Do you know what’s in your weed?
For the majority of cannabis consumers, the answer is a resounding no — despite claims from dispensaries, cultivators, or makers of derivative goods (i.e. edibles, topicals and tinctures).
The Cannabis Certification Council (CCC) asked this very question in its initial launch campaign. A cornerstone and continued message for the nonprofit #WhatsInMyWeed aims to make the connection clearer between organic, fine foods and cannabis. It’s a still-necessary reminder that shoppers place priority on buying only-organic, fair trade, cage-free, and grass-fed (the list goes on …) at the grocery store, yet when it comes to cannabis, there is far less concern about transparency and quality of what people are inhaling and ingesting.
In December at the annual MJBizCon in Las Vegas, the Denver-based standard-holding body quietly announced an industry-wide cannabis certification program. This in-depth, years-in-the-works labeling system will apply a CCC “Organically Grown” sticker on qualifying products in addition to all cannabis labeling already required by law, which varies by state.
Embarking on the project last month, the CCC estimates the standard will take at least six months to develop and will involve a public input period that is required of all highly rated certifications. The standard will feature varying labels for indoor, greenhouse and outdoor hemp and marijuana production as well as cannabis-derived byproducts. Once in place, Organically Grown applicants will have to go through a monthslong process including multiple inspections in order to obtain the certification.
“The bulk of the problem the industry has been up against lies in false organic claims,” explains Amy Andrle, co-owner of L’Eagle, a vertically integrated marijuana company in Denver and CCC founding board member. “Certification will help to clarify the market and inform consumers about what they are buying. And as the first cannabis label that everyone can clearly understand, a premium can be applied to certified products in the legal marketplace.”
Before it was known as CCC, the organization was originally conceived in 2015 as the Organic Cannabis Association by co-founder and current board chair Ben Gelt. Realizing the synergy between its mission and that of the Portland-based Ethical Cannabis Alliance, the two organizations merged in 2018, officially forming the CCC to make their master plan a reality for the entire industry.
Leslie McAhren, who’s worked as the director of research and executive director at CG Corrigan for nine years, is using her role in CCC’s Cannabis Sustainability Workgroup as part of her doctoral degree program at the University of Colorado School of Public Health.
“Growing clean cannabis has been something we’ve (CG Corrigan) been practicing for years, but converting this knowledge into a policy standard is the best way to protect the public’s health and to inform consumers nationwide,” McAhren says. “Honestly, an organic standard is a natural progression for the cannabis industry and sustainable production.”
Comparatively, “USDA Organic”— the most widely known label applied to food and other agricultural products — considers hemp under its certifying umbrella as a result of the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp growers in the U.S. can now cultivate under certain regulated situations with the USDA National Organic Program confirming that hemp managed organically can be certified organic.
Gelt believes that hemp’s increasing acknowledgment by the USDA will only help CCC’s cause.
“We are excited by this news because any effort to help drive transparency and greater consumer choice in cannabis is aligned with our mission,” Gelt says. “The ‘Organically Grown’ standard will hold up to any and all scrutiny and will serve cannabis consumers well in making more informed choices about the products that they purchase.”
According to McAhren, published scientific literature has already identified pesticide residues in cannabis smoke (flower). As concentrates and edibles become more popular, it’s important to understand pest management (pesticide use) practices in all facets of the cultivation and production process.
“I am anxious for the organic standard to prioritize integrated pest management and to have the EPA and USDA (not just the DEA) involved in pyrolysis (breakdown of larger molecules into smaller molecules in the presence of heat) studies and the regulation of cannabis,” McAhren adds. “This will allow us to best explore the human health effects of pesticides used in cannabis cultivation.”
The new certification has been made possible by five founding sponsors including L’Eagle, CG Corrigan, and House of Cultivar. Organically Grown will complement already-existing clean cannabis certifications including Sun + Earth, Envirocann, Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards and The Cannabis Conservancy with ongoing fundraising initiatives.
“This big cannabis social experiment is still in its earliest form, and there are a lot of gray areas that still need to be defined,” says Matt Gaboury, owner of House of Cultivar, a large-scale indoor cannabis farm in Seattle. “One of the many holes is a lack of agreed-upon industry standards for certification of clean, organic and sustainable cannabis. Banding together now to set the foundation will effect future rules and regulations, and ultimately, have a global impact.”