Medicinal-marijuana growers troubled at lack of organic oversight

USDA doesn't count pot as a legal crop, which is a major road block to certification Organic medicinal marijuana doesn't exist — at least not in any official sense.

Posted Aug. 15, 2011 at 12:01 AM

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Want to buy organic carrots? No problem. Organic strawberries? Widely available. Organic honey? Try your local grocery store. But organic medicinal marijuana? Doesn’t exist — at least not in any official sense.
Organic crops and products are certified by private agencies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a program developed after decades of advocacy by organic farmers and their allies. Pot — medicinal or otherwise — need not apply.
“What the USDA doesn’t recognize as a legal crop, we can’t certify because we’re certifying to their standards,” said Jane Wade, development specialist at Santa Cruz, Calif.-based California Certified Organic Farmers, the largest organic certification agency in the country. “That leaves medical marijuana out in the cold.”
It also puzzles consumers interested in making sure they’re not ingesting pesticides or other toxins along with their chosen pain reliever.
Wade, who gets calls about organic marijuana certification “a few times a month,” said people are frustrated by her response.
“They ask, ‘Why can’t you fix this?’ “she said.
Wade said California Certified Organic Farmers worked for nearly three decades to get the USDA program in place. She suggested the medical marijuana community can take action as well.
“The path is already trodden,” Wade said. “As long as they don’t call it organic, there’s no reason they can’t adopt the rules already in place.”
That’s just what Crescent City, Calif., lawyer and USDA organic inspector Chris Van Hook thought when he was approached about the question in 2003.
Van Hook has launched a certification service called “Clean Green.” Modeled on the USDA program, Clean Green certifies cannabis crops are produced to similar standards. As a lawyer specializing in medical marijuana law, Van Hook also provides review of legal compliance, and the shield of attorney-client privilege to ensure an open discussion of issues.
Van Hook said it’s crucial for the survival of medical marijuana to develop standards since no official agency is taking on the task.
Though California law permits the cultivation and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, like the USDA, doesn’t regulate it.
“We regard this as a law enforcement issue,” said California agriculture department spokesman Steve Lyle.
Van Hook said because the industry is unregulated, anything can get into the “stream of commerce.”
He pointed to examples from his own inspections of crops growers said were organic. There was the woman who wanted to know if it was OK to use human manure for fertilizer, and the guy who set off a bug bomb in a small indoor grow room a few days before harvest. On one farm, dust from piles of chicken and goat manure was blowing onto sticky buds.
“We’re just one spinach fiasco from the hand of Thor coming down,” Van Hook said.
Colin Disheroon, the founder of Santa Cruz Mountain Naturals, also is concerned with the lack of standards. The recently opened dispensary in Aptos, Calif., is the only one in Santa Cruz County with Clean Green certification.
Disheroon said he is unable to stock only Clean Green certified cannabis due to insufficient supplies, but everything sold at the dispensary is tested at SC Laboratories in Capitola, Calif.
SC Laboratories, which opened in April, also is on the cutting edge of industry self-regulation. It’s one of a handful of labs in the state that tests medical marijuana for mold, mildew, pesticides and potency.
Disheroon favors putting regulations into place to build patients’ confidence and provide standards that he hopes will lead to national reform.
“This is an industry where we’re really at the front edge of regulation right now,” Disheroon said. “If this industry is going to emerge into the light of day across the nation, it has to have the right things in place for that to happen.”

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