“Organic” Vs Certified Organic: What Makes Cannabis Organic?  

Purple Kush

How Can You Certify Your Cannabis Is Grown Organically?

There’s nothing better than those days you return home from your favorite dispensary having picked up some of your favorite bud, doesn’t matter what container it’s in you can still smell it the whole way home. Once you get home and take a couple of minutes to appreciate the decedent crystal coverage of trichomes and to breathe in the deep, rich scent of the herb you’re about to smoke. It’s pretty safe to say we have all appreciated a craft quality batch of cannabis like this. There is nothing quite like it, getting top shelf quality grams, the kind you know that is going to provide that much needed relief with the positive “side-effect” leaving you in the throes of jubilance after just a couple tokes smoke.  Yet, have you ever wondered: Is my cannabis really organic? How was it grown? What exactly is inside of this magical herb that I rely on so much? What am I actually putting inside of my body?

There is so much more to cannabis than general dankness and high THC potency numbers, that dominates too many dispensary advertisements. What makes for high quality cannabis is how it’s grown. When it comes to putting something inside of your body, it’s important that the cannabis products you’re choosing are actually good for your health. Just like those homegrown produce items you find at a local farmer’s market on the weekend, so to should your cannabis be held to same high stand of production and quality.

Simply stated, organic produce, herbs and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Scientifically it is relating to, or derived from living matter or denoting compounds containing carbon (other than simple binary compounds and salts) and chiefly or ultimately of a natural biological origin.

What does it mean to be USDA Certified Organic?

When at the grocery you see the “USDA Organic” or “Certified Organic” seal on certain food labels, these items must have an ingredients list and the contents should be 95% or more certified organic, meaning free of synthetic additives like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and dyes, and must not be processed using industrial solvents.  The USDA requirements for the use of the term “organic” are separate from the laws and regulations that the FDA enforces for foods. Food products labeled with organic claims must comply with both USDA regulations for the organic claim and FDA regulations for labeling.

Seeing as how it’s a medicine for many and all cannabis use provides therapeutic effects and has synergistic terpenoids, most all cannabis consumers prefer organic cannabis.  And indeed the medical cannabis patient, who wants their smokeable buds and ingestible products to all be organic, should be provided this level of quality. For the most part local cannabis growers comply in states that have legalized cannabis. A search on the internet of dispensary menus in several western states shows most all say or claim they are organic or are producing cannabis free from pesticides and herbicides to those standards.  According to many a cannabis connoisseur if your flower burns to a black color rather than a light gray ash, that means there’s chemicals in it, but this can also be true for a product that was not cured properly.

The word “organic” can only be used by United States Department of Agriculture-approved entities. So nothing federally illegal is going to get certified organic anytime soon. That hasn’t stopped cannabis providers from using the word, or albeit in different forms like “clean cannabis“. Although they cannot legally claim to offer organic cannabis, even if it’s growing techniques and conditions are identical to the certified organic tomatoes grown by a local farmer.  Under these organic laws, producers cannot use the term legally without certification. To bypass this legal requirement for certification, various alternative 3 rd party certification approaches are being used,  currently undefined terms like “authentic” and “natural” have emerged on labels, or the use of “organic” is placed in the brand name. For consumers, “certified organic” serves as a product assurance, similar to “low fat”, “100% whole wheat”, or “no artificial preservatives”.

Clean Green, a company in Crescent City, CA,  has a certification program for cannabis grow operations, processors and collectives in the western U.S. Modeled on national and international organic and sustainable standards, the Clean Green program requires on-site inspections and third-party lab testing. Much like the USDA National Organic Program for traditional agricultural products, 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. Clean Green also goes further than the USDA in some areas, requiring every operator to undergo pesticide testing every year, rather than only just a small percentage of farms. Clean Green companies also must put into place a carbon footprint reduction plan, water conservation measures and fair labor practices

Should cannabis consumers expect dispensaries to test their cannabis and provide information on how it was grown? The simple answer is yes.

