Could Your Cannabis Be Cleaner Than Your Organic Produce?
If you read the paper or watch the news as it relates to
Sure, you know it’s better than the stuff that comes from a warehouse or worse, grown with who-knows-what, added to it. But do you know why it’s better? More importantly, do you know where you can get it?
Sonoma County Cannabis (the Department that regulates the local industry), states that of the 222 applications that they have been received, 26 have been approved, 43 were withdrawn and 27 were deemed “incomplete,” while 121 are waiting for approval. Only 19 were approved for cultivation.
It’s unfortunate that the County is so far behind in permitting cultivation since it means that the black market will continue to flourish in an unregulated manner. This is true in other parts of the famed Emerald Triangle as well.
Just for comparison, in Humboldt County alone, there are as many as 15,000 private grows. Of those, 2,300 have applied for permits, and it has about “1,600 applications from the first round of permitting to sort through, with about 250 permits having been issued — mostly for cannabis farms,” according to Humboldt County’s Cannabis Services Division.
Those of us who reside in Sonoma County know the value of choosing clean products, be they vegetables, meat, dairy, or cannabis. We support small farmers and farmers markets and understand the connection between how something is grown or raised and the overall health of our bodies, and our communities.
Starting July 1 of this year, distributors and (legal) cultivators have to put their product through testing for heavy metals and bacteria like E. coli and chemicals like acephate (a general use insecticide). That’s important for consumers but especially of concern to medical marijuana patients with compromised health.
Prior to that, cannabis could be grown with chemicals that could potentially also make you very ill.
To guarantee that whatever cannabis products you're imbibing are pure and clean, it's key that they've been officially tested and certified by one of the programs now available in the adult-use market. Reports have been circulated of growers irresponsibly using chemical fertilizers and pesticides — including Myclobutanil, a.k.a Eagle 20 pesticide, which becomes hydrogen cyanide when combusted in a smoking device of any kind. So it's important to know where and how the cannabis you're consuming is cultivated.
Cannabis labs test the final flower product after harvest and processing, or before and after manufacturing for products like edibles or concentrates. This is the only kind of testing that the state requires; however, these companies don't visit the farm or manufacturing site. They are testing for potency, pesticides, and pathogens, not for "organic" cultivation practices.
Why Cannabis Can’t Be Called “Organic”
The term "organic" is essentially owned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since cannabis remains federally illegal, these institutions will not authorize standardized testing regulations for the legal cannabis industry.
To get the last word on why cultivators can’t use the term “organic” in their marketing or branding, I spoke to the experts at Golden State Government Relations, (a Sonoma County-based consulting firm).
“Basically, the USDA has a national regulatory program called the "National Organic Program" (NOP) that determines the standards for what can be considered "organic," says Lauren Funaro, an associate at GSGR. "In 2000, the USDA defined the word “organic” for agriculture, including food and other products. Private agencies are authorized by the USDA to perform certification. Since cannabis is still a federally illegal crop, the USDA does not recognize it as a crop that can be certified as organically grown.”
"You must describe it as 'grown with organic methods,' " explains Chris Van Hook, founder of Clean Green Certified. His company was the first third-party organic certification program for cannabis and continues to certify cannabis cultivators, processors, handlers, and retailers, as well.
Since the USDA and FDA refuse to classify cannabis as a crop, and the State says it's not even a food, the result is that no pesticides are legal to use on cannabis, even if they are legal for other crops. Crops and products must test clean, or they will fail and be destroyed. In California, this is the responsibility of the distributor, who collects the material from the grower or manufacturer, sends a small sample to the lab, and, if it passes, then ships the product to the retailer. Though many in the industry wish the Feds would change the classification, in this case, it’s a good thing for consumers. These days, if you buy cannabis in California from a dispensary or delivery service, it’s likely to be cleaner than your produce.