Twenty years ago, the federal government settled on a definition for what "organic" food is, and still today there's disagreement over it. So you can imagine how loaded the term can be in a realm devoid of federal regulation.
That's exactly the issue with medical marijuana right now.
"I think there's confusion as to what organic means," says Tyla Reimers, owner of all-organic Canna Caregivers.
For Reimers and Canna, organic means no pesticides, chemicals or synthetics, with the use of predatory insects (like ladybugs) for pest control. They also grow their MMJ in shredded coconut-shell fibers.
The philosophy at Old World Pharm, according to owner Kenny Brock, is similar, but they will use organically certified pesticides, as approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).
At Altitude Organic Medicine, says Jason "Giddy Up" Emo, the organic products (about 30 percent of the center's offerings) come from a "living soil." Filled with bone meal, blood meal, fish emulsion and more, it must be carefully tended before the grow process even begins.
"Basically," Emo says, "it's kind of a dance to get your levels and everything in check."
All that work, plus organic MMJ takes longer to grow, and the buds aren't nearly as large or as dense as ones grown from a reputable hydroponic system. So even though businesses can charge more for organic, you can see why some would want to take shortcuts. Brock says he's dealt with shadier growers who simply take a non-organic plant, flush it — water the plant over an extended period of time to take out the heavy salts and other toxins — and call it organic. He's even smelled the fertilizer still lingering.
Fact is, no regulatory group checks "organic" claims, although the state requires centers to list what ingredients are being put into their infused products.
So as for now, it's largely buyer beware out there. But on the plus side? Brock says most growers use nearly all-organic growing materials anyway, which doesn't mean that the product is organic, but that it's fairly close.
And, he says, "I've never noticed any big difference in either taste or high."
Reimers also acknowledges little difference in "sight, smell and taste" between organic and well-grown hydroponic marijuana. Same for Emo, who says it's more of a peace-of-mind issue for patrons worried about lingering chemicals: "When they see organic, they just feel a little bit better about the whole deal."
Emo is working on an organic rooting hormone so clones can be organic as well. Clones, or shoots cut from the mother plant, are grown by rubbing the baby plant with a hormone to sprout a root. As of yet, no organic hormone exists, and therefore, no clone could ever be truly labeled as organic, says Emo. He hopes his recipe, made from the tips of willow tree branches, will solve that.
It's those minute details that some purveyors and customers cling to without a larger regulatory system in place.
"Right now, a lot of people might think it's just a word," Reimers says, "whereas some education for people would help."