Van Hook founded the program in 2004 to assure consumers that cannabis products and farms have been rigorously tested for pesticides and certified for utilizing sustainable growing practices and fair labor standards. The USDA created a national organic program in 2003, and a year later, Van Hook received their accreditation as one of 84 entities that certifies organic farms, ranches and body care products.
He started certifying organic fruit and vegetable farms throughout California. “Then I got a call from a little old lady in Pasadena,” he laughs. “She asked if we could certify her cannabis as organic.” Van Hook received a thumbs-up from the state’s organic program, but because cannabis was not recognized as a federal agricultural crop, it didn’t qualify for USDA certification. “She kept encouraging me. We modified existing organic applications and started the Clean Green Certification Program in 2004. Instead of calling cannabis organic, we called it Clean Green. We were the first cannabis certification program, and I believe we’re the most qualified,”
“We don’t create regulations. We train farmers to comply with existing regulations as they actually are. Our inspectors are USDA-trained, organic inspectors who certify other crops besides cannabis. They have 5-10 years of industry experience, and at least a BA in Agriculture or a related field.”
The business grew slowly until Harborside, one of California’s largest and most respected cannabis dispensaries, decided to go Clean Green. “In 2008, Harborside became one of our first, biggest and best customers. Every product—every flower—offered to Harborside consumers is Clean Green Certified.”
From there, the business took off. “For the first time in the history of cannabis, an attorney could go into a garden and extend attorney-client privilege, which made farmers more comfortable with us. In 2008, we certified 160 pounds. Last year we certified 35,000 pounds from 170 farms across 5 states.” Van Hook has been covered by National Geographic and was recognized by the American Bar Association in a book documenting lawyers practicing in small town America.
“Clean Green Certified cannabis and cannabis products assure greater consumer confidence. When we visit farms, we follow California Department of Food and Agriculture pesticide guidelines. We note carbon footprint impacts that need improvement. We confirm the farm’s usage of a safe, legal water source and that conservation practices are in place. Our soil tests are sent, not to a cannabis pharmaceutical lab, but to a federally licensed agricultural lab, and we test every farmer every year.”
Some compliance features are simple, such as installing hand-washing stations. Others are complex and costly, such as moving roads so that kicked up dust doesn’t adhere to sticky flower buds. But the cost of certification is worth it, according to Van Hook. “Farmers and producers report they get better prices for their products if they are certified.”
“We also certify cannabis processor/handlers. If bakers have to prove there’s 8 raisins in each cookie, shouldn’t the cannabis industry be held accountable for production techniques, sanitation practices and employee training? I believe they should,” he continues.
Van Hook’s latest project is the formation of a Clean Green Certified Co-op. “I’m seeing more people in brokerage spots who buy from farmers cheap and sell to dispensaries high—the plight of all farmers. Any farmer across our five-state area can become a member. An agricultural co-op works for the farmer’s benefit. There will always be rises and falls in crop prices, but everyone in the co-op will know why. I’m not running this. This is a farmer-based enterprise. We’ll address regional and state-wide concerns, aggregate purchasing power and hopefully, address health care needs for farmers.”
Van Hook looks into his crystal ball. “There are hundreds of marginal properties in our region that had no business being developed for farming. They’re on hills, sucking water from creeks. By 2018, these properties will be sold off. Farmers with legal water, flat terrain and sustainable practices will continue. Eco-tourism and micro-business permits will enable some marginal farms to survive. The price for cannabis will drop, regulations will increase, prohibited pesticide usage will be addressed and people will stop using expensive fertilizers, seeking out more ag-sensible products.”
“The cannabis world is rapidly adhering to the same requirements that every farmer has dealt with for years. What I tell farmers is that they need to raise their level of sophistication to that of the lima bean farmer,”
“People used to think I was the Big, Bad Regulator. I’m just a guy who’s been on the road for 14 years, certifying cannabis. It’s been an incredible, interesting venture. We’re going to keep adapting and answering the needs of our farmers,” Van Hook concludes.
For more information visit: www.cleangreencert.org