Vermont consumers like to know what they’re paying for. This state was first to enforce GMO labeling of certain foods, and in 2016 there were 683 organic food producers in business. But what about cannabis? Since organic certification is federally regulated, it is illegal and punishable by steep fines to market any cannabis product as “organic.” However, many cultivators are working hard to grow their product under the USDA organic standards. If they can’t call their cannabis organic, what are they to do?
Clean Green Certification has a solution. The company is one of many third-party certifiers (but the only one operating nationally with certified companies in six states and Puerto Rico) that have stepped in to fill this gap as the cannabis market expands and more states move towards legalization. Just because the feds won’t do it just yet, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Growers that go through the Clean Green program come out at the end with a different, albeit similar product signifier. They can’t call their product organic, but they can call it Clean Green, and the company uses all of the USDA requirements, as well as a carbon footprint reduction standard in certifying their farms.
While a certification is critical for cannabis consumers who want to know what they’re buying and how it was grown, it accomplishes a lot more than just market differentiation. Chris Van Hook, the founder of Clean Green, believes that certification has the power to elevate the industry into a more socially just and environmentally sustainable enterprise.
“With the legal market, we can now start holding farmers accountable, and farmers can start thinking about sustainability.” Van Hook often cites the power of the customer’s spending dollar in moving markets towards cleaner and safer standards. While the adage “vote with your dollar” has come under criticism as a lackluster political strategy under the Trump administration, it retains its power in such a new marketplace. As Van Hook says, “you’re either working with an organic cannabis or an unknown weed.”
As Vermont growers, processors, and distributors move from the black and gray markets into the legal green zone, who will certify them as organic? The state government certifies food producers, and could develop a program for cannabis, but whether or not they will remains unclear. Given its record with food, Vermont probably won’t dally. The most important part of a Clean Green label, Van Hook says, is that “certification provides recognition to the farmers that are doing the right thing.”
The legally dynamic nature of cannabis businesses in transition brings up many other questions. What of all the people in jail for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses? How can Vermont further its “green boom” without leaving them behind? Van Hook, for one, is “very proud of the California legalization efforts, because they go back and expunge records, and people can apply for release from prison. In every state, it should go retroactive for the small low-level cannabis offense.”