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Labeling something organic does not always make it- well, organic. In the food industry, “Certified Organic” products must utilize at least 95 percent ingredients that are free of dyes, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Additionally, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used during processing.

Many businesses are quick to associate their offerings with the organic trend, because it’s an effective way to stand out from competitors. They are also in great demand by health enthusiasts, who are willing to pay a premium price for organic products. “There’s no one stereotype,” explained Bill Eddie, a Seattle-based dispensary employee. “I’ve been asked for organic by everyone from old ladies to hippie kids.”

Making Marijuana Green

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With legalization sweeping the country, cultivators are facing stiff competition from new growers entering the sector. But in order to be able to use the coveted “organic weed” title, growers must have their crops certified by the Clean Green Certified Program.

Very few people have the expertise and credentials needed to officially call marijuana organic. Chris Van Hook is one of the certifiers working around the clock to ensure that organic cannabis is regulated thoroughly. He is a veteran in the certification space, with roughly 14 years of experience as a federal contractor. During inspections, he takes soil samples and checks the plants for inconsistencies. It is not possible to take samples of flowers and leaves because the group can’t send them to a lab located in another state. Currently, there are no local testing facilities that are equipped to handle pesticide residue tests (the organization is based in California, but offers services in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington).

Complex, Organic Factors

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The Clean Green Certified Program is the first of its kind in the cannabis sector. Founded in 2004, there are only seven employees who perform rigorous testing in far-flung, discreet growing houses. The agency had to create their own guidelines to certify marijuana crops, which includes numerous traditional USDA organic standards. For example, Van Hook might look for traces of copper sulfate in the fertilizer or soil. The inorganic compound is mainly used to stop mold and fungus growth in crops. High levels of the compound can be toxic for plants and the surrounding environment.

“A lot of producers are making claims about how their products were grown that are outlandish and just not true,” said John Kagia, the director of industry analytics for New Frontier, a data analysis firm that specializes in medical marijuana.

The certifier’s job gets difficult when there aren’t any foundational guidelines available for assessment. In particular, indoor growing has been questioned recently, due to the consumption of electricity and use of artificial lights. For such inquires, Van Hook decided that cultivators must use solar panels to be able to call their operations “clean” or “green.” When it comes to recycling soil, growers are required to reuse the ingredient or donate it to a community garden.

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