Organics & Sustainability in the World of Cannabis & Hemp

Do you know where your cannabis or hemp is coming from or how it was grown? Do you want to know? 

As more states in the US pass laws that allow for medical and recreational cannabis cultivation, the question arises as it would with any other major agricultural crop: What about organic options? Beyond that, what about the sustainability of cannabis cultivation and production? These questions are paramount at a time when our world is ecologically suffering due to over-farming, harmful chemicals or pesticides, and pollution.

As it is right now, there are no organic certification programs within the regulated cannabis industry of the United States. While cannabis testing can be stringent in many states where the plant is legally sold, the need for organic cultivation standards stands out as a missing piece. (If you are interested in the testing standards for Cannabis state by state, check out Leafly’s handy guide here, published in 2020 – it’s only missing a few of the states that passed legalization in November 2020)

We’ve gathered important information about the future of organic certification and sustainability within the cannabis space along with input from industry leaders who are at the forefront of big changes in the near future.

The Importance of Organics & Sustainability

It may seem obvious, but we are at a pivotal time in our history when it comes to the future of our planet. We must collectively work towards greener options when it comes to the cultivation and manufacturing of our favorite products before its too late.

We asked one of our favorite vendors, Karina Primelles of Xula Herbs, for a comment on the importance of organic standards and sustainability within the industry and we think that her comments deeply resonate:

“Setting organic standards is a key way of ensuring we have farming practices that cause less overall pollution, promote biodiversity, and yield a flower that is ultimately safer to smoke and ingest. That said, there are many practices that while organic, are not sustainable and given the state of our planet we must start pushing for organic practices that are sustainable as well. 

All areas of the cannabis industry need to shift towards being more sustainable. This includes cultivation, manufacturing, packaging, down to hiring hiring practices, and our work life relationships. When it comes to outdoor cultivation, a transition from organic to regenerative farming practices should be the norm. It would behoove us all to not only strip from our lands, but also care for it so that it thrives beyond our cultivation demands. 

With indoor cultivation, we’d love to see more sustainable energy sources going into our ballasts and lighting systems allowing the plants to grow well while preserving energy. We want to aggressively reduce and/or eliminate plastic-based packaging which with the sweeping legalization and legislation, has increased for most cannabis products.”

Now is the time to start thinking about what is best for the future of our planet and ourselves. It’s important for us to have an understanding of where our cannabis or hemp products come from so that we can support forward-thinking companies that are both conscious and sustainable.

Why is there no “Organic” in Cannabis?

Cannabis being federally illegal is the sole reason that there are currently no USDA Organic certification standards for the cultivation of cannabis (check out this recent article about the Biden administration’s stance on legalization). This means that it is up to each individual state to create its own set of guidelines and rules around what is considered organically grown cannabis and what is not. No matter the state, the caveat remains: regulated cannabis can’t be deemed “Certified Organic,” instead it can only be deemed “Comparable-to-Organic.”

Not surprisingly, California, aka the state that buys and sells the most commercial cannabis, is leading the way in terms of a “comparable to Organic” certification. This seems right on time (or way overdue!) as the California cannabis market is set to gross billions of dollars of revenue in 2021 and is continuing to grow exponentially every year. The certification program currently in progress is called OCal and as of April 2021, it is still open and in the rule-making process. It is intended to be ready for Fall harvest in 2021 though which is incredible exciting news! To quote Rebecca Foree of the CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing sector of CDFA:  

“Once the rules are approved, certifiers accredited and/or registered with the OCal Program may offer certifications. When the rulemaking process will end is difficult to predict, but the California Department of Food and Agriculture hopes to accredit and register OCal certifiers in time for them to certify fall cannabis harvests.”

When asked if she was aware of any other states establishing similar programs she also commented that the CDFA was not aware of any other similar programs. Along with many conscious cannabis consumers & producers, we eagerly await for what the future holds in terms of this California program, as it may blaze the trail for other states. 

What About Organic Hemp or CBD Products?

There’s better news on this front. Due to the federal legalization of Hemp in 2018, state farms with proper registration, license, and permits can cultivate hemp. Because of its federally legal status, the plant is also available for USDA Organic certifications. This means that it is possible for CBD companies to declare their products organic and in a market that is completely saturated at the moment, this could easily set these companies aside and put them at the forefront of the conscious consumer movement.

Does Organic = Sustainable?

You might already know the answer to this one:  Not necessarily.

While we’re excited to see both cannabis and CBD industries progress in the direction of organic certifications, but the sustainability and carbon footprint of the cultivation and manufacturing is still a concern. It’s safe to say that sustainability has long been an issue skirted around by industry leaders who forge ahead in expanding their cultivation and production sites despite concerns around the effect on land sites, the amount of waste that accumulates, and the impact on the immediate environment and its inhabitants.

While it is necessary to have a set of organic standards in place that support the cultivation of cannabis and hemp without synthetics and heavy duty pesticides, we are equally eager to see more regenerative farming practices come to the forefront of the industry. We recently asked one of our CBD vendors at Vitae, Sally Boyd of Marigold Botanicals, what aspects of the cannabis & hemp industries she felt needed to shift in a more sustainable direction:

“I’d like to see industries coming together to find a way to utilize all aspects of the hemp plant. Hemp can be used in so many different ways! From biofuels, to building materials, clothing, paper, packaging that is plant based instead of plastics, to nutritional and medicinal benefits, it is an amazing plant. If there were more connections between industries, farmers could send the parts of the plants they do not use to a place where they would be used.”

We love this concept of using the entirety of the plant from stem to leaf. This practice is just one of the ways that manufacturers can focus on sustainability for the sake of our planet.

Who is Leading the Way?

Some cultivators are already established in regenerative practices and are leading the way for others. We connected with Darren Strong of Coastal Sun Cannabis brand, a “comparable to organic” and regenerative cannabis company based out of Santa Cruz, CA. When asked why he believes in the importance of organic and regenerative cannabis farms vs. simply “organic” cannabis, this was his heartfelt response:

“Regenerative Organic Agriculture is the process of restoring naturally abundant microbial life to the Earth’s crust using intelligent cropping methods. These lifeforms lock carbon and water vapor into the ground where it belongs. When a balanced soil carbon sponge is active, the Earth has the ability to initiate cooling humidity cycles to control wildfires and other cataclysmic events. 

The crazy fire seasons we’ve seen in California will continue to worsen until humanity ceases conventional farming practices. Cannabis is a unique opportunity for learning these innovative regenerative cropping systems. The plant is so responsive to many factors, which give us amazing data and a wide berth for trialing experiments we’d not dare attempt with traditional crops.  The opportunity to use this plant to heal the planet is beyond coincidence, it’s destiny.” 

We could not agree more.  Here’s to a more sustainable and conscious future for cannabis – and the world.

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