FROM THE MAGAZINE

Clean Green medical cannabis certification helps regulate an industry that is still defining itself.

Don’t bother looking to the United States Department of Agriculture for help in finding the best, safest medical cannabis; that agency already has been asked to certify growers as ‘organic,’ the federal standard for fruits and vegetables – and it declined to do so. But help is out there, both for patients – some of whom may be so ill that purity and safety are paramount concerns – and for growers, many of whom are looking forward to a day in the future when cannabis will be just another medication.

It’s called Clean Green–a certification program that is specifically designed to mirror U.S.D.A. standards, against the day when that body decides to finally start certifying medical cannabis as organic. Will someone be out of a job when that day comes? Clean Green founder Chris Van Hook doesn’t think so.

“I’m an attorney as well. Which is nice, because that allows people to talk freely and everything’s covered under attorney-client privilege,” says Van Hook, who–in a sign of the times – certified just one grower as Clean Green in 2008, a number that rose to 30 last year, and which he expects to rise as high as 100 this year.

“I’m also a U.S.D.A.-credited organic inspector,” says Van Hook, who has a 43-year career in agriculture. “We have about 115 crops that we certify every year, from Los Angeles to Seattle – everything from apples to zucchini.”

So he’s covered. But what do Clean Green standards offer medical cannabis users? Van Hook’s inspections target the same areas of concern as those conducted by the U.S.D.A. at organic fruit and vegetable plots.

In order to pass certification, he mandates that when growers do utilize pesticides or insecticides, they use so-called safe versions like Nim Oil, derived from the seeds of the Neem tree; or Safer Insecticidal Soap – or that they fight pests the natural way, by introducing good insects which kill the bad ones. As for fertilizers, Van Hook
requires growers bypass manmade examples which are high in chemical salts, and instead use natural examples such as bat guano or chicken manure.

“I think it goes a long way toward reducing the liability for the grower and for the dispensary,” Van Hook says. Despite its relative newness, others in the medical cannabis industry appear to be welcoming Clean Green.

“What it did for me personally that’s so exciting is, we’ve been standing for so long at the door of these health care facilities – hospices, residential care facilities, hospitals. It’s very hard to bring medical care to the people who are in those facilities,” says Liz McDuffie, director of Medical Cannabis Caregivers Directory, a public service website of physicians, caregivers and training programs that is based in Pasadena.

Clean Green’s certification makes that easier.

“When we go to the facility operators, we can say ‘Here it is and it’s labeled organic, it’s labeled Clean Green,’ ” McDuffie says. “Clean Green opened that door. The real market, after it’s legalized, is going to be the seriously ill. And where are they? They’re not running in and out of collectives. They’re in hospices.”

Growers – who are understandably reticent toward revealing things like personal identity and the location of their grows – are a bit harder to survey about their feelings toward Clean Green. But one man who raises medical cannabis says he’s wholeheartedly behind the certification.

“If you can use organic stuff, especially if it’s natural organic, it’s actually fun,” says a grower named Truman from Santa Barbara County, who declines to provide his own last name, or his city of origin for fear of his own safety and that of his crop. “It’s a good deal. It’s not hard to learn how to use organic you just have to change your mindset.”

“I mean how do you claim credibility? Because you pay some taxes? At least in California, it’s a medical product, and so you have the guidelines and the standards,” says Truman, who has also been an inspector for the National Organic Program since 2004, and became an inspector for Clean Green just this year. “It’s going to scoot this along to becoming more accepted. The legal dialogue will change – it’s like a high and low tide, and right now it’s high tide for medical cannabis. Having someone who goes around and says ‘This is certified,’ legitimizes it, helps it along.”

Ironically, authorities – some of whom have been traditionally at odds with the medical cannabis industry – may find Clean Green soothes their jangled nerves too. “It also helps law enforcement,” Truman says. “Anything they can look at with documentation is going to make them feel better when they have to walk away.”

- Theo Douglas

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