustainable.

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Clean Green Certification

The discrepancies with labeling cannabis as organic have plagued the industry for some time now, and there are third party organizations working to improve the situation for cannabis cultivators. One such group is Clean Green Certified. While most cultivators are well aware of this organization, it is important that consumers also know what this group is trying to accomplish. Here is a description of the service from the Clean Green Certified website:

Clean Green Certified is a program modeled on National and International Organic, Bio-Dynamic, and Sustainable Standards, helping to ensure environmentally clean and sustainable methods. Clean Green inspects all inputs, from seed or clone selection, soil, nutrients, pesticides, mold treatments, dust control, and source of electricity, to methods of harvesting and processing.  The Clean Green program is not USDA NOP compliance or equivalency.

Clean Green Certified offers many services pertaining to the safe cultivation and production of cannabis. While they are not federally recognized for compliance, this organization has been doing an incredible job of giving farmers the opportunity to have an unbiased third party review their farming methods and the flowers produced. This peer review process is a necessary first step for California implementing its own organic certification standards.

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The Future of Organic Cannabis

The cannabis industry, and medical cannabis organizations in particular, are very concerned with cultivating quality cannabis under safe farming practices. The topic of “organic cannabis” will continue to make headlines, and until the DEA reevaluates the Schedule I classification of cannabis, our community will rely on state legislators and third party organizations to set the standards for certifying cannabis as organic.

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If you are a cannabis cultivator or simply interested in the future of organic cannabis farming, please reach out to us through our contact page. For the most up to date info on Smoke Reports, follow us on Twitter @smokereports or like us on our Facebook page. You can also join the discussion in the comments section below, or through our social media links.