California has unleashed its state-certified organic cannabis plan upon the still-thriving industry

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

The State of California has released the first ever organic-comparable certification program for cannabis products. Unveiled by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the plan is known as the “OCal program” and its official release by state regulators means that “cannabis products bearing the OCal seal have been certified to consistent, uniform standards comparable to the National Organic Program.”

This consistency is guaranteed, according to the CDFA’s statement. Officially released two weeks ago, the proposal for certifying organic cannabis products clarifies that certified products will feature the OCal seal of approval. However, federal prohibition prevents these cannabis products from displaying the “organic” label.

Federal law forbids cannabis products from bearing official organic certification

Although many “certified organic” products can be found inside grocery stores, the USDA is in charge of regulating these products. Since the USDA is a federal agency, it is required to comply by federal laws and so – because cannabis remains illegal at the federal level – this means that products manufactured from the green plant are excluded from the official organic certification.

“Our hope is that the proposed program will be cost effective enough that the cannabis industry can fully participate,” said the policy chair for the Southern California Coalition, Sarah Armstrong. “Right now, testing expenses represent 10 percent of the cost of product production, resulting in an exceptionally pure product at no small expense. Hopefully the Organics Program can work with cultivators to develop methods which ensure the program safeguards purity in a cost effective manner.” 

When the Department was preparing rules for the organic cannabis certification program, the CDFA received responses from around 250 cannabis industry stakeholders. In the event that OCal is approved, it could pave the way for cannabis programs in other legal states. After all, it would be the first ever organic-comparable state certification program suitable for cannabis products. 

Overview of the OCal organic-comparable certification program 

In order to establish the OCal Program, the CDFA will adopt Chapter 3, which is contained in title 3 of the California Code of Regulations. According to the Business and Professions Code Section 26062(a)(1), the Department must establish a cannabis certification program similar to the National Organic Program and the California Organic Food and Farming Act. The deadline for this is January 1, 2021. 

All products containing cannabis will be certified consistent, so long as they feature the OCal seal. This will demonstrate that the product is certified in accordance with uniform standards; similar to those laid out in the National Organic Program ⁠— the U.S. federal regulatory framework for governing organic food. The National Organic Program is also the name of the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service program. 

Since the CDFA revealed the proposed regulations for OCal’s organic-comparable certification program, a period of public comment was initiated with instant effect. Anyone who is interested in submitting a comment regarding the proposed regulations – be it positive or negative/constructive feedback – should submit their opinions by Tuesday, July 7, 2020.

Comments regarding the proposed regulations for OCal’s organic-comparable certification program can be sent via email to [email protected]. Alternatively, comments can be sent by mail to the following address:

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Attention: Kristi Armstrong

CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division

Proposed OCal Regulations

P.O. Box 942871

Sacramento, CA 94271