Inside Pesticide-Free Certification Program for Pot Grows

As commercial marijuana grows in Colorado continue to receive plant quarantines and product recalls over the use of potentially harmful pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, one industry group is trying to ensure safe growing practices. The Organic Cannabis Association's pesticide-free certification program will test participating grows for residuals of harmful pesticides and award scores based on the products used at the grow.

"We view cannabis producers as just another set of farmers," says John-Paul Maxfield, chairman of the OCA. "This is our first step toward building a larger organic certification."

Maxfield, the founder and CEO of a sustainable agriculture business in Colorado, started the OCA in 2014 after seeing the word "organic" thrown around loosely in the marijuana industry. Because marijuana is federally illegal, and the USDA — a federal institution — administers organic certification for farmers, marijuana businesses were unable to apply for certification. But they were also able to use the term, because the federal regulators can't touch them.

"We knew there was a consumer demand for organic cannabis, but a lack of a true market," Maxfield says. "We hope to have a process to certify organic growers soon, but the pesticide issue was the lowest-hanging fruit right now and the biggest place to start to drive change."

The change can't come soon enough for consumers. On Friday, March 11, the Colorado Marijuana Enforcement Division announced that Boulder dispensary The Farm and Lyons dispensary Headquarters Cannabis Co. both had cannabis recalled because of high levels of avermectin — a banned insecticide found in Avid and Lucid chemical products. It was the ninth marijuana product hold or recall announced by the MED, and there have been dozens more courtesy the Denver Department of Environmental Health since last March.

In order to complete the OCA's pesticide certification, plants must have zero residual pesticides at harvest, and grows that only use products approved by the Organic Material Review Institute will receive higher marks, Maxfield says. Any products used that are banned by the Colorado Department of Agriculture will also mean failing marks.

The state addressed the issue last November when Governor John Hickenlooper's office called unapproved marijuana pesticides "a threat to public safety." Last month, Colorado state representatives Jonathan Singer of Longmont and KC Becker of Boulder proposed House Bill 16-1079, which would set up a certification process through independent organizations that would test medical and recreational marijuana and industrial hemp from pesticides and other contaminates. 

OCA boardmember Ben Gelt says that he has had discussions with legislators about working with the state to monitor growing practices, but thinks the bill is more focused on organic practices than pesticide regulation. He feels that taking smaller steps is necessary. 

"In cannabis, in particular, there is such a huge gap in consumer education," he says. "There are none of the controls you have in food, alcohol or even diet supplements."

According to Gelt, grows that participate in the pesticide-certification program will be checked regularly by inspectors with at least two years' experience with organic testing and one year of experience related to taking organic tissues. He says the OCA is currently having preliminary discussions with several Colorado grows to begin inspections.

"It might take some time, but the sooner we start looking at sustainable cannabis, the better," Maxfield adds. "It took time with food. People started making organic organizations way back in the early '90s, but it wasn't until 2001 that the USDA created certified organic."

Keep reading for marijuana events:

Enjoy beverages and scientific pot conversation during another session of Frank Talk: The Science of Cannabis this Tuesday, March 15, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Fort Greene. After enjoying happy-hour drinks from 5 to 6:30 p.m., learn about the magical herb from Frank Conrad, lab director of the cannabis testing facility Colorado Green Labs. Admission is free.

Clover Leaf University will offer its Cannabis Breeding 101: Expert Strain Breeding and Genetics class on Tuesday, March 15, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the CLU campus. For $299, students will learn how to manipulate the genetics of cannabis strains and efficiently breed marijuana on any scale.

The Cannabis Clinicians of Colorado's monthly meetings have a new home at the Plaza Building on the Auraria campus. This month's edition will be held on Tuesday, March 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. After the usual snacks, networking and regulation updates, Dr. Michele Ross of the IMPACT Network will explain how cannabis can help curb harmful addictions. Tickets are $15 for CCC members and $30 for non-members.

CLU will also present its Cannabis Business Marketing class on Thursday, March 17, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the CLU campus. Students will learn about marijuana advertising, customer service, sales and public relations in an effort to maximize their share of the growing legal pot market. Registration is $299.

Know of an event that should be in the Cannabis Calendar? Send it to [email protected]
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell

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