Beyond Organic: How to Shop for Sustainable Cannabis

by HelloMD

For cannabis-friendly environmentalists, it makes sense that we celebrate Earth Day just after 420. In fact, the annual celebrations, both dedicated to green living, seem to sync up more and more each year. With respect to green farmers of all stripes, here are some tips for sourcing eco-friendly cannabis this Earth Day and every day.


Whether you’re newly exploring legal cannabis or you’re a seasoned consumer, identifying sustainable cannabis products is a top priority for many California shoppers. Yet, due to the 3-tier distribution model required by state law, consumers can’t purchase cannabis directly from cultivators. Instead, legal sales must take place at dispensaries or through delivery services licensed for recreational and/or medical marijuana. So staff at dispensaries or delivery services must be prepared to answer a range of questions about their goods, including whether products and brands operate with sustainability and consumer safety in mind.

Cannabis Can’t Be Called Organic

For better or worse, you won’t see organic cannabis at your dispensary or offered by your delivery service any time soon. While many of California’s cultivators practice organic- style farming, the federal government holds the trademark on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Certified Organic designation. This prevents anyone from slapping an organic label on cannabis, until prohibition is lifted nationwide—and who knows when that will happen.

“Consumers want organic; they want GMO-free; they want products produced from sustainable farming methods,” says Rick Bakas, a wine industry marketing professional. Also an advocate for medical marijuana, Rick believes that success in the legal cannabis industry will hinge on sustainability practices. Yet, in order to market a business’s commitment to consumer safety and environmental integrity, these values need to be communicated—but how?


Marijuana Sustainability Certifications to Look For

Over the years, the media has repeatedly characterized cannabis cultivation as either energy-sucking indoor grows or backwoods farms that unleash rodenticides on wildlife. Like any industry, there are good and bad actors. But in 2018, marijuana legalization has emerged as the platform to raise environmental standards of California’s most infamous green industry.

Here are some of the third-party labels you can look for and ask about that identify cannabis products made with sustainable practices.

Beyond Compliant

In lieu of a Certified Organic designation, consulting firms like Hall & Associates in Humboldt County have developed third-party certifications to communicate a cannabis farm’s environmental practices. The company’s founder, Hollie Hall, who holds a Ph.D. in water resources management, helps her clients manage their resources to protect watersheds and wildlife.

By leveraging designations like Hollie’s Beyond Compliant certification, dispensary buyers have a clearer picture of the farm’s environmental practices. The Beyond Compliant name comes from the language of Prop 64, which requires cannabis farmers to be “on the pathway to compliance” in abiding by the state’s new environmental regulations governing marijuana cultivation.

TCC Standards of Sustainability

With a California office in Nevada County, Colorado-based The Cannabis Conservancy also established a sustainability certification. Co-founder and President Jacob Policzer explains that its label, TCC Standards of Sustainability, supports and recognizes cultivators whose agriculture practices are “beyond organic certification.”

Jacob, who studied permaculture in six countries and holds a master’s degree in environmental science, policy and management, believes that third-party certifications will better educate consumers about how their cannabis is cultivated. Using native soils, rainwater catchment, regenerative farming techniques, and eliminating pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are the bedrock standards to achieve this certification.

Clean Green

Another third-party certification you can look for is called Clean Green. The designation has been around since 2014 and certifies a range of products and services based on their sustainability practices. Clean Green has a robust online business directory where you can search for certified cannabis farms, processing companies and dispensaries throughout California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Shopping for Earth Day, Every Day

For consumers shopping in the recreational or medical marijuana marketplace, expect ever-improving standards on the carbon footprint of your cannabis. Leading farms and collectives such as Eel River Organics and Flow Kana are emerging as household names for sustainable cannabis. Look for their products or ask your budtender for cannabis from cultivators with a third-party sustainability certification. At Barbary Coast Collective in San Francisco, the dispensary carries Raw Garden concentrates and Higher Ground rosin, both brands labeled Clean Green.

As the legal cannabis market develops, it’s expected that an industry standard sustainability certification will emerge for consumers shopping for green and beyond organics products. This Earth Day, be sure to ask your cannabis consultant about farms and products that are third-party certified as good citizens of the Earth.

Photo credit: Esteban Lopez

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.