California’s new organic certification plan could help cannabis growers’ bottom line

A plan to roll out a novel organic marijuana certification in California could generate more business opportunities for brands looking to differentiate themselves by charging health-conscious consumers a premium for their products.

With cannabis illegal under federal law, marijuana businesses cannot call products organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s certification program.

So California has proposed its own “comparable-to-organic cannabis standards.”

State regulators are accepting public comment until July 7 on the proposed regulations, which were first reported by Cannabis Wire.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is required to establish by Jan. 1, 2021, a certification program for cannabis that is comparable to the National Organic Program and the California Organic Food and Farming Act.

The statewide certification, dubbed the OCal Program, will be implemented by the CDFA.

The program could spur other states to take similar action.

Under the proposed California regulations, growers can’t deem their cannabis as explicitly organic but can apply the OCal seal if they adhere to the rules, including proper use of approved pesticides and fertilizers.

California would join Washington state as two of the state-legal cannabis markets to consider an organic certification for marijuana products.

“A state-based program will probably instill more confidence,” said Kristin Nevedal, chair and founder of the International Cannabis Farmers Association, based in California.

The term “organic” carries a lot of weight with consumers who are willing to spend a premium for those products. It’s recognizable, Nevedal added, and the branding opportunities are readily apparent.

“‘Organic’: The term is so translatable to the consumer they’re already well-trained in what to expect,” she said.

While California’s cannabis is strictly regulated as is – for example, currently allowed pesticides would pass organic standards, Nevedal said – cultivators could forgo the use of synthetic nutrients and nonorganic fertilizers because they’re already growing clean cannabis.

Some cannabis companies have already been using the consumer appetite for marijuana grown in a sustainable fashion and labeled their products as clean and green to their advantage, according to Nevedal.

She also pointed out that as long as the program is not cost-prohibitive to the industry, it should be well-received.

Nevedal would like to see state regulators offer incentives to participants to help lower costs for testing.

For example, growers who sign up for the program might not be required to have their products tested as frequently if they were willing to provide soil samples.

She also expects to see other more specific standards develop in the future that are already present in mainstream agriculture, such as regenerative organic certification.

Hezekiah Allen, board chair of California cannabis farmer cooperative Emerald Grown, explained that about 6% of food in the United States is organically certified, so organic cannabis could conceivably account for 4%-6% of the market share.

The OCal program might be a good option for cannabis growers looking to tap into that, he added.

“Having the strength and the expertise of the (food and agriculture department) driving that program is going to be a huge breakthrough,” Allen said.

Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected]

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