Is Organic Cannabis Certification Coming to Washington State?

Organic cannabis lawsThe Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is getting involved in cannabis regulation, and that could mean a new program for state-licensed producers to certify their cannabis as organically grown. Branding is critical for cannabis business owners, not only to differentiate themselves from other companies, but to assure consumers of the quality of their products. We’ve seen many in the industry grow frustrated by the lack of accountability for pesticides and contaminants in products, and by the inability of business owners to tout their cannabis as organic.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (the “Board”) has already contracted with the WSDA to regulate and test for pesticides and potency, and the WSDA’s budget proposal, submitted to Governor Jay Inslee, includes seeking legislative approval for a state-level, self-supporting organic cannabis certification program. The certification would not use the term “organic,” and would need an “alternative marketing term” due to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) monopoly on setting organic labeling rules.

Labeling a product as “organic” requires a certification, and that certification is granted and regulated by the USDA. Congress set forth general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. Although alternative certifications do exist for cannabis and cannabis products, none are approved by or affiliated with the USDA, and they therefore are not your typical “organic” certification. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, the USDA will not undertake to certify cannabis and cannabis products as organic. And stating that a product (cannabis or otherwise) is “organic” without this certification amounts to illegal false and misleading advertising. See Organic Marijuana: Not Exactly.

Washington would not be the first state to consider tackling the organic certification issue. In February, Colorado lawmakers introduced House Bill 16-1079, which would create a certification program for Colorado cannabis that is pesticide-free. The summary of the bill states that “Because marijuana and hemp are illegal under federal law and federal law governs whether a product can be labeled or advertised as ‘organic’, marijuana or hemp that is cultivated, processed, and sold in accordance with state law currently cannot be labeled or advertised as ‘organic.’” The bill “directs the commissioner of agriculture to promulgate rules governing a program to enable consumers to easily identify medical and retail marijuana and industrial hemp that have been cultivated and processed without the use of pesticides. The department of agriculture will certify third parties who can certify whether the marijuana or hemp cultivated or processed at a particular cannabis facility is free of pesticides, [and the bill would] allow marijuana product labels to include a standardized notification that the marijuana has been certified as being pesticide-free.”

The WSDA already certifies approximately 1,100 agricultural operations in the state of Washington as organic. According to the report, the fee to cannabis business owners for certification would be approximately $1,800, and would provide a “guarantee of integrity,” something that has become increasingly important to consumers with the integration of Washington State’s medical marijuana system into the I-502 recreational marijuana system.

Cannabis consumers are demanding assurance that the cannabis products they purchase and consume are safe and business owners should be able to give that assurance and market their products as organic if they truly are pesticide-free. We see this as a step in the right direction toward a safe and transparent cannabis industry in Washington State, and we will be following the WSDA’s new role in the industry closely and reporting back to you as things (hopefully) change.

For more on organic cannabis and pesticides and cannabis, check out the following: