Colorado is Crafting a State Certification for Organic Weed
Do you really know what you’re smoking?
Published on February 21, 2017

“I only smoke organic” may be a phrase we hear a lot more in the near future, and it’ll likely be picked up in Colorado first.

Although it’s still being drafted, a new bill by the Organic Cannabis Association (OCA)—a marijuana consumer group based in the Centennial State—would establish the world’s first government-sponsored organic certification for weed.

At the moment, any pot shop can slap the word “organic” on their buds without any real oversight or verification. We saw this in 2015 during Colorado’s big cannabis pesticide scandal: some companies calling themselves “organic” were caught dousing their plants with synthetic pesticides such as Eagle-20, Mallet, and Avid—all of which are disallowed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

After months of alarming media coverage and losses totaling in the millions, cannabis companies, state regulators, and attorneys finally sat down and started hammering out new pesticide protocols. However organic certification, by and large, hasn’t been included in these talks.

Ben Gelt, one of the founding board members at OCA, is leading the charge for genuine organic weed. Currently OCA works with third-party companies to assess marijuana grows and product manufacturers for independent organic certification. These evaluators test soil, cannabis plants, and products to validate producers’ organic practices on par with federal standards, but none of these seals of approval come with a government stamp.

OCA’s bill will bring the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) into the mix. CDA would outsource organic testing to third-parties much like OCA does, but will bring the weight of state approval with an official CDA blessing on all organic certifications.

Even if the bill passes, Gelt does not see a massive shift toward organic cannabis. “Most growers will remain conventional,” he says, meaning most pot operations will stick to approved synthetic pesticides. Comparing the modern marijuana market to the food industry, he points out that although organic foods are readily available, most people don’t eat organic because they desire food that’s “cheap” and “tastes good.”

“But there is a very significant part of the market willing to pay for things verified as organic, and that they feel better about ingesting,” Gelt says. “Cannabis should be no different.”

Gelt and OCA pushed a similar bill through Colorado’s legislature last year. Unfortunately, the original title of that bill confused some industry leaders, who thought the proposed law would make organic requirements mandatory rather than optional. Without industry support, the bill died, but Gelt resurrected it this year with a new title.

Today, he’s getting support from all sides.

One of the most influential supporters of OCA’s organic bill is Rep. KC Becker (D-Boulder), the Colorado House Majority Leader. Becker sponsored OCA’s bill last year, and she’ll sponsor this year’s version once it’s introduced during the current session.

“Marijuana is unique in that there’s no federal regulations, so none of the federal pesticide laws apply,” Becker explains. “There’s just less science and information out there. There’s a market for those who say, ‘I want a product that’s organic.’”

Even with third-party assessment and assistance from groups like OCA, Colorado’s cannabis cultivators have no standard protocols for what is and isn’t organic. The bill would clarify those standards so everyone is on the same page.

“The feds are not going to develop standards for cannabis” right now, explains Becker. “It has to happen at the state level.”

If Colorado passes the organic certification bill this year, it could be yet another game changer originating from the first state to legalize recreational weed. Other states could borrow Colorado’s model without needing to reinvent the wheel, and if cannabis ever becomes federally legal in our lifetimes, the FDA could simply refer to Colorado’s program notes. Time will tell if “smoking organic” can truly catch on.

Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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