As consumers become more conscious about products they consume, there’s a push for organic everything. But what does it mean for something to be organic?
If you’re in the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines “organic” as “produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation”. That’s a specific definition, and definitely not what cannabis brands mean when they say organic weed. In fact, they might do a few of these things in the growing process.
Since cannabis is illegal on a federal level, the USDA isn’t able to prescribe safe growing standards the way they would for any other agricultural product being grown in the US. This puts the burden on state regulatory agencies to develop their own cultivation standards for cannabis, but until a couple of years ago these standards didn’t exist anywhere. In many states with legal pot, they still don’t.
So how do you measure organic weed?
California is a good example of how hard it is. As the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana in 1996, it still had no state-wide oversight boards for cannabis standards until 2015. That means for almost twenty years, growers could use whatever chemicals they wanted on their “organic weed” because there was nobody to tell them otherwise.
Enter Chris van Hook, a veteran of the USDA-certified organics industry. Since the mid-2000s, he’s been trying to advocate for buds being registered as a USDA organic agricultural product to assuage consumer fears about tainted pot. When van Hook reached out to the Department of Agriculture on the issue, he was told that it was impossible to certify cannabis as organic since it was a federally illegal substance. Moreover, if any of the cannabis cultivators so much as labelled their product as ‘organic,’ they would be in violation of federal law which gives a monopoly to the USDA on organic certification.
In 2004, Chris started Clean Green Certification, what he calls “the closest you can get to organic” in a legal sense. According to his website, to be Clean Green certified, the cannabis growing facility must “handle, clean and store their Clean Green cannabis so as not to come in contact with toxic chemicals or other cannabis that is not grown in accordance with the Clean Green program.” Since then, Chris has expanded to seven states and tries to keep the public and cultivators aware of the latest “green” innovations.
So, is organic weed a real thing? Not technically. Can marijuana be grown cleanly and safely? Yes.
What do you think about organic weed? Will it ever be graded and tested on a national level?