BERKELEY, Calif. – Medical-marijuana growers in Mendocino County — a Northern California outpost that is home to vegans, vintners, libertarians and aging hippies — want to have their pot certified as organic.
The notion of pesticide-free pot is making some people smile. But county officials say the issue is serious, and they are asking the state whether they can regulate pot-growing and pronounce some crops organic.
They say that with no system to regulate cultivation, consumers are at risk.
"We regulate wine grape growers and pear growers and everybody else, so why shouldn't we also regulate pot growers?" said Tony Linegar, assistant agricultural commissioner for Mendocino County (search). "It's really an agricultural crop. In our estimate, it should be subject to a lot of the same laws and regulations as commercial agriculture."
California, one of 11 states with medical marijuana laws, allows people to grow, smoke or obtain pot with a doctor's recommendation. Around the country, medical marijuana has slowly moved toward the mainstream, with local law enforcement agencies issuing "user cards," and insurance companies honoring claims for stolen plants.
If the county got the go-ahead to regulate organic medical marijuana, it would be "absolutely a first," said Allen St. Pierre of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (search). Regulating cultivation would be "a huge leap in the public discourse and policy-making, in that it recognizes that medical cannabis is legal but it needs to have some sort of local controls placed on it."
Acting on a request for two marijuana growers who want their crops to be certified organic, and concerned by reports of someone getting sick in another county from pesticide-treated marijuana, Mendocino County Agricultural Commissioner Dave Bengston wrote to the state Department of Food and Agriculture (search) last month.
Bengston asked whether the county can certify pot as organic and whether employees should be inspecting marijuana nurseries to check for pests and other problems as they do with other crops.
Department spokesman Jay Van Rein said Monday the secretary is studying the request.
Marijuana plants can be threatened by mites, mildew and cornmeal worms. But with no products officially developed for marijuana cultivation, some growers have been using chemicals intended for ornamental plants, which could make users sick, Linegar said.
Linegar said he could not estimate how much marijuana is grown in Mendocino County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco, but it is generally considered prime pot territory. And clearly not all of it is being grown for medicinal purposes.
The first time someone brought in a pot plant for a health check, was "awkward," Linegar said.
Last year, Mendocino County voters passed a first-in-the-nation measure banning the raising of genetically engineered plants and animals. And Mendocino set a pot precedent in 2000 with a ballot issue allowing residents to grow a small amount of marijuana. The move was only symbolic, since state and federal prohibitions rule.
"When things like this crop up it's almost our county that's on the cutting left edge if you will," Linegar said. "When I'm discussing these issues with my counterparts in other counties, they really can't relate to the problems that we're facing in Mendocino. They laugh sometimes. But to us it's really a serious issue."