Organic Just Isn’t Good Enough for Cannabis

We have grown accustom to seeing the word “organic” on products from strawberries to milk and beef — but do we really understand what the organic label actually means? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), certified organic products “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.” The keyword here is federal. Cannabis is a Schedule I drug and illegal at the federal level, meaning it is not regulated by the federal government and terms and/or labels certified by the USDA cannot apply. Therefore, any cannabis brand touting their products as organic are, well, inaccurate at best. We will leave it to you to consider the worst case scenario here.

But it isn’t just the labeling of organic that we have beef with. “Natural” is frequently used in advertising as an alternative to organic, but it does not mean pesticide and/or contaminant free. According to the USDA’s definition, natural denotes that it “does not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and the ingredients are only minimally processed. However, they may contain antibiotics, growth hormones, and other similar chemicals.” Additionally, the term was not intended to be applied to production (pesticides included), processing or manufacturing methods. What it boils down to, is that, organic and natural are just two examples of how the cannabis industry’s lack of defined standards is leaving consumers confused and unsure of what they are consuming. These terms are often taken to mean contaminant and pesticide free, when in reality, they fall short of expectations.

The cannabis industry must go beyond mere organic standards to provide for a safe and truly clean experience. Even organic farming principles fail to address all of the needs of this unique plant. Cannabis differs from traditional produce and it can be a lot needier than traditional agriculture. It requires a specific growing environment and it is susceptible to different pests. The biggest differentiator, however, may be the fact that cannabis is consumed quite differently (heated and inhaled) than traditional product, which introduces a whole other layer of things to consider, including how pesticides, even organic pesticides, impact the plant.

Despite only having minimal data, scientists agree that there is a significant difference between inhaling something and eating it due to the fact that inhaling forces the substance to travel directly into the lungs without being broken down by the liver. Not to mention the impact of first heating the chemical before inhaling it. In addition, it is not possible to wash away pesticides from cannabis in the same manner as one would a piece of fruit. In fact, Myclobutanil (a common fungicide used on grapes), actually penetrates the cannabis tissue and is passed on from mother to clone. Because of this, pesticide contamination has become the result of many cloned plants. Furthermore, this fungicide can turn into hydrogen cyanide when heated, which is toxic in even the smallest doses.

Bottom line: What is safe for fruits and vegetables is not necessarily safe for cannabis. Cannabis needs its own set of standards.