When Nicholas Morton decided to start growing medical marijuana for his own use and to sell, he knew he wanted to produce a product free of synthetic chemicals or additives.
So when he heard about the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association “clean cannabis” pilot program two years ago, he knew he was on to something.
Working with MOFGA’s pilot program seemed a natural fit, said Morton, who wanted to produce something natural and synthetic chemical-free for himself and his customers.
“I knew this flowering plant did something to balance me,” Morton said. “But when I started looking around at products and dispensaries [in Maine] I found many grew their cannabis using some sort of [synthetic] growth product, leading me down the road of wondering, ‘How is that beneficial?’”
MOFGA created the new certification program so growers would have a standard for clean, chemical-free growing, according to Chris Grigsby, MOFGA’s director of certification. But before it could do so, the nonprofit organization had to tweak their current certification program.
“Federally, cannabis is still illegal [and] with the USDA owning the national organic program we can’t certify it ‘organic,’” Grigsby said. “So if MOFGA wanted to take this on, we knew we wanted to mirror the national [organic] standards.”
Working with five interested cannabis growers, the certification team at MOFGA developed the standards for the MOFGA Certified Clean Cannabis program, or MC3 for short, and in 2016 certified those five growers as a pilot program.
“They came through and investigated everything I do,” Morton said. “They looked at my buildings, my ingredients, my soil. I was really impressed in how they went from corner to corner and how nice they are.”
After that first year MOFGA declared the pilot program a success and opened the MC3 applications up to all cannabis growers in Maine in 2017.
“We felt pretty good about offering to other caregivers and growers who essentially want that third-party verification,” Grigsby said. “It’s an opportunity for them to say in their marketing of their product they have growing practices on a par with the national organic standards.”
By the end of 2017 there were 11 MC3 growers in Maine. A list of those growers is on the MOFGA certification website.
Among those who became certified last year is Mike Howland of Dyer Ridge Pharm in Jefferson.
“We have always grown [cannabis] organically, so why not assure people that we are following that protocol?” Howland said. “It gives us a stamp of approval [and] from MOFGA that holds a lot of weight.”
Like Morton, Howland said when the MOFGA certification team came through they left no stone or leaf unturned.
“They want to see everything you are using from growing process to your water source,” Howland said. “Basically the same criteria they apply as if they were certifying organic carrots.”
Howland, who got certified this past year, is not sure if the MC3 certification is going to make a huge difference to his current customers and so far has received little comment from them.
“But I think it will make a difference in the future,” he said. “We are hearing from people more and more seeking out [cannabis] they can be assured was grown responsibly and clean.”