The state of California is abuzz with, well, the possibility of getting legally buzzed. On Tuesday, Golden State voters have a lot more than a new governor to consider as they decide to pass or nix Prop 19, a measure that would legalize marijuana use for people 21 and older. If it passes, residents can grow marijuana, too, so long as it's within a single 25-square-foot area.
California law already allows medical marijuana, and the new proposition, if passed, would allow government to regulate and tax cannabis sales, which are estimated to generate billions of dollars in revenue. And this movement is not about hippies and back-to-the-land types. It's about everyday people, a budding industry (so to speak), and, apparently, world-class athletes, too. At Game One of the World Series in San Francisco on Wednesday night, pro-pot fans held up big signs featuring the team's young ace, Tim Lincecum (who was previous busted for pot possession), reading, "TIM IS NOT A CRIMINAL. VOTE YES ON PROP 19."
THE DETAILS: The short answer, technically, is "no." Here's why. Marijuana use, medical or not, is illegal under federal law, so the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) refuses to certify organically grown pot under its National Organic Program. Still, even though you won't find the green USDA-organic seal on jars displaying marijuana, organically grown pot is actually on the market in California, although it's not nearly as common as nonorganic.
Stephen DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center, a nonprofit medical-marijuana dispensary in Oakland, California, notes that there is another certification for organic marijuana. It's known as the Clean Green Program. Garden inspectors check out cannabis operations, looking at inputs, pest control, nutrients, and other sustainability related issues. Growers can be certified two ways:
1. Clean Green, meaning growers follow all the USDA-organic guidelines.
2. "Best practices," meaning it's not an entirely organic operation, but growers are using any more harmful substances "safely" and sparingly.
DeAngelo's center is heralded as the gold standard of cannabis dispensaries, thanks in part to its third-party lab testing for potency and molds. It does offer some Clean Green–certified cannabis, and he pays these types of growers $100 more per pound for their organic efforts.
Still, most marijuana growers use products banned in organic agriculture. "To maximize yields, growers typically use petroleum-based fertilizers," explains DeAngelo. But small-scale organic can pay off. For instance, he says people pay up to $425 an ounce for beautiful, organically grown cannabis grown by a master gardener in a small plot. Mass-produced, it would cost at least half of that. "Cannibus is much like wine. If you do not give it very careful tending and personal attention, you'll end up with a product with substantially less value," says DeAngelo.
WHAT IT MEANS: Should we be surprised that marijuana, the herb long regarded as a natural remedy for everything from nausea and nervousness to chronic pain and spasms, is usually grown with chemicals? Perhaps not. Although pretty resilient, the herb is susceptible to powdery mildew, and spider mites are common infesters. DeAngelo says his customers tend to go for cannabis grown indoors because the flowers are in pristine condition, since they were shielded from the elements. With indoor growing, chemical inputs are often used. "It is possible to grow organic indoors, but the costs are higher and the yields are lower," explains DeAngelo.
No matter how it's grown, different strains of cannabis are offered in different forms for different ailments. Insomnia and/or chronic pain? A cannabis capsule is your best option, says DeAngelo. "It passes through the digestive system, so the effective life of cannabis is extended to six to eight hours." Early-morning nausea? A liquid under the tongue might do the trick.
We'll find out soon enough if California will soon be abundant with windowsill marijuana plants—and if legitimization leads to a surge in commercial growers who add more toxic pesticides to the soil and water. For more information about the state of legalizing marijuana in your area, look for it on this map. To learn more about marijuana, check out High Times. And if it's legal for you to grow, visit OrganicGardening.com for basic gardening techniques that will give you healthy plants without the use of toxic chemicals. (Just don't tell them we sent you!)
This article was reprinted with permission from Rodale.com.