PORTLAND, ORE - Richard Vinal pulled the yeast-sized white packet off a long, jagged leaf and squinted at it.
"This is more of the beneficial bug packets," he explained, turning the packet sideways to try and see inside. "They're basically microscopic."
Beneficial bugs are just one part of Oregon-based HiFi Farms’ organic growing process. The microscopic bugs chase away larger, harmful bugs from the crop, negating the need for pesticides. And instead of insecticide?
“There’s a blend that’s really effective of rosemary and lemon grass and thyme,” adds Vinal. “It irritates the bugs… and also suffocates them.”
But no matter how many microscopic bugs or natural oils Vinal deploys in his nursery, Hi-Fi Farms – of which he is co-founder and COO – will never earn a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic certification, or even the private "Oregon Tilth" organic certification. And that's because HiFi is a cannabis farm.
"Because cannabis isn’t federally recognized, you can’t officially call anything organic," Vinal explained later, perched on a stool in the sparsely-furnished kitchen of HiFi's farmhouse-turned-event space. Lee Henderson, another of the farm's co-founders, nodded along beside him.
"The Cannabis industry is full of promise, but it’s going through some serious growing pains now," Henderson said. "I have often described it either as trying to do a puzzle while underwater and the pieces are floating away from you, or a Rubik's Cube where each piece is its own Rubik's Cube."
One of the cannabis industry’s main growing pains right now is the patchwork of agricultural regulations. Because cannabis is not recognized as anything but a “Schedule I” drug by the federal government, none of the federal regulatory bodies can contribute to the regulations of the marijuana industry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cannot set work safety standards, the Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot review medical marijuana research, and the USDA cannot set a baseline for any agricultural growing methods, let alone test for and hand out organic certifications.
Instead, states set their own standards, and have regulations that keep the use of pesticides, hormones and synthetics to "acceptable" levels. But beyond that, regulating the term "organic" or "all-natural" is hard in the new industry.
A member of Portland's cannabis industry spoke to Circa anonymously for this story. He said he has seen past employers use non-organic materials or the state-accepted trace levels of pesticides on their crop, then market it as green or organic.
And for many medicinal marijuana patients who use concentrated cannabis oil, being able to know what chemicals or pesticides are in the cannabis they are ingesting is a big deal.