A Greener Weed: Certified Pesticide-Free Cannabis Comes to Colorado



Eric Steinkraus delicately lifts a days-old cannabis plant with his tattooed arm and smiles with pride. He clipped this small clone himself. Steinkraus, the director of grow operations here at Denver Bud Company, is meticulous with the cannabis under his care. He’s coaxing hundreds of clones like this into healthy young plants in this room, which is kind of like a cannabis maternity ward.

Steinkraus spends the next several hours explaining to inspector Jen Silverman how he grows his plants—with love and painstaking care, but without pesticides. That’s because this hot August day is the first-ever inspection for Colorado’s new pesticide-free cannabis certification, administered by the Organic Cannabis Association (OCA). Denver Bud Company is the first grower to ever pursue it.

“You guys are the pioneers,” Silverman says to Steinkraus. “I’m just the link between producer and certifier. I’m here to make sure the liability is shared, and very transparent.”

Silverman, notebook in hand, listens intently as Steinkraus describes his pest care regimen for the mother plants. To control pests, he says, he mixes reverse osmosis water with rosemary oil and eucalyptus oil. “Every four, five days, I’ll give the plants that nice organic spray of essential oils,” he says.

Silverman counsels Steinkraus to add the rosemary-eucalyptus spray to the pest plan he’ll submit as part of certification. They discuss his other pest prevention measures: an organic soil mixture, proper airflow and ventilation in the room, a neem-oil based miticide used on occasion.

Everything Steinkraus uses is “OMRI Listed”—certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute, the organization that actually decides whether a product is organic under the USDA National Organic Program. Silverman, who’s been doing USDA organic certification on farms of all sorts for more than 12 years, shares best practices with Steinkraus as they walk the floor. To be clear, this is not an organic inspection. Cannabis is still a federally illegal substance and thus can’t be called “organic,” nor can it be certified organic by the USDA or otherwise—but everyone in the room believes it’s only a matter of time before that changes. Pesticide-free, in a sense, is the launch pad.

In the vegetative room—or “veg” room, where baby clones become teen plants—they begin sampling. Steinkraus dons sterile gloves, dips his clippers in alcohol, clips a few leaves from a plant toward the front of the room. He slips the leaves into a sample baggie, which Silverman labels with the room number and plant number—the same number assigned by Marijuana Enforcement Tracking Reporting Compliance, or METRC, to trace every cannabis plant on the Colorado market from seed to shelf. Steinkraus and OCA cofounder Ben Gelt look on as Silverman weighs the baggie.

“Two grams,” Silverman says. “This is sample number one.”

They repeat the process, clipping samples from plants at the middle and back of the room. Silverman seals the baggies inside a larger bag labeled with the room number. They follow the same procedure for both veg rooms. Later, they heat seal the larger bags to prevent tampering. It’s up to Denver Bud Company to safely store these samples and transport them to the lab to be tested for pesticide residues. In a few days, Denver Bud Company will receive an OCA inspection report.

“Based on what we heard today, it sounds like there may be some small adjustments Jen will recommend,” Gelt says. A second site inspection will follow, and Silverman will sample from the flowering room. Down the road, she’ll pay a surprise visit, too. If all goes well, Denver Bud Company will have pesticide-free certification within a few months.

This process is designed to be even more rigorous than USDA organic certification, Gelt says, requiring up to four inspections and as many rounds of samples. The price tag starts at $5,000, and certification and the distinctive pesticide-free label both last one year. Hundreds of growers have inquired about the process, and more than a dozen are already in line for their first inspection. OCA hopes to complete at least five certifications in Colorado by year’s end, and enter other states where recreational cannabis is legal by early 2017. With the ability to charge a premium for their certified product—it’s unclear exactly how much more, but organic foods sell for an average of 47 percent more than conventional food, according to a recent study—growers like Josh Egle, founder of Denver Bud Company, say the process will pay for itself.

And Egle welcomes the rigor. He’s been committed to growing marijuana without pesticides for years; even before he entered the industry, he grew organic weed for his mother to treat her multiple sclerosis—and OCA is finally providing a way to legitimize his approach and provide consumers with a genuine pesticide-free option. “We got into this business to be the good guys,” Egle says. “It’s important to me that the product we put out is helping people instead of hurting people.”

For OCA founder John-Paul Maxfield, who also owns Waste Farmers and Maxfield’s, an organic soil company, creating a pesticide-free certification is all part of the pursuit to make the world a more sustainable place through better agricultural practices. Pesticide-free certification is crucial in helping the cannabis industry catch up with food, he says, and allows consumers to choose their cannabis with the same values they apply to food.

“The goal is to incentivize safe growing practices through market mechanisms,” Maxfield says. “Encouraging clean, sustainable and ultimately organic methods through certification will help create differentiation in the marketplace.”

