The outbreak of vape lung in 2019 woke cannabis consumers up to what’s really in their weed. The hippie culture around marijuana made consumers feel it was a natural and clean product. But the truth is that as the legal industry exploded, growing practices have become more industrial.
Many cannabis growers use pesticides and fungicides to keep their crops free of pests, an ever-present problem for growers. Academic studies have shown pesticide residue in cannabis smoke. And while your liver can filter out toxic substances, smoke inhalation bypasses the liver so the chemicals hit your blood and brain without any filtration. Consumers have woken up in a big way to what they are putting in their bodies along with weed.
“There was so much excitement right away about the plant and the medicinal value when it was legalized,” Andrew Salini, COO of Verde Natural, says. “But there wasn’t as much talk about how it is cultivated … and how it is extracted, to get that flower that you’re buying into that vape pen or that edible.”
Consequently, consumers have turned toward organic cannabis—and the growers are listening. According to CannaSafe, a cannabis quality tester in California, in 2018, 25 percent of marijuana contained an unhealthy amount of pesticide. In 2019, that amount dropped to under three percent. Growers like Verde Natural, Pot Zero and Trail Blazin are stepping up to meet the demand for organic products. They don’t use pesticides or fungicides, and they follow organic growing practices.
Let it Be Green
“You’re not trying to play God and you’re not just trying to create really high yields,” Salini said. “You want to let the plant express its natural genetic potential.”
The newest trend for organic cannabis is going solventless for the popular vape products. Last year, black market vape solvents with vitamin E were the main cause of the vape-related illnesses. Now, more conscientious providers and consumers are looking for products without toxic solvents. According to Salini, it’s a major growth area for the industry.
“Why would I grow something with an organic process in living soil, and then expose it to chemicals and hydrocarbons for extraction?” he said. “We are turning toward ice water purification to get the true representation of the plant in the resin.”
Is Organic Still Organic Without The Label?
But even with all this time, effort, and concern, growers can’t call themselves organic. The USDA owns organic designations and the federal government still designates cannabis illegal, so a true organic label—akin to the ones you see at Trader Joe’s, for instance—is unlikely to appear on your joints anytime soon.
Instead, a deluge of third-party verification organizations have descended upon the industry. Earlier this year, the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC) announced an industry-wide certification program for indoor, greenhouse, and outdoor products and byproducts called #Whatsinmyweed. The CCC estimates it will take six months to develop the standard.
There’s also the veteran 10-year-old Clean Green Certification, which audits producers and growers in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and Canada, using USDA organic standards. And many other standards have sprung up around the industry, including Certified Kind and Dragonfly Earth Medicine.
However, some governments are moving toward regulations for organic cannabis. Canada, as the first nation to legalize recreational cannabis, is creating an organic nationwide standard. In the United States, CBD can now be labeled organic after the legalization of hemp in the Hemp Farming Act of 2018. And the California Department of Food and Agriculture will establish an organic certification for cannabis by 2021.