Courtesy of Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board
OLYMPIA — Washington tops the country in many organic crops such as apples and pears, and may soon lead the nation in government-sanctioned organic marijuana, too.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation this week to make the Evergreen state the first to recognize organic pot.
The bill directs the state Department of Agriculture to write rules for certifying organic marijuana and to fine growers and retailers who make false claims.
“It’s another way to normalize the industry. To have some oversight for claims being made,” said Lara Kaminisky, executive director of The Cannabis Alliance, which backed the bill.
Marijuana has grown into a $1 billion industry since Washington voters in 2012 legalized recreational marijuana. Colorado voters legalized pot the same day, but lawmakers in that state rejected a bill last year to certify organic marijuana. Opponents said the organic label would imply marijuana has no health affects.
Washington lawmakers approved organic marijuana last month in a wide-ranging cannabis bill. Other provisions received more attention.
WSDA Organic Program Manager Brenda Book said the department probably won’t have a certification program fully operating until the 2019 growing season. Although standard organic farming practices apply to marijuana, WSDA must write a separate state rule because marijuana is illegal under federal law.
“The only reason to develop a state program for marijuana is because of the lack of recognition on the federal side,” she said.
WSDA’s organic-certification program does not receive federal funds, but it does operate under USDA rules. As a result, WSDA won’t be able to label organic marijuana “organic.”
“That would be a problem because that’s a federally regulated term,” Book said.
The department has not suggested an alternative word or phrase.
“If it’s going to work for the industry, they have to get behind it and market it,” Book said.
Kaminisky said coming up with a name and then telling consumers what it means will be a challenge.
“Of course, it would be nice to call it ‘organic,’ ” she said. “To say ‘organic’ would immediately resonate with people.”
Washington ranks behind only California is the farm-gate value of organically grown crops, according to a report by the Washington State University Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Besides apples and pears, Washington leads the country in organically grown sweet cherries, pears, juice grapes, sweet corn, onions, snap beans, potatoes, green peas and eggs, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Unlike with those crops, organic marijuana would be competing for only in-state market share since pot can’t be sold across state lines.
Kaminisky said interest in organic marijuana is high among growers, but it will be interesting to see how consumers respond.
“In Seattle, yeah, they’re maybe more conscious in their buying habits,” she said. “Other areas? I think it remains to be seen.”
Kaminisky said that she hopes WSDA’s organic certification will be another step in bringing marijuana growers into mainstream agriculture.
“I think farmers are going to be surprised about what constitutes organic,” she said. “It might be a wake-up call for them.”