“Nobody likes fucking chemicals. Nobody likes shitty practices that destroy the planet,” he adds. “The issue is, they don’t know about it.”



IPM Presentation from OCA’s Kaleidoscope Event

I was asked by the Organic Cannabis Association (OCA) to present at theirKaleidoscope Event, which took place last Sunday in Denver at Culture Garden Market. The topic of the presentation – titled “Process Before Products” – was Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies able to employed by anyone safely, effectively, and at little to no cost, as they rely on conscientiousness and effort, rather than specific pesticide products or materials. You can view the slides from the presentation below. I’ll update this post with photos or videos if good ones arise.

The overarching aim of my talk was to get people to think more broadly about IPM; that it encompasses much more than simply the pesticides that are being used and rotated, or one’s preventative spray schedule. To make that point, I noted that most people employ some level of IPM practices in their homes everyday. Keeping one’s kitchen free of food scraps, having screen doors and windows, allowing spiders to stick around and help get rid of other bugs, and of course household pesticides are all pieces that form an integrated strategy that we employ daily to keep our homes free of unwanted pests. The same goes in a commercial cannabis cultivation facility; operators need to examine every aspect of their practices – from strain selection to cleanliness to fertilization, and more – and consider the implications for pest management. Hopefully the slides attached here and at the bottom of this post can provide some useful pointers that growers can employ in their day-to-day activities.

Overall the event was extremely enjoyable and featured a great introduction from John-Paul Maxfield, the OCA’s founder and chairman, about the power of cannabis to get people interested in larger agricultural issues that are incredibly important to our future, a point with which I agree wholeheartedly. The OCA recently launched its Pesticide Free Certification in order to help those growers who are employing strong IPM practices and avoiding chemical pesticides illegal for use on the crop to differentiate their products in a market still fraught with uncertainty. It is hoped that skilled cultivators can gain the certification and be recognized for their efforts to grow safely and ethically.

Thanks to the OCA for organizing a fun and educational afternoon – and for allowing me to contribute – as well as to Culture Garden Market for hosting in their beautiful store. I’m definitely looking forward to the next event and to seeing the OCA’s Pesticide Free Certification on Colorado cannabis in the coming months.

Cannabis Concentrates – What’s inside extraction based cannabis products?

As cannabis legalization has unfolded over these last months, the visibility and popularity of cannabis concentrates has increased exponentially. You might have heard them by other names such as hash, dabs, wax, and shatter among others. These concentrates offer different benefits to medical and recreational users alike when compared to traditional cannabis use. One of the main stated benefits is that they do not need to be traditionally smoked to receive the same benefits.

Concentrates are currently not very well defined and encompass a wide range of different products, but they generally refer to any cannabis product that is created through an extraction process. This process normally uses some type of solvent to release cannabis compounds that are then concentrated in another medium. The most commonly used solvents are butane, ethanol, and CO2.

Let’s briefly review the main types of concentrates. If you would like to know more details you can check out Leafly:

Hash: One of the oldest cannabis concentrates, hash is the compressed kief of the cannabis flowers. It is produced primarily with cold water or ethanol.

BHO (Butane Hash Oil): BHO is among the most potent concentrates available and is used in many dabbing or vaporizing utilizations. The Butane extraction process can bring THC potency up to 80%.

CO2 Oil: Also extremely popular for vaporizer users and in particular vape pens, this relatively new process is very effective at reducing cannabis to essential compounds. CO2 cartridges typically contain CO2 oil and the medical grade solvent polypropylene glycol.

RSO (Rick Simpson Oil): Named after the man who developed it to treat his skin cancer, this oil can be applied orally or to the skin. It originally was derived from hemp so there are versions with and without THC.

Tincture: Tincture is a liquid concentrate done through alcohol extraction that is normally administered under the tongue.

When reviewing these types of products from the perspective of organic, one can see some areas of promise and some areas of concern. Cold pressed hash for example, would offer no additional concern to organic consumers as the only ingredient in its production is ice water. BHO on the other hand, can have trace amounts of butane in it if the extraction process was not done correctly. Even if done in the right way, some organic consumers would still want to avoid it entirely.

The same oversight and guidance that we want to bring to cannabis cultivation should also apply to all concentrates ingested by consumers. Especially with regards to medical patients, the cannabis products that they buy should be as pure and clean as possible. Concentrates merely represent an additional refining phase to existing cannabis products.

Many questions remain as to how all of these components interact. Would organic cannabis concentrate products be more effective on patients from a medical perspective? Would cannabis treated with pesticide and inorganic fertilizers have compounded adverse health effects when combined with trace amounts of butane or other solvents? Here at OCA, we want to help provide you with answers to these questions and many more. What concerns do you have about concentrates? How do you see organic agriculture fitting within this equation? Add your voice to the dialogue by contacting us or joining our mailing list. Together we can create a future of organic cannabis options!