GMO Cannabis? Not in My Backyard

Photo by Vortex Farmacy

The idea of genetically modified marijuana gives me the creeps. It conjures up visions of greedy agricultural giants like Monsanto creating a secret, enhanced strain from seeds they developed in an underground deep frozen bunker.

Genetically altered strains have not yet made their way onto the marketplace; however, some agricultural experts like Dr. Reggie Gaudino of the Berkeley-based Steep Hill cannabis laboratory say it’s only a matter of time.

“The cannabis industry should be aware that sooner rather than later, there will be big ag at play in this industry,” Gaudino said, according to the Eureka Standard-Times. “And big ag uses exactly these techniques. We’re working to help the current population of farmers and breeders retain relevance when big ag comes knocking on the door.”

Following the passage of Proposition 64, local farmers have two years to press their luck before companies outside the state can enter the cannabis market and until 2022 before grow sizes can reach above an acre, according to the Cannifornian.

Other researchers, like Phylos Bioscience’s CEO Mowgli Holmes in Oregon, disagree with Gaudino.

Holmes thinks the industry and consumers would never accept genetically modified organisms within the cannabis space.

“I don’t think there is anything that GMOs could do for cannabis that we need that couldn’t be done by advanced plant breeding techniques,” Holmes said. “GMOs can make cannabis that glows in the dark, but we don’t need that.”

Labs like Phylos Bioscience and Steep Hill, both formed within the past decade, are now using DNA sequencing techniques on various strains of cannabis to unlock what makes marijuana tick.

While we all would like to know more about cannabis science—especially as CBD and medical marijuana become increasingly important—most of us want our weed to be grown as naturally as possible and preferably outdoors.

According to Will Houston’s article, areas like Humboldt County have already distanced themselves from any GMO cannabis market that may arise and are instead working to embrace a regulated industry of environmentally conscious and organic farming practices.

In a different interview with Gaudino, Ganjapreneur broached another important topic: individual strains that growers have been developing over these years and what to do about their intellectual property rights, including patenting their strains.

Gaudino explained:

“At some point, big agriculture, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, the pharmaceutical industry, they’re all going to jump on the bandwagon once everything goes from schedule I to schedule II… A savvy observer of the industry will see that the movement is gaining momentum and is moving towards that direction. Why is that important?”

“That’s important because every strain that is publicly available for sale right now basically becomes open source. Patent law states that you can’t apply for a patent of any kind on anything that’s been being sold for a year or more. The message that Steep Hill is trying to get out is, if you’re a breeder, the best thing that you can be doing right now is breeding your butt off.”

“Finding those nuances, going after those new unique strains, trying to develop better phenotypes so that you can have some relevance a few years down the line. There’s not a single grower who seriously has the power to compete with the likes of the Monsanto or Dow Agrosciences.”

“The only thing left then is to put your stake in the ground and to really protect your strains so that when everything that’s on the shelves now becomes open source, you have something better to offer the community. That’s exactly the message we’re trying to do.”

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