When it comes to buying cannabis, it seems everyone has jumped on the organic bandwagon. But as a recent rejected Colorado proposal for certified organic marijuana made known, there is no such thing as organic marijuana, at least not yet.
In the world of cannabis growing, the word "organic" means exactly as much as that ever-elusive term, "natural."
And yet, cannabis growers, from those using no-till agriculture and organic, natural pesticides to those growing with dangerous chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides, are all slapping on the organic label -- and the premium price.
The proof is in the pudding: several Colorado cannabis growers have been fined and forced to recall their products, starting at the end of 2015 and continuing through the beginning of 2016, for using federally banned synthetic pesticides. Many of these growers had been calling their product organic.
While the ramifications of this are disastrous no matter who you ask, it's perhaps most important for those who use marijuana medicinally; they choose organic cannabis to ensure that they are getting the most from the herb without ingesting toxic chemicals, particularly those that can enhance neurological dysfunction or further compromise their immune systems. And as the federal government refuses to certify organic marijuana, it seems that we're at a bit of a standstill.
So... Is Real Organic Marijuana Possible?
It is possible to stumble across the unicorn that is organic marijuana (albeit not USDA certified), thanks to state labeling laws. These laws require growers to disclose all chemicals used during the grow cycle. In other words, you need to look past the word “organic” on the label and actually do your research to find a truly organic herb.
“Avid, Floramite, and Guardian Mite Spray should all be avoided, to name a few, but there are many more,” organic marijuana expert the Rev told Merry Jane. “Labels are far from foolproof, but it’s a great start. Some peeps don’t know they are using poisons and poisoning the public, others are ignorant to how bad they can be, especially when smoked, and so they just don’t care.”
Also keep an eye out for Plant Growth Regulators like Paclobuzitrol, which have been linked to severe liver damage and are believed by the EPA to be carcinogenic.
An Independent Organic Marijuana Label
There is, however, one organization that allows you to bypass scrutinizing labels: Clean Green Certified, founded in 2004, is modeled on third-party organic standards like the USDA National Organic Program and devoted exclusively to marijuana.
“The whole life cycle of the plant is considered, from seed selection to harvesting and processing, as well as soil, nutrients, pesticide use, mold treatment and dust control,” the label states. “Clean Green Certified also goes further than the USDA organic in some areas, requiring every operator to undergo pesticide testing every year, rather than only a small percentage of farms.”
And Clean Green Certified knows what they’re looking for. Founder Chris Van Hook is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-accredited organic certifier and a lawyer.
“Growers use everything from myclobutanil [a fungicide sold under the brand name Eagle 20] to synthetic pyrethroids,” Van Hook told Civil Eats. “Whether it’s medical or adult recreational use, you need to be concerned with the manner in which it’s grown, because you’re ingesting it.”
The certification also explores ecological elements of the culture that USDA organic doesn’t necessarily touch on, from water and energy use to soil erosion prevention; indoor growers must use solar panels, and growers who want to change soil from year to year must either donate their soil or amend it to be reused.
Each of the 100 or so growers, processors, and handlers that hold the certification is inspected annually, and Van Hook refuses to certify anything before seeing the plants himself.
“Cannabis consumers, or tomato consumers, or any product consumer wants to know what goes into what they’re using,” Ben Gelt of the Denver-based Organic Cannabis Association, an industry group pushing for organic pot standards, told the Cannabist. This is one way for them to be sure.
Van Hook is, of course, up against constraints, namely that the flowers and leaves are the ideal parts of the plant to test for pesticides, but because they cannot be shipped to labs across state lines, they have to content themselves with soil samples.
The good news is that organic marijuana may become more popular as time goes on, as it’s actually easier and less expensive to grow. “I find growing organically far less expensive than using synthetics, in the bigger picture,” says the Rev. “It’s true that your initial expenses setting up to grow organically are pretty hefty, but from then on it’s very inexpensive.”
And it’s worth it, not only for tokers, but for growers. One Clean Green Certified farmer, Tyson Haworth, told Civil Eats that it is important for him to grow cannabis without any synthetic or toxic chemicals, especially because he grows it on the same land where he lives.
“I’ve got little kids. I don’t want toxic chemicals around,” he says.
Cannabis plant image via Shutterstock