Add the word “organic” to the list of things caught between states that have legalized cannabis and the federal government that hasn’t. In short, state-legal cannabis cannot be considered “organic,” as bestowed by the US Department of Agriculture, because these plants are illegal from the perspective of the federal government.
But regulators in California, the largest legal cannabis market in the world, have taken matters into their own hands with the unveiling of their OCal Program. The statewide certification, for which draft regulations were released on Thursday, will “ensure that cannabis products bearing the OCal seal have been certified to consistent, uniform standards comparable to the National Organic Program,” according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The state also opened a public comment window on the proposed rules, which will remain open until July 7.
Despite the legalization of cannabis for adult and medical use in states from coast to coast, this is a first-of-its-kind effort to establish a state-level organic standard for cannabis. And, as California has the nation’s largest cannabis cultivation footprint, this program will likely set the national standard, and lead the way for states that choose to follow.
To craft these proposed rules, the CDFA heard from roughly 250 cannabis stakeholders from across the state that attended the CDFA’s five public OCal meetings, Rebecca Forée, CDFA spokesperson in the CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division told Cannabis Wire. Those stakeholders included cannabis cultivators, distributors, certifiers, and policy analysts, local and state government officials, agricultural policy groups, the organic industry, and the waste-hauling industry. (Read Cannabis Wire’s previous coverage of the OCal meetings and process.)
While cannabis business owners cannot distinguish their cannabis products with certification from the National Organic Program, the OCal program is considered “comparable,” and cannabis products that meet the requirements will bear an OCal seal. It’s important that cannabis business owners don’t actually call their products “organic.” According to the proposed rules, “Cannabis operations are prohibited from selling, labeling, or referring to their products as organic.”
But as long as the cannabis is grown according to the OCal requirements, only with approved fertilizers and pesticides, for example, they can include the OCal seal.
As such, if products aren’t produced in accordance with OCal standards, “No cannabis or non manufactured cannabis product shall be advertised or labeled OCal or similar terminology that leaves in doubt whether the product is being sold, labeled, or represented as certified pursuant to the requirements,” according to the proposed rules.
The Mendocino Cannabis Alliance, which represents cannabis businesses in Mendocino County, in the famed Emerald Triangle region of northern California, told Cannabis Wire that its policy committee will “provide meaningful comment on the proposed regulations before the public comment period ends in July.”
Sarah Armstrong, policy chair for the Southern California Coalition, the largest cannabis trade association in the region, told Cannabis Wire that the organization is “supportive of cannabis and cannabis products which take steps to exceed the already strict standards of purity enforced at the state level.”
Armstrong continued, “Our hope is that the proposed program will be cost effective enough that the cannabis industry can fully participate. Right now, testing expenses represent 10% of the cost of product production, resulting in an exceptionally pure product at no small expense. Hopefully the Organics Program can work with cultivators to develop methods which ensure the program safeguards purity in a cost effective manner.”
Another first-of-its-kind cannabis agriculture program that California is spearheading is around appellations, similar to wine appellations, which will allow for the clear labeling of cannabis that originated in a specific region, for example, Humboldt. Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of appellations here and here.