Organic foods are growing in popularity. Can cannabis farmers get in on the game?
In the U.S., the organic market breached the $50 billion mark for the first time in 2018, and sales were up 6.3 percent from 2017, according to the Organic Trade Association. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods.” In general, using specific substances, conserving biodiversity and protecting natural resources are some of the core activities of a certified organic operation.
While cannabis is an agricultural product, it is also a federal Schedule I narcotic within the Controlled Substances Act, which prevents it from being certified as organic. Placement within the five schedules of the act is “based upon the substance’s medical use, potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability,” according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Some nonprofits and other organizations have already sought to create organic and natural standards and labels for cannabis, such as the established Clean Green Certification and newer Sun+Earth label, Filter Magazine reports. The Clean Green Certification for cannabis processors and handlers launched in California in 2004 and has now spread to seven other states. According to the Clean Green site, the program is “modeled on existing national and international agricultural standards, ensuring environmentally clean and sustainable methods.”
Sun+Earth made its debut in January 2019, and it has set its sights on going “above and beyond” USDA organic certification. It includes soil fertility, workers’ rights and intentional community engagement within its farming requirements. In the spring of 2019, a nonprofit called Brother David was established with a goal to support and promote cannabis growers with Sun+Earth certification. Brother David is the brainchild of a partnership between David Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s castile soaps and the cannabis supply-chain firm Flow Kana.
The state of California, in its customary style, is now trying something new -- a state-wide official organic-like standard called “O Cal.” The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is creating a cannabis program that it says will be “comparable” to the USDA Organic Program. In July 2019, the CDFA held the fourth meeting in a series of conversations with cannabis farmers in Sacramento. The associated working group is developing an “almost organic” cannabis state certification standard, which it plans to launch on January 1, 2021. At that time, applicants will be required to hold an active state cannabis license, the CDFA states.
O Cal would regulate farming practices like the use of pesticides (some of which have been linked to multiple health issues), as well as heavy metals and other toxins that are sometimes employed in agriculture. During the July meeting, one attendant asked if participating farmers would have to report their farming additives into the California seed-to-sale plant tracking software, according to Cannabis Wire. The CDFA said, “We don’t see that happening, but organic farms are required to record what additives they put on their organic plants.” The department “encouraged” participants to start doing so in anticipation of participating in the new O Cal program.