A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." - Aldo Leopold
It’s just about harvest time for outdoor cannabis growers in Maine, and by the end of the month, 14 marijuana farming operations are set to be accredited by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) Certified Clean Cannabis program, otherwise known as MC3.
Now in its second year, MC3 provides third-party verification that a cannabis crop is grown, processed, and handled within guidelines parallel to the federal Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) and the American Herbal Products Association. Those guidelines govern everything from seeds to soil to pest control, and they require rigorous record-keeping.
The “clean” stamp helps establish trust within a nascent industry, growers say. By seeking certification, says Erica Haywood, owner of LoveGrown Caregiver Services in Farmington, “I wanted to go above and beyond in reassuring the families I work with...that what they were getting when they hired me was the best you can get in the state of Maine.” Haywood was an initial 2016 trial participant and is on the MC3 grower advisory board.
Because marijuana is still illegal under federal law, the US government doesn’t recognize it as a legitimate crop for “organic” certification (one more argument for national legalization...). But in Maine and in some Western states where cannabis has been legalized, groups have adopted other terms to signal the same exact thing — that the weed you’re about to smoke was grown according to the same strict standards as the organic broccoli you put in your stir fry last night.
“Cannabis is an emerging cash crop for a growing number of Maine farmers,” MOFGA executive director Ted Quaday said upon the launch of MC3 last year. “A certification program will enable those growers to assure cannabis users that their medical cannabis is grown under strict production standards focused on environmentally sound practices and natural sources of soil fertility.”
While MC3 is focused for now on medical marijuana growers, there’s little doubt that as Maine’s adult-use program gets off the ground (the legislature is expected to take up the omnibus regulatory bill in a special session this month), there will be increased interest in MOFGA’s “clean” certification from all corners. Indeed, MC3 director Chris Grigsby tells the Phoenix that he fields constant inquiries and, “we’re preparing for growth, for sure.” They’re also working on standards to certify processed products (such as edibles or tinctures); right now they inspect raw cannabis only.
Already, the program has more than doubled in size; where five farmers took part in the 2016 trial, 14 are participating during this growing season. When applications for 2018 open in February, Grigsby is anticipating an even more crowded field.
Along the way, hopes John Krueger, a MOFGA board member who helped spearhead MC3, consumers will grow increasingly familiar with the brand — and eventually, they’ll seek out clean cannabis the way they hunt down organic, fair-trade coffee. “We think there always will be room for people who are concerned with the organic label,” he says.
But it’s more than just a selling point — sustainably grown cannabis is a no-brainer from ethical, environmental, and personal health points of view, too. Whether you’re interested in keeping nutrients in the soil or keeping dangerous pesticide chemicals out of your lungs, pot grown according to organic standards is a sounder choice.
Meanwhile, MC3 has been approached to consult on the formation of a new national program, the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC) — formed through the recent merger of the Denver-based Organic Cannabis Association and the Ethical Cannabis Alliance of Portland, Oregon. The natural soap company Dr. Bronner’s is ponying up seed money for the venture. `
“The organic integrity of cannabis is important for health and environmental reasons,” CEO David Bronner recently told Marijuana Business Daily. “Food...and body care products laced with chemicals and synthetic ingredients are increasingly on their way out. People want to buy products they know are good for their bodies, their families, and the earth. Cannabis is no different.”
In Maine, MC3 is providing a way for consumers to choose their marijuana according to that ethos.