It’s pretty easy to score organic blueberries or veggies these days. But folks who want to extend those clean-eating sensibilities to their marijuana stash have been less fortunate — until now.
Chris Van Hook, a lawyer and USDA accredited organic certifier, has created the Clean Green Certified program , a niche business that has the potential to sprout a whole new kind of organic industry aimed at pot smokers. The potential is there — depending how the federal government ultimately handles the pot industry — to create a highly lucrative sub-industry within the marijuana trade. After all, it did wonders for the organic food industry. The organic food label helped turn organic natural foods into a $39 billion industry last year.
There’s this whole side issue with cannabis users that unless you know your grower you’re probably buying weed that is contributing to this terribly violent illegal drug trade, Van Hook said in a recent phone interview. And for medical marijuana patients, it’s an issue of what am I putting in my body?
The Clean Green program is modelled after the USDA National Organic program, which involves a lengthy set of protocols. Van Hook carefully screens applicants to weed out the folks who aren’t serious about the certification.
How it works
From there, the program ensures growers have complied with state and local laws, conducts a review of how the plants are grown and completes a standard agricultural crop inspection. The program inspects everything from seed or clone selection, soil, nutrient, pesticides, mould treatment, dust control, the source of electricity used and harvesting and processing methods. Annual inspections are conducted at the growing operations.
In 2008, the Clean Green program certified its first grower. By 2010, it had certified about 60 growers and gave about 8,000 pounds of marijuana the Clean Green seal of approval. Van Hook expects to certify up to 80 growers and as much as 11,000 pounds of marijuana this year. To date, Van Hook’s certification program only operates in California. But he’s fielded inquiries from other states interested in the program and says it could easily transferred elsewhere.
His only caveat: it will have to operated by an attorney:
Because I’m an attorney it allows the entire program to exist, said Van Hook, who also is a marine biologist and former abalone farmer. The only reason growers, collectives and dispensaries even allow me to come and see them is because of the attorney-client privilege. It’s not like these people are growing tomatoes.
Van Hook says eventually marijuana should be regulated just like any other agriculture. But until the federal government takes that step, which isn’t likely, the marijuana trade will operate largely under the radar. Van Hook says that creates a number of problems, including environmental damage.
Intuitively, I thought outdoor growing was better and had a smaller impact than indoor growing, he said. But take a look at the outdoor growing operations that are located on marginal land, up unpermitted roads, where the grower is taking water from a salmon creek. They’re storing the weed in shoddy shelters where they’ll end up losing a lot to mildew and disease. Then they’re driving two to three hours to deliver it. That carbon footprint starts looking pretty big.
You can’t look at Mendocino and Humboldt counties and say marijuana growing industry hasn’t impacted the landscape. When it’s unregulated people can do what they want and say whatever they want about the quality of their product. But it’s entirely possible to grow high quality weed in a regulated environment.
And Van Hook has proof. A Clean Green certified strain of marijuana has taken the top prize in the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup (the James Beard award of the marijuana world) two years in a row.
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