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The Organic Certification of Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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flower inspect

News of potentially harmful pesticide use on cannabis grown in Colorado, along with new legislation in California that would develop guidelines for pesticide use, highlight the need to cultivate cannabis that is not only safe to consume, but also environmentally friendly. Cannabis cultivation is a rapidly expanding industry and as growers scale up their operations, the question of sustainability remains.

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Chris Van Hook performing a routine inspection of a Clean Green Certified crop

Clean Green Certified is a third-party certification program that incorporates aspects of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), international organic programs and sustainable farming practices. Cannabis is not eligible for USDA organic certification because it is not a federally recognized crop, so Clean Green Certified is the closest certification nationally available. More than 200 cultivators are currently Clean Green Certified in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Nevada.

Chris Van Hook, attorney and founder of Clean Green Certified, started the program in 2004 out of requests from growers to certify their cannabis as organic. Van Hook has decades of experience working in environmental law and USDA organic certifications. “About 95% of the Clean Green Certification is based on the USDA’s NOP,” says Van Hook. “The Clean Green Certified cannabis farmer would be eligible for an organic certification as soon as it becomes available, so we are helping the industry get accustomed to the regulations, inspections, and audits that come with getting organically certified.”

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A close-up of an outdoor Clean Green Certified crop

Getting Clean Green Certified requires an initial application. Upon inspection, Van Hook’s program examines all the inputs, including water and energy usage, nutrients, pesticides, and soil, along with inspecting the actual plants for agricultural vitality. “We follow the plants from seed to when it is harvested, checking for clean surfaces and containers, as well as drying, curing, trimming, and processing practices,” says Van Hook. “Just like organic farming, the cultivator needs to be an engaged manager and heavily involved with the plants. Much more monitoring is involved to prevent pest problems from getting out of control without using pesticides.”

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Van Hook inspecting the flowers on an outdoor plant

The initial screening process takes into consideration traceability and legal compliance, which in cultivation and processing alike is an eligibility requirement. “We use USDA organic standards as guidance for processor facility reviews as well, which include concentrates and edibles manufacturers, breaking it down to labeling, food handling, standard operating procedures, mock recalls, and more,” says Van Hook.

“In a market so used to a lack of oversight, there definitely are some challenges, but we are bringing the necessary agricultural and food handling regulations into the cannabis industry,” adds Van Hook.

The option to grow organically and acquire a third party certification for it can benefit cultivators across the country looking to market their product as environmentally sustainable and pesticide-free.