The USDA Organic seal of approval has long reassured health and environmentally conscious consumers that their produce is free of genetically modified ingredients, antibiotics, and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, among other things. But while fruit and vegetable consumers can use the organic label to differentiate between products, consumers of another popular plant--marijuana--don't have that luxury. That's why Chris Van Hook, a lawyer and USDA accredited organic certifier, started the Clean Green Certified program.
The initiative, which began in 2004, uses all the same procedures and protocols as the national organic program. "If the USDA were to say tomorrow that you can get cannabis certified as organic, everyone who is Clean Green Certified could roll right in," says Van Hook.
Growers have to be in compliance with local and state laws, and they have to jump through a number of hoops: a 300 pesticide soil sample test (sent to a federally licensed agricultural lab), a thorough review of crop inputs (i.e. natural pesticides) and a standard agricultural inspection to make sure that plants are disease and mold-free.
As of this year, growers also need to have a carbon footprint reduction plan in place--because as we have noted previously, the cannabis industry uses a huge amount of energy. For an indoor grower, a reduction plan may mean switching to CFL bulbs, solar panels, and recycling potted soils. Outdoor growers can cut down on their footprint by ensuring that their plants are of a high enough quality to make it to market. Otherwise, they may lose a significant amount of their crops to spoilage and mildew--and that means more energy goes into growing a fewer amount of usable plants.
According to Van Hook, this is the only certification program of its kind. The whole thing costs $2,000 annually for a grower, but Van Hook maintains that it's worth it, at least partially because it differentiates growers from their competition. "If you're handling uncertified cannabis, you have no idea when you buy it if it's illegally grown on national forests or if it's cartel cannabis," he says. "In this oversupplied market, a lot of growers are looking for a way to bolster their own compliance and differentiate their product in the marketplace."
So far, Clean Green certifies about 60 growers each year, and the number is growing fast. Clean Green growers are also quickly becoming noticed; for the second year in a row, a Clean Green Certified strain took the top prize in the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup--a big deal in the industry.
The certification initiative is only operational in California at the moment, but Van Hook has plans to expand. With new states quickly approving medical marijuana laws (New Jersey just gave the go-ahead this week), it's likely that there will be plenty of growers--and customers--demanding his services in the near future.