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California to Create First Organic Cannabis Certification

by Sarah Cawthon July 02, 2020

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, or CDFA, will establish an organic certification program for cannabis by January 1, 2021.

Adding a state-level organic standard to the cannabis industry is a first-of-its-kind effort. The CDFA will establish the OCal Program, a statewide certification that will be comparable to the National Organic Program and the California Organic Food and Farming Act.

Because cannabis is still considered illegal on a federal level, California cannabis is not eligible for the organic label through the US Department of Agriculture. Additionally, according to the proposed California regulations, growers are unable to deem their cannabis as explicitly “organic”.

However, if cultivators are able to grow cannabis under the OCal standards, eligible products will bear the OCal seal. According to the CDFA, the certification will “ensure that cannabis products bearing the OCal seal have been certified to consistent, uniform standards comparable to the National Organic Program.”

In order to obtain the OCal seal, cannabis will need to be grown according to OCal requirements with approved fertilizers and pesticides, for example. Thus, if products are not produced in agreement 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.”

“A state-based program will probably instill more confidence,” said Kristin Nevedal, chair and founder of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, based in California. “The term ‘organic’ carries a lot of weight with consumers who are willing to spend a premium for those products. It’s recognizable.”

Because California’s cannabis industry already has strict regulations in place, currently allowed pesticides would pass organic standards, which means many cultivators are already growing clean cannabis. Many cannabis companies have already been appealing to consumers interest in organic and sustainable products and have labeled their products to reflect that. So, many companies in the state will have no problem obtaining the OCal seal out of the gate.

Kristin Nevedal, chair and founder of the International Cannabis Farmers Association that is based in California has stated that she would like to see “state regulators offer incentives to participants to help lower costs for testing,” adding, “for example, growers who sign up for the program might not be required to have their products tested as frequently if they were willing to provide soil samples.”

Additionally, Sarah Armstrong, the policy chair for the Southern California Coalition, is “supportive of cannabis and cannabis products which take steps to exceed the already strict standards of purity enforced at the state level.”

“Our hope is that the proposed program will be cost effective enough that the cannabis industry can fully participate,” she added. “Right now, testing expenses represent 10 percent 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.”

The CDFA heard from nearly two hundred and fifty stakeholders in the state’s cannabis industry who attended the CDFA’s public OCal meeting in order to better craft the proposed regulations. State regulators are also accepting public comment on the proposed regulations until July 7.

California has the largest legal cannabis market in the US, so the program is likely to set the national standard for organic cannabis and more states could soon follow their lead.

Additionally, California is exploring another first-of-its-kind cannabis program centered around appellations, which would allow for labels detailing the distinct region in which the cannabis originated.

For example, just as the term Champagne is reserved for a certain type of wine grown in a specific region in France, cannabis cultivated in particular regions in California will also bear a certification to reflect that.

Establishing cannabis appellations is part of an effort to curb the misrepresentation of regional products and give notoriety to certain products regions. Furthermore, appellations could help promote local cannabis businesses and might even offer local municipalities another incentive to participate in the legal cannabis market in the state.