If there’s an industry poised to embrace the hippy-dippy ideals of environmental friendliness embodied by the USDA organic label, it’s recreational cannabis. Unfortunately, the USDA, along with the rest of the federal government, has yet to recognize cannabis as a legitimate agricultural crop. Environmentally-friendly growers have thus been forced to do without the organic label, as well as the increased credibility and distinction that comes along with it.
While several cannabis-friendly states are busy considering their own programs to certify organically grown cannabis, several third-party certification services have already swooped in to fill this need themselves—a need for accountability and transparency that benefits both grower and consumer. The only difference is in how they do it.
Clean Green Certified
The largest nation-wide cannabis certification service is Clean Green Certified, founded in 2004 by Chris Van Hook, whose past experiences as a lawyer, an organic certification inspector and an abalone farmer all proved invaluable in formulating their certification standards.
The program is modeled after USDA organic, with added requirements for sustainable water and energy use. The certification process includes the initial application, an input review, an onsite inspection and laboratory testing for pesticides. Farmers must have a legal source of water with runoff protection, and be in compliance with state laws to receive certification.
Clean Green also offers separate certifications for products found to facilitate sustainable cannabis farming, and for cannabis processors with a proven ability to keep conventional and certified cannabis separate. Benefits include legal consultation services and easy access to an internal network of other cannabis businesses and experts.
The program has a seven percent failure rate, and certification comes with an annual charge of $2200, plus a per-pound fee for growers outside Washington State that goes towards consumer outreach—so more customers will know what Clean Green is, and why it matters.
The Cannabis Conservancy
The Cannabis Conservancy’s (TCC) standards for sustainable cannabis certification are built around seven chief principles—policy and implementation, land and infrastructure, chemical-free cultivation, harvest and processing, water conservation, energy efficiency and waste reduction.
Though these standards are universal, and published on their site for transparency’s sake, TCC also requires and assists each growing operation to create and maintain a streamlined, cost-effective Quality Management System (QMS) that safeguards the quality of their products. The cost of certification (which covers a single year for individual growers and five years for grower groups) depends on the size of the farm and starts at $2,000 for operations under 2,000 square feet—plus travel and accommodation costs for an onsite auditor.
TCC has also established their own Quick Response (QR) Code system that redirects consumers who scan the code on their cannabis to the grower’s webpage. Though a few dozen growers are well on their way to certification, TCC-approved cannabis has yet to make it to pot shop shelves.
The former-USDA organic inspectors that founded Certified Kind in 2014 modeled their rules of cannabis production after international norms of organic farming, then tacked on new stipulations to address concerns of fair labor and energy conservation for indoor grows. Certification is available for industrial hemp, as well as recreational and medical cannabis products.
Like their competitors, Certified Kind assists growers in enhancing nutrient cycling, eliminating harmful additives and developing plans for farm management and consistent recordkeeping. A first year cost of $1800 plus travel expenses covers inspection and certification. Certified companies are then charged a flat annual rate of $1800, or $1500 for growers with fewer than 50 plants.