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What’s the Deal with Organic Regulation for Cannabis?

organic cannabis
Written by Sarah Friedman

While the standard consumer might not be contemplating whether their CBD oil, hemp flower, or cannabis edible came from an organic source, there is more and more push for better regulatory standards in general, and for organic as well.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about pesticides…

Much like people not considering what might have been sprayed on their hemp bud, most people are relatively unaware of what gets sprayed on all their other agriculturally grown products. While debates tend to go on about just how safe or not safe some of these chemicals are, much of what comes out today looks something like this.

Studies that lead investigators to be concerned about the health issues that are arising from our now-standard growing methods of using tons of pesticides and insecticides to grow our food. this is why a growing number of people are shifting toward organic products, including cannabis.

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Pesticides and Cannabis

Cannabis is not unlike other agricultural products, and farmers looking to get a good haul without spending too much money will generally gladly spray their plants. While there is some amount of regulation in the US regarding pesticides which comes through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since cannabis is still federally illegal, it has no pesticide regulation.

This means no legal limit for the amount of chemicals that can be sprayed on it, or of what, or of how much of the residue can remain on the plant. For those into the organic movement, like myself, this is quite scary to think about. Even standard pesticides with what are considered allowable residues, like bifenthrin, are still considered a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.

How to Regulate Something That Isn’t Federally Legal?

In the States, the question becomes, how does a localized area with legalization, regulate their market within a country that still regulates the product as illegal? And interestingly, the States that have legalized cannabis haven’t exactly gotten together to form a regulation method among themselves.

This means any regulation that does exist, does so by State, and can therefore vary widely between two locations that are legalized. It often means a lack of substantial research that’s generally desirable when setting limits on potentially dangerous chemicals to be ingested. As an example, California and Oregon are bordering States that both allow for legal recreational cannabis.

Yet these two states have drastically different measure for regulation, often looking for entirely different chemicals, and allow for different residue levels on the plants. What’s scary is if you go up to the next state, Washington – also a legal-for-recreational-use state – it doesn’t actually have any regulation for pesticides in place at all!

That’s right, if the good farmers of Washington feel like unloading a case of glyphosate all over their pot plants – they can. And they don’t have to say much about it either. In industries like this that seemingly sprout into existence overnight, gain popularity immediately, balloon out into massiveness, and then have to keep their market share among ever increasing competition, cutting corners has throughout history been quite the norm.

And it often takes a concerted effort by those within the industry, or those who have the power to regulate it, to set at least some standards for the health and well-being of users.

How is California Doing It?

As of right now, California probably has the best system for cannabis regulation in the United States. California also has a dedicated department called the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR). Due to the expertise of this department when it comes to toxicology and risk-assessment, its statewide regulations for pesticides are generally stricter than EPA standards.

They do not allow pesticides if the active ingredient doesn’t meet a specific set of criteria. Plus, the ingredients need to be “exempt from federal residue tolerance requirements or registered for a use that is broad enough to include use on cannabis plants. Pesticides that meet these criteria, such as sulfur, neem oil, and Bacillus thuringiensis, are also common in organic agriculture” (including cannabis).

The state has also rendered limits on pesticide residues. Some say that California has gone too far, others say not far enough considering just how big the cannabis market is there (both black market and above-board).

What is the CCC?

All this begs the question of how to standardize regulation, and that leads us to the CCC. SO, what’s the CCC? The Cannabis Certification Council is a Colorado based non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and transparency in the cannabis market.

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Launching the hashtag #whatsinmyweed, the organization has sought to get the conversation about pesticide regulation going in order for consumers to be more aware of what they are ingesting. In December of last year the organization announced an industry-wide certification program. The labelling system has been in the works for quite some time, is rather in depth, and will provide a “CCC Organically Grown” sticker.

This would go along with whatever state-level regulations are already in place. The project started last month, is expected to last about six months, will involve a period for public input, and will offer different kinds of labelling: greenhouse, outdoor, indoor etc. Candidates for an organic seal will be subjected to a months long procedure which includes multiple inspections in order to pass. So far, the CCC offers the best answer to a more standardized process of regulation.

What about Canada?

Whereas in the US, California is the strict one, Canada kind of makes the rest of North America look like, well…America. As with most things in life, when looking for a cleaner way to do things, the Canadians just have their own way of doing it. In 2018, Canada passed the Cannabis Act, with an update in 2019 to cover edibles, topicals, and other extracts. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for upholding regulation.

Currently (as of January 2019), Canada has pesticide regulations that limit residue amounts to a far greater extent than California. Rather than base it on a specific health risk, they instead base it on the lowest quantifiable amount of residue – this is called the limit of quantification. This level can be as low as .01ppm. Canada requires testing for 96 different compounds – that makes 30 more than California tests for! – and makes it that much harder for farmers trying to cut corners with different products, to be able to do so.

And…the EU? General EU regulatory structure and how it compares to US

In the US, there are federal regulatory agencies like the USDA, EPA, and FDA. However, the US also allows a lot of self-governance to individual states in the form of States rights, which can sometimes clash with federal regulatory policy. Take for example the fact that cannabis is still illegal federally, and yet perfectly legal – even on a recreational basis – in several states like Colorado, California, and Oregon.

In a similar way, the EU is governed by the equivalent of federal laws that dictate regulation policy for all EU member countries. But, every member country in the EU also has their own regulatory structure which also operates as federal policy within their country.

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In this way, some regulations are made even stricter by the combination of the two, and like in the US, sometimes the two can be at odds – think the recent issue with Bulgaria considering allowing cannabis sales which would go against EU regulation. This does not seem to have actually happened (or at least not yet), but it does show an incident where the two regulatory systems would be at odds.

Late last year saw the beginning of the European Medicinal Cannabis Association (EUMCA), which seeks for evidence-based policy in Europe and improved patient access and care. Last month new chairman Professor Jones, CBE, was announced, who had previously been a long time member of the UK government regulatory agency Medicines Commission. They are currently pushing for a regulatory framework for the entire EU to go by.

While there is regulation concerning pesticide use in the EU, I have not yet found anything specific to cannabis, so there either isn’t explicit pesticide regulation for it, or it falls in with other agricultural products. Either way, the question seems to be coming up a bit slower in Europe, with almost no mention of organic at all. This lack of information shows why the EUMCA is important, and where they will likely be putting their efforts.

Then there’s Switzerland…

Though not an EU member state, Switzerland does still abide by many EU laws. In their most recent move to do ten years of testing to establish the actual effects of cannabis for regulatory purposes, they designed the study to only use organic cannabis. Such a move makes it very clear that there is concern over what these extra chemicals could be doing, and that the more favorable answer is for a clean product.


When it comes to legal cannabis, whether for recreational use or medicinal, the idea of organic is just becoming relevant – most likely as more people embrace organic culture the world over. While it might take some more time to establish better laws for regulation concerning organic cannabis products, there is a lot of work being put in to establish basic regulatory systems to ensure cannabis products are not overloaded with bad chemicals.

This in itself is quite a project no matter where you’re looking, but in time we can expect a full set of regulations to come into all existing cannabis markets, and with it, hopefully better, cleaner, organic products.

Thank you for stopping by CBDtesters, we’re happy to keep you updated on everything CBD, hemp, cannabis, and legal marijuana related. Check back frequently to get the latest news and make sure to subscribe to the CBD Flowers Business Newsletter.

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1 Comment

  • Hi, great article. I’ve recently started growing my own organic cannabis at home. Cannabis needs to be legalized everywhere. It’s getting ridiculous at this point when the plant has so many different strains for so many different needs. I hope one day it gets legalized globally.

About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.