Many of us have a loose idea of what the world “organic” means, yet we can’t verbalize its exact definition. You probably know it means that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides weren’t used in the production of the product if it’s labeled organic. That’s a start, but it’s not the entire definition. Put simply, the term “organic” refers to a product’s biological origin. Put another way, it means the product was derived from a carbon-based, or living, source. Put legally, it means that specific compounds were absent from the product’s environment for the entirety of its life, from the soil used to grow the raw materials to the preservatives used to keep it fresh for the consumer.
In the United States, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains the guidelines for organic products and certifies qualifying food products as such. To be labeled “certified organic” by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), at least 95 percent of a product’s ingredients must have been produced according to the program’s soil quality, pest and weed control, animal raising, and additive standards.
The label “100% organic” is reserved for products that only contain ingredients that meet these guidelines, while 70 percent or more of a product’s ingredients must be organic in order for it to be labeled “made with organic ingredients.” This rule applies to all products subject to USDA regulation, from tomatoes and zucchini to chicken tenders and hamburger buns.
So, when you’re looking for certified organic cannabis, you run into a little snag: The USDA doesn’t regulate cannabis. This doesn’t mean it can’t be grown using the same standards used to grow certified organic crops, but as things currently stand, you can’t get cannabis or cannabis-related products with USDA organic certifications. What you can get, however, is cannabis listed as natural, authentic, pesticide free, or locally grown, all of which are labels that cannabis companies use to convey their products’ status and quality without using the label “organic.”
How Does A Strain Become Labeled Organic?
Although you might hear or read the term “organic” used to describe cannabis strains, it’s used as a descriptor rather than a legal claim. In fact, it’s sometimes used purely as a marketing term — cannabis that was grown using non-organic cultivation methods may be labeled as organic by an unaware or unscrupulous retailer. It can be used appropriately to refer to how the plant was cultivated, but there’s no legal weight to this use of the term to describe cannabis.
When you want to purchase marijuana or another cannabis product that’s been tested for your safety, you should look for cannabis certified by third-party programs and laboratories, like Clean Green Certified.
The top certifier for cannabis products in the United States, Clean Green Certified was launched in 2004 by Chris Van Hook, a lawyer and USDA-accredited organic certifier. According to its website, Clean Green Certified is the only nationally recognized third-party cannabis certification program in the country. This, however, doesn’t mean it’s the only third-party certification program — Certified Kind and the Cannabis Certification Council are two other organizations dedicated to promoting organic cannabis cultivations practices through their programs.
How Can I Have My Cannabis Product Certified Organic?
As a grower, you can have your product certified by one of these third-party organizations if it complies with their criteria. Currently this will be the closest you’re able to get to having the cannabis you grow labeled as organic. These programs have rigorous standards. For example, to have your product certified by Clean Green, you must:
- Have a legal water source
- Use runoff protection barriers to keep nutrient-rich solution from reaching natural bodies of water
- Use natural pest-control methods like bacillus subtilis, neem and its derivatives, and natural diatomaceous earth
- Use fertilizers and soils approved by the program
Growing cannabis organically doesn’t mean you can only use things like eggshells and coffee grounds to give your plants the nutrients they need — although some growers may believe this is the only way to ensure your crop is organic, remember that it’s only truly organic if the nutrients you use on your plants are also comprised of organic ingredients. You can use compounds designed for organic growing, like Big Bud Organic® OIM, which is certified as 100 percent organic by the California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Input Material Program.
Does Organic Labeling Matter?
Like the decision to eat organic food, wear organic clothing, use organic household cleaning products and apply organic cosmetics, whether it’s worth it to consume or grow organic cannabis is up to you. Educate yourself about the differences between organic and non-organic marijuana by researching and being mindful of the following:
- When consuming organic cannabis, you’re not taking in chemicals that weren’t meant to enter the human body. Cannabis is an accumulator plant, which means it takes in everything that’s in its environment. Fertilizers containing heavy metals or otherwise contaminated soil can accumulate in the plant via its root system. Even water from contaminated soil can be absorbed by the plant. So unless you know exactly which pesticides were used to grow your bud, you could be smoking something treated with powerful pesticides or synthetic compounds used to kill pests en masse in a large-scale grow operation. Remember, even if a compound wasn’t used directly on a plant, it can still contaminate via the instruments used in cultivation, or simply by being present in the plant’s growing environment.
- Organic grow operations are typically better for the environment. When non-organic cannabis is grown outdoors, growing byproducts like metals and nutrient-rich solutions can run off into the groundwater, contaminating local streams and other nearby bodies of water.
A lot of recreational and medical cannabis users also swear by the taste of organic cannabis. This is a personal preference, but it’s not uncommon to hear that organic growing yields a tastier, more fragrant product.
Organic cannabis certifiers do more than just mark the difference between cannabis grown with synthetic compounds and cannabis grown without. They also act as advocates for consumers.
In addition to promoting transparency about growing methods and testing cannabis to ensure its purity, the Cannabis Certification Council works to promote the fair treatment of workers in cannabis cultivation and educate consumers about the products they buy and use. When you buy cannabis certified by this or another recognized organization, you’re buying a product that’s been subjected to rigorous testing to ensure that when you consume it, you’re not also consuming synthetic chemical compounds.