Pot growers seek 'organic' label

February 15, 2005

Mary Anne Ostrom, Mercury News

In Mendocino County, wine grapes, apples and pears are certified organic. Now, some growers want to add the gold standard of health-conscious labels to another crop: medicinal marijuana.

Agricultural officials say the North Coast county would be the first in the nation to regulate growing standards for medicinal marijuana. Since production and use of marijuana on a doctor's recommendation became legal in California when voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, such cultivation in the North Coast county has taken off.

Mendocino County does not shy from controversy: It became the first jurisdiction in the country to ban genetically modified crops. But now, nearly 2,000 medicinal marijuana producers and users there are creating ``a political minefield'' for agricultural inspectors, the county's agricultural commissioner wrote to the state secretary of food and agriculture.

``To frame the whole issue, we regulate a lot of crops. Now that marijuana is quasi-legal crop, where does it fit in commercial agriculture?'' said Tony Linegar, a county assistant agricultural commissioner. The state ag secretary has yet to reply.

County officials say there are claims that some growers are using unsafe pesticides on their crops, including bug bombs and toxic anti-mildew sprays meant for plants not designed for human ingestion. Some growers have even brought 6-foot-tall plants directly to the county ag office seeking advice on pest control.

``From a marketing point of view, if I were marketing medicinal marijuana I would very much want to trumpet `organically grown,' '' said Allen St. Pierre, of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, better known as NORML, which advocates more liberal marijuana laws.

Anti-marijuana critics see another agenda: Regulating the crop is another step toward legitimizing marijuana use.

But Les Crane, who dispenses medicinal marijuana at his Mendo Remedies clinic in Laytonville, called it ``an awesome idea.'' He predicted his buyers will love having their choice of pesticide-free pot.

A spokesman for the Department of Pesticide Regulation said the department's general policy is to advise growers of all crops to avoid pesticides in favor of IPM, which calls for more natural remedies.

``IPM doesn't stand for `ingesting or puffing marijuana','' said spokesman Glenn Branck. ``It stands for integrated pest management.''

The organic label could help sales, say some who follow the organic foods market, which is growing by at least 20 percent a year.

``This doesn't surprise me,'' said Michael Straus, a San Francisco organic marketing consultant. ``I have a client who sells certified organic personal lubricant, called Nude. I have no doubt there will be a market for this.''

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