County eyes organic marijuana
February 22, 2005
Growers in Calif. seek regulation
BERKELEY, Calif. -- Growers of medical marijuana
in Mendocino County -- a Northern California outpost that is home to vegans,
vintners, libertarians, and aging hippies -- want to have their crops certified
The notion of pesticide-free marijuana makes some people chuckle. But
county officials say the issue is serious, and they are asking the state
whether they can regulate marijuana growing and declare some crops organic.
With no system to regulate cultivation, consumers are at risk, they say.
''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. ''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 laws on medical marijuana, allows people
to grow, smoke, or obtain marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. Around
the country, medical marijuana has slowly moved toward the mainstream,
as local law enforcement agencies issue user cards and insurance companies
honor 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. 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 from two marijuana growers who want their crops to
be certified organic, and concerned by reports of illness in another county
from pesticide-treated marijuana, Dave Bengston, agricultural commissioner
of Mendocino County, wrote to the state Department of Food and Agriculture
last month. Bengston asked whether the county can certify marijuana as
organic and whether employees should inspect marijuana nurseries to check
for pests and other problems as they do with other crops.
Department spokesman Jay Van Rein said last week that 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 use 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 not all of it is grown
for medicinal purposes.
The first time someone brought in a marijuana plant for a health check,
it 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. In 2000,
Mendocino set a precedent with a ballot issue allowing residents to grow
a small amount of marijuana. The move was symbolic, as state and federal
By Michelle Locke, Associated
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company