Is Organic Cannabis Certification Coming to Washington State?

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The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is getting involved in cannabis regulation, and that could mean a new program for state-licensed producers to certify their cannabis as organically grown. Branding is critical for cannabis business owners, not only to differentiate themselves from other companies, but to assure consumers of the quality of their products. Weve seen many in the industry grow frustrated by the lack of accountability for pesticides and contaminants in products, and by the inability of business owners to tout their cannabis as organic.

The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (the Board) has already contracted with the WSDA to regulate and test for pesticides and potency, and the WSDAs budget proposal, submitted to Governor Jay Inslee, includes seeking legislative approval for a state-level, self-supporting organic cannabis certification program. The certification would not use the term organic, and would need an alternative marketing term due to the U.S. Department of Agricultures (USDA) monopoly on setting organic labeling rules.

Labeling a product as organic requires a certification, and that certification is granted and regulated by the USDA. Congress set forth general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. Although alternative certifications do exist for cannabis and cannabis products, none are approved by or affiliated with the USDA, and they therefore are not your typical organic certification. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, the USDA will not undertake to certify cannabis and cannabis products as organic. And stating that a product (cannabis or otherwise) is organic without this certification amounts to illegal false and misleading advertising. See Organic Marijuana: Not Exactly.

Washington would not be the first state to consider tackling the organic certification issue. In February, Colorado lawmakers introduced House Bill 16-1079, which would create a certification program for Colorado cannabis that is pesticide-free. The summary of the bill states that Because marijuana and hemp are illegal under federal law and federal law governs whether a product can be labeled or advertised as organic, marijuana or hemp that is cultivated, processed, and sold in accordance with state law currently cannot be labeled or advertised as organic. The bill directs the commissioner of agriculture to promulgate rules governing a program to enable consumers to easily identify medical and retail marijuana and industrial hemp that have been cultivated and processed without the use of pesticides. The department of agriculture will certify third parties who can certify whether the marijuana or hemp cultivated or processed at a particular cannabis facility is free of pesticides, [and the bill would] allow marijuana product labels to include ...

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