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Monday, August 29, 2011

Is Your Medical Marijuana Organic?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 29, 2011 at 3:15 PM

No such thing -- yet
  • No such thing -- yet

Seeing as how it's a medicine and all, many medical marijuana users prefer -- and indeed, request -- that their smokeable flowers are organic. And seeing as how this is Northern California and all -- the GMO-hating, Alice Waters-loving capital of slow food nation -- most local cannabis growers comply, producing pot free from pesticides and herbicides that burns to a fine gray-white ash (if your pot burns to black, that means there's chemicals in it, according to many a connoisseur).

But is it organic? Yes and no. Just like your table tennis set isn't Ping Pong, for the same reasons and ultimately the same effect.

The word "organic" can only be used by United States Department of

Agriculture-approved entities. So nothing federally illegal is going to

get CCOF-certified anytime soon. That hasn't stopped marijuana providers

from using the word, albeit in different forms: Take Mendocino's own

Northstone Organics. That also hasn't stopped Oakland's Harborside

Health Center from requiring all cannabis sold to the collective be

certified "clean" -- essentially organic.

But no such regulations exist in San Francisco, where patients

nonetheless ask for organic pot by name on a daily basis -- and, at

least officially, can't get it.

In the case of Northstone, the medicine there is "grown with organic nutrients, sustainably," said Matthew Cohen, executive director of the Ukiah-based delivery service, which has patients in San Francisco. "That's what we can say -- we've talked a lot with the lawyers about that one."

Cohen added that the company name is merely that -- a name -- and Northstone cannot legally claim to offer organic cannabis, even if its growing technique and conditions are identical to the organic tomatoes grown down the road.

Patient demand for organic pot is high -- the patient providers (or budtenders, whatever) at Mission Street's SPARC are asked for organic cannabis at least once a day, says Nicholas Smilgys, the dispensary's marketing director. "Our standard response is that the USDA does not currently certify cannabis as organic, but we follow organic growing guidelines," he said. If a grower can't give a full accounting of his or her growing techniques or uses techniques outside the pale, "we generally avoid" that particular marijuana, Smilgys added.

There are some third-party certification organizations, but San Francisco does not require its dispensaries to use them. All medicine sold at Harborside Health Center's locations in Oakland and San Jose, for example, are certified by Clean Green, an inspection company out of Crescent City run by Chris Van Hook, who is also a USDA organic food inspector. Clean Green is also a third-party inspector in Mendocino County, but somehow hasn't caught on in San Francisco -- no dispensaries here use Van Hook's company, which was recently mentioned in the LA Times.

In the lack of regulations, ultimately organic cannabis -- and determining what is organic -- boils down to trust. Northstone Organics is confident calling its medicine organically grown because the company grows all of the medicine it sells, Cohen says. But for your corner dispensary that doesn't use third-party verification, it's all about a patient-provider relationship, according to medical cannabis patient advocate David Goldman.

Don't expect to waltz into your first dispensary and ask the budtender where certain medicine is grown -- you run the risk of sounding like a Fed. Do keep in mind, however, that if a dispensary's doors are open and people are walking in and out of it, plunking down $60 for four grams of cannabis, there's probably nothing wrong with it; would it sell if it made people sick?

Not with 25 other pot clubs competing for the exact same business it wouldn't. "Can we trust a dispensary to tell us the truth? It's something people have to discover over time," says Goldman. But even that isn't necessarily foolproof. "Like any other produce stand, quality of medicine can vary," he adds, noting that connoisseurs may be more interested in knowing more about the dispensary's grower rather than the dispensary -- if the dispensary is at all willing to disclose that info.

So is your medicine organic? Probably. And also, from the government's standpoint, no. No further questions answered.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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