Organic cultivation is a hotly contested topic even beyond the cannabis industry. Look no further than the lawsuit brought forth by the Center for Food Safety and farmers from Maine to California, which aims to bar hydroponic cultivators from using the term “organic” on their products.
While the organic label currently only is reserved for hemp farmers (as cannabis with more than 0.3% THC remains on the Schedule I list), the Denver-based Cannabis Certification Council (CCC) is looking to capitalize on the term’s recognition by preparing to launch its own “Organically-Grown” certification.
The “Organically-Grown” standard is an extension of the group’s “What’s In Your Weed?” campaign, which aims to educate consumers on how cannabis is cultivated and how their purchasing decisions impact the environment and their personal safety. Ben Gelt, board chair and co-founder of the CCC, says there is a huge gap in consumer understanding of what it takes to be certified organic.
“One of my favorite little factoids comes from a study done by a woman at Lewis and Clark University in Portland where she went into the retail environment to understand consumer expectations and attitudes. And she found that 55 percent of consumers in Portland, Ore., thought that all marijuana was natural or organic because it’s a plant.”
Gelt believes the “Organically-Grown” certification will help cultivators and retailers sell their products at a premium, as opposed to other certifications currently available that might not have the same consumer recognition.
“As far as I can tell, the challenge has been for all of the seals and all of the standards across the board in cannabis is that not one of them, not one has been able to create a market premium,” Gelt tells Cannabis Business Times. “We think that ‘Organically-Grown’ will differ. The biggest differentiation will be that … we’ll have a clear market value very quickly because people understand what that term means. We’re not going to have to spend a fortune on budtender education or on public education to have people understand it.”
On average in 2018, organic food and beverages cost 24 cents more per unit than conventional food, or about 7.5 percent more, according to Nielsen.
Gelt estimates the cost to get this certification will be in the “thousands of dollars,” but that the premium cultivators will be able to get at wholesale will make it worthwhile.
Setting up this new certification has been years in the making for the CCC, and still more work is needed before the group officially introduces the market to its new standard. The CCC hired a technical standard writer and a technical advisory committee to build the standard’s framework, and there will be two rounds of input where industry stakeholders and the general public can provide feedback on what should qualify as “Organically-Grown.” Gelt hopes to have a first draft ready for comments in April, and have the final draft ready by September.
One feature of the “Organically-Grown” standard that Gelt says will set it apart is its clear delineation from indoor-grown, greenhouse-grown and outdoor cannabis. Each cultivation type will have its own seal distinguishing it from the others.
“There is an ongoing and deeply entrenched fight in the traditional ag world around the issue of hydroponics and greenhouse and indoor cultivation and organic certification,” Gelt says. “We think we’re addressing that fight and not necessarily trying to resolve it for them. Our entire intention here is to bring clarity to the market and help consumers understand what they’re getting and help producers.”