By: Melody Meyer
Last week, California’s Department of Food and Ag’s “Comparable-to-Organic Cannabis Working Group” met for the fifth and final time, with the task of developing a program for organic cannabis registration in California that is comparable to the National Organic Program (NOP) by 2021.
The group has spent the last year gathering input on what comparable means and determining how will the program mesh with the NOP organic regulations. Out of their work CDFA created the “OCal” cannabis program to handle organic cannabis registration in California.
Ultimately, their touch point has been to “stick with the NOP” whenever possible.
There will be two ways to become an accredited certifier – through NOP or the OCal program. All certifiers must be registered with OCal to be able to certify organic cannabis operations, and NOP accredited certifiers will be subject to inspections as part of an audit system set up by OCal.
The certification process is likely to be very similar to the process for the NOP. With the first step for operators’ operations to have an active and valid CA commercial cannabis license.
Once a grower has a license, they can apply through an accredited certifier, who will issue a certification, and then OCal will issue the certification number. OCal will perform a final check to ensure the operation has a valid commercial cannabis license before the certification is noted in their system.
Since the USDA organic seal is owned by the NOP, the word Organic may not be used. Product labels for certified operations will instead include the CDFA’s OCal seal- which is still under development - and must identify the certifying agent.
A certifying agent must investigate credible complaints of non compliance.
OCal may refer an investigation to a certifier with a specific timeline. If appropriate the certifying agent must take appropriate action against all noncompliant entities.
OCal proposed violation penalties will be higher than federal ones. The penalties for willingly selling or labeling a manufactured product organic that is not organic is $18,000 per violation for handlers, $20,000 per violation for producers and $25,000 per violation for certifying agents.
If Cannabis comes off the schedule 1 class of drugs, the vision is for OCal to merge with NOP, with OCal eventually going away. Regulations were designed so growers and processers who are certified to OCal can easily transition to the NOP program should this occur.
Karen Archipley, co-founder, Archi's Acres
Karen Archipley from Archi’s Acre’s told OPN, “I was sincerely impressed that the state followed the NOP and did not attempt to over complicate the system already in place. I felt they heard us and responded respectfully.”
Phil LaRocca from LaRocca Vineyards agreed that, “Charlene Graham and the entire OCal team has done a great job, and I am excited for the final rule.
Phil LaRocca, founder, LaRocca Vineyards
Jeremy Johnson with Traditional Medicinals said, “I found it to be a great example of how regulators can work with industry to create regulations that meet both the needs of the state and the regulated industry. By working with industry they’re able to fill in any gaps and avoid unintended consequences prior to implementation.”
Jeremy Johnson, Senior Counsel, Traditional Medicinals
After digesting the feedback from this meeting, OCal will publish a draft regulation in January 2020, at that time a 45-day comment period will open to all interested parties.
OCal will then review the public comments and if approved by the Office of Administrative Law, they will issue a final rule in August 2020 so that organic entities can be certified beginning January 1st, 2021.