After all, would you ever accept a doctors office visit where your primary care physician hands you an unlabeled bottle of pills and says, “Good luck, hope this helps!” Of course not and government certified or not, organic cannabis does absolutely exists. And it is the way to go when choosing your product. With states beginning to legalize not only medical usage, but also recreational adult use, more stipulations for the methods of cannabis cultivation are falling into place. Saying it’s pesticide-free is a way of getting around that ‘organic’ moniker. ‘Locally grown’ is actually a term that resonates with consumers better than organic. The cannabis industry has further had reassurances in the quality standards of cannabis compared to food products in general from grocery stores. Science laboratories that test cannabis in Oregon say the state’s recreational cannabis supply undergoes more testing, and is safer than any food product consumers buy.

Though state-governed regulations certainly help get the ball rolling, they are not the only way to assure testing of cannabis and labs operate ethically and remain accurate. In the absence of state mandates, a number of the leading facilities in California formed an organization dedicated to developing quality standards and certifications; The Association of Commercial Cannabis Laboratories (ACCL) was formed in 2011 and its members include CW Analytical Laboratories (Oakland), The Werc Shop (LA), and Steep Hill Halent (Oakland, Davis), among others. In pursuit of consistent, accurate results, the ACCL promotes inter-lab dialogue and proficiency testing; the members basically monitor one another. Many producers pay third-party labs like Steep Hill to analyze their product for a it’s cannabinoid profile with THC and CBD potency,  pesticides, mold, fungi and contaminants, but still too many most only want to know the THC content.

So is your cannabis organic? Probably so but also largely depends on consumer trust growers and dispensaries provide in transparency of how the cannabis is being grown and lab testing of products provided.  And in the creation of programs like Patient Focused Certification by Americans for Safe Access, PFC is an innovative new program that is calibrating the medical cannabis industry for excellence.  Comprehensive and flexible, PFC standard is what patients, healthcare providers, companies, and regulators can depend on to identify reliable, high-quality medical cannabis products and services.

“Unlike any other product you’ll find, cannabis doesn’t really have a low-end market,” says Tim Blake, a renowned organic farmer who organizes the annual Emerald Cup, an outdoor organic cannabis competition dating back 11 years. “For the most part, everyone wants A grade. They want to get the best product they can get. They don’t want B grade.”

Organic cannabis plants are left to their own devices and are therefore optimized for flavor and aroma. We already know that Mother Nature makes tastier goodies. Organic cannabis produces the perfect amount of terpenes, terpenoids and cannabinoids: the aromatic combinations that give cannabis its smell. Cannabis owes its sweet or citrus aroma to the dozens of these compounds present within its stems and leaves.  Thus, the more terpenoids and terpenes there are, the better the cannabis will smell and the more flavor the final product will have.

Best of all, organic grown cannabis is consistent. You never have to wonder because you know that is all natural. As a result, all consumers can enjoy the strong effects of a unhindered product and the reason most of us choose cannabis over a handful of pills.. And mother nature will thanks you, as organic cannabis is better for mother nature as a whole. Instead of manipulating the process ourselves, when we let the microorganisms run the show, the plant can grow the way it’s supposed to.  No need for secrecy or mass production. No need for chemicals or unnatural substances. Only the most natural, perfect ladies that mother nature intended- organic healthy cannabis for everyone.

Jason Barker
About Jason Barker 35 Articles
• New Mexico medical cannabis patient and activist • Grass roots organizer with LECUA Patients Coalition of New Mexico CERTIFICATIONS • Exercise Specialist Certificate for Personal Training / Life Coaching / Sport Nutrition • International Mountain Bike Association- National Mountain Bike Patrol • USA Cycling Coach • Bike Patrol-Central Ohio Mountain Bike Organization; Columbus, OH — 2005 -2010 • Bike Patrol-IMBA National Mountain Bike Patrol; Lee County, FL —2007-2008 • Youth Cycling Coach-Savage Hill Cycling Team; Westerville, OH — 2004-2005 • Isle of Palms Police Dept. - Beach Patrol — 1997 • Open Water Rescue Professional / Beach Patrol / EMT ; Hilton Head Is., SC 1994-1997