Products grown, manufactured and distributed with organic methods and practices are in high demand. The term “organic” provides consumer confidence in the safety and morality of the products they are purchasing. In turn, operations that comply with all state-mandated guidelines, while working to provide a product that is produced via standardized ecological principles, appeal to that consumer confidence, in addition to having resilient production that can absorb biological shocks and disturbances.
The National Organic Standards Board has defined the “organic agriculture” as: “an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.”
With the above definition, it is important to ask if cannabis can even be grown in an organic manner. Unfortunately, the term organic is often used as a greenwash to attract consumers. While many cannabis patients and consumers are under the impression that the organic label in the cannabis industry is governed by a set of rules and regulations, no guidelines or stipulations exist for cannabis to be produced organically. (There is no federally recognized organic certification for cannabis.) Many steps, however, can be taken to ensure you are using organic practices and methodologies to provide a safe product for consumers.
Without federal regulation, definitions and guidance for production and labeling, cannabis is governed on a loose patchwork of state laws that are often difficult to enforce. Many opportunities exist for businesses in this industry to deceive consumers and regulators.
While hoping for federal assistance is mostly a fantasy, there are positive ways to move forward that will foster the most responsible, honest practices for consumers and workers. Growers must be prepared to speak to every aspect of the cultivation and distribution process, including:
Creating a product with an organic methodology requires an in-depth understanding of the inputs that go into it. When making an infused-cannabis product, organic agricultural practices must be used to grow the flour, sugar and other components for your product to meet organic standards. Every ingredient used should be evaluated for its origin, cultivation process and shelf life.
Quality organic practices begin with having a meticulous and rational cultivation system. Having well-defined operational procedures, standardized across an entire business, will result in the best outcome. While it’s common to have SOPs in place, these SOPs may not be organically sound. An example would be an SOP for managing spider mites that involves dousing the affected area with Eagle 20; clearly, this SOP is not organic (nor is Eagle 20 on Colorado’s list of cannabis-approved pesticides).
State programs need to fund and implement better enforcement policies that ensure consistent third-party sampling is completed, standardized testing facilities are used, and real penalties are incurred when rules are broken. All of these factors benefit industry participants who want to see long-term success for their operation and the industry.
Compliance is a large part of maintaining responsible practices that best exemplify the term “organic.” One of the easiest ways producers can create a product that could (when federal law allows) be considered organic is to adhere to all regulations put forth by the state program. The list of banned pesticides in Colorado and Oregon is comprehensive, and sets forth approved and banned products similar to those approved in organic agriculture.
Producers need to understand what they can and can’t do, and use those practices daily. Within these applied compliance standards, there are other guiding frameworks producers should strive to work within. Using defined good agricultural practices (GAPs), SOPs, and third-party certifications, such as American’s For Safe Access’ (ASA) Patient Focused Certification (PFC), will guide the protocols with which operations should comply.
Working with other industry professionals, and pulling from a long history of sustainable agricultural practices, producers have a plethora of information to use when designing responsible operations. Establishing an integrated pest management (IPM) program is critical to any operation, organic or otherwise. Clean room protocols and disease vector management all support healthy-plant production. Healthy plants are easier to maintain, produce quality yields, and typically cost less to fix when a problem does arise.
The idea of producing an organically sourced product is to provide a high-quality, safe product for consumers while avoiding harm to and supporting biological systems. These benefits support a producer’s bottom line through increasing the efficient use of inputs while creating a product with consumer appeal, as well as furthering the industry’s efforts to do the right thing for people, planet and profit.
The best methods and materials to use in organic cannabis production are neither secret nor in need of innovation. Implementing responsible-cultivation methods used for generations by farmers caring for the longevity of their lands and their customers will be the best way forward.
In a new, federally unregulated industry, consumers need to demand accountability, and producers must demonstrate that accountability through accurate representations of their growing materials and processes.
If there’s a takeaway here for cannabis entrepreneurs and businesspeople looking to get an edge in the ‘organic’ consumer market, it’s this: Standardize operational procedures and systematize every single step of your process to align with growing methods and products that are good for people, planet and your bottom line. Make sure to act appropriately in all levels of compliance that have been set forth by the state program, and advocate for tight oversight and enforcement. This will allow you to look at your operation as a whole and say, “This product is grown using organic methodologies and organic ingredients, every time and without fail.”