It only takes a moment for Nate Gibbs to find what he's looking for. He brushes aside a rotting orange rind and uses his fingers to pull back a half-inch of soil, revealing a collection of squirming earthworms a couple inches away from the stalk of a cannabis plant. Sure, the pot smells amazing, has all the right hairs and crystals, and returns all the right test results, but these prized little worms are how Gibbs brags about his weed.
That's because these worms prove that Gold Leaf, the weed farm Gibbs owns, is relying on the earth's natural processes—not synthetic fertilizers or pesticides—to grow weed. The worms are the visible evidence of the healthy ecosystem Gold Leaf is creating. That's not the case for some weed farms in Washington, where so many fertilizers and pesticides are used that they can't even reuse their soil, making huge mounds of trashed dirt outside their facilities. Gold Leaf's dirt is so healthy that they are constantly reusing it, not even tilling their gardens for fear of upsetting the natural microbial and fungal networks.
And the results speak for themselves. It's like comparing a flavorless hothouse tomato that has been conventionally grown to an organic heirloom tomato. The farmer's hard work is clear in the final product.
That USDA Organic sticker on your supermarket tomato shows it has met the rigorous requirements of the US government's organic program. But because the Feds still consider weed illegal, there is no organic certification for pot. There are, however, a couple private companies that certify farms are using organic methods. Gold Leaf has met the standards of Clean Green Certified, a private California-based firm that certifies cannabis farms using a system that mirrors the USDA's process, according to Bill Eddy, an inspector for Clean Green.
"A USDA-trained certifier looks through [the products a farm uses] and goes through every single input and makes sure they meet the criteria of the National Organic Program," Eddy said.
Brad Douglass, the scientific director for Bellevue's Werc Shop cannabis lab and a proponent of organic cannabis, said Clean Green certification is a good first step for the industry.
"I think what they're doing is good and useful, but it isn't a stand-in for a state regulated or even a federally regulated program," Douglass said. "It doesn't have the teeth that a state-regulated program would have."
Douglass may soon get what he is asking for. The Washington State Department of Agriculture, which has recently started to help the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board regulate weed for pesticides and potency tests, is seeking legislative approval to start its own organic certification program. The department requested approval to start the program, and a bill authorizing the program is working its way through the legislature in this session. Hector Castro, a spokesman for the WSDA, said the program would give customers a way of fact-checking the marketing claims of cannabis growers.
"If a customer is buying what they believe is marijuana produced in accordance with organic standards, and the seller is charging a premium for this assurance, you want to provide some certainty that they are getting what they pay for," Castro said.
And it should be noted, if you want Gold Leaf Gardens, you are going to need to pay more. A single gram of their flower can cost between $15 and $20, with eighths generally priced around $55. Compare that to the $18 bottom-shelf eighths you can buy right now and you're left with a question—what am I paying so much for?
Besides paying for a lower environmental impact and the peace of mind that you're not smoking pesticide-laden bud, you're also getting premium weed. I picked up some of Gold Leaf's Peppermint Cookies, an award-winning hybrid offshoot of Girl Scout Cookies, and it was absolutely fantastic. The bud was covered in crystals and orange hairs and tasted minty, sweet, and pungent. It gave me a very strong, uplifting, and energetic high that left me wishing I could always afford organic weed.
If you can afford it, you should get it.