Creating a statewide certification program for marijuana production materialized last month in the form of bill ESSB 5131. The legislation allows for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) to create a certification program that follows organic standards issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On May 16, Governor Jay Inslee signed the bill allowing the WSDA to form a voluntary certification program for marijuana production.
The program, established by WSDA, would implement standards for the production of marijuana which would be consistent with requirements from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
The bill is the first in the nation to lay out guidelines for a state marijuana certification program.
Although the program will follow federal organic standards, marijuana products certified by the verging program wouldn’t be referred to as “organic.” Language in the bill specifically prohibits anyone from labeling any marijuana products as organic.
Since the term organic is federally regulated, and the United States Department of Agriculture does not recognize marijuana as a legal agricultural crop, marijuana producers do not have the option of labeling a cannabis product as organic.
WSDA anticipates that creating the certification program “will take several months to develop,” ac-cording to a release issued by WSDA last month. To implement the program, WSDA will need to create rules and develop an alternative marketing claim outside, of organic, for qualified products.
The state will not be offering certification until the program is finalized.
The bill, which goes in to effect July 23, allows WSDA to develop rules, formulate a fee structure to maintain the program’s existence, create an application process, lay out guidelines for inspections, sampling and testing, launch a public awareness campaign, and organize enforcement officials to ensure certified producers are adhering to the program’s standards.
WSDA officials will begin the rule-making process for the new program after the bill goes into effect. The process will include opportunities for public comment. Those wishing to participate as part of an advisory board may contact the WSDA Organic Program at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Producers that go through the certification program will be permitted to label, or claim, that their products “were produced in accordance with the established standards.”
Marijuana producers in Washington do have another option besides going through WSDA’s new certification program. In place of USDA’s organic label, producers can seek third-party certification through such organizations as Clean Green or Certified Kind.
Clean Green or Certified Kind certifications are issued under a similar process to the USDA organic certification. Clean Green’s certification is modeled on national and international sustainability, organic, and biodynamic program standards through on-site inspections and third-party lab testing.
Certified Kind’s certification process also takes USDA organic standards in to account for its certification process.
In Klickitat County, JV Ranch (an Initiative 502 producer) based out of Goldendale, is currently operating under Clean Green certification. “They don’t really limit what you can feed your plants, but they do strictly limit what you can put on your plants to control bugs, mold, and bacteria,” explained JV Ranch owner Johnathan Vanella.
According to Vanella’s observations, selling cannabis that’s certified with an organically grown equivalent doesn’t fetch a higher price from retailers or buyers. “Based on results, I feel like 75 percent of people don’t care. So, often it comes down to price.”
“The market is extremely saturated with product,” he said. “I have not been to one [marijuana retailer] where they have an organic section. It’s not like the grocery store.”
“I do believe it’s a good thing,” Vanella added, referring WSDA’s creation of a certification program. “I’m glad that they are going to provide that service when it becomes available. I personally think it’s going to take a while. I can’t say that I wouldn’t do Clean Green any more, it’s really can we afford to pay [WSDA’s] fees.”
Currently, WSDA has an existing Organic Certification Program for organic crops, organic livestock, and handlers of organic products. WSDA’s existing Organic Certification program is the largest state-run certification agency in the country, and was established 30 years ago.