Another benefit of GMO cannabis is that many rarer cannabinoids can have more accessibility, which could effectively enable more people to have financial access to these rare cannabinoids' medicinal potential.
Israel is known for its landmark discoveries in cannabis research; however, CanBreed, a startup hailing from the halls of Israel's laboratories, has recently made waves in the cannabis industry by signing a license agreement that puts them at the forefront of GMO cannabis. The startup aims to use biotechnology to modify cannabis seeds genetically for the medical cannabis industry specifically.
Bioengineering, and the subsequent biomanufacturing, of cannabis, offers the industry an opportunity for consistency that naturally grown plants simply cannot offer.
Genetic Modification in Cannabis
However, when used appropriately, GMO cannabis could offer a stepping stone for the cannabis industry.
Whether for food or fun, genetically modified agricultural cultivations are found throughout the globe. Although it has become a fiercely debated topic, up to 70% of North America's food products contain at least one GMO-derived ingredient.
Genetically modified cannabis could offer the industry consistent quality, help standardize the industry, and help make the plant more accessible to lower-income households- if GMO seeds and crops can lower the production costs in the long run. All of this seems peachy- but what are the potential negatives that GMO cannabis can bring to the table?
On the other hand, we see how the genetic modification of seeds and resulting crops is counter-intuitive for our planet and the ecosystems that sustain it.
“All Monsanto or Dow have to do is go to a dispensary and buy everything that everyone’s buying,” said Reggie Gaudino, a PhD and longtime cannabis industry genetics researcher who now serves as vice president of research and development at Front Range Biosciences, a Colorado-based company, in an interview with MJ Biz Daily. “They can sequence it themselves, and they’re home free.”
In the meantime, marijuana cultivators appear to want to both craft the greatest strain but do it in a way that isn’t quite what Big Ag does, even if the only difference appears to be one of scale. As Marijuana Business Daily recently reported, a partnership between an Oregon outdoor cannabis farm and a Portland, Oregon-based clearinghouse of cannabis genetics went sour after the former became upset at the latter—and for a reason that may not be intellectually sound or even consistent.
As MJ Biz Daily recounted: “The uproar underscores the cannabis industry’s unease over Big Ag companies eventually entering the space and controlling the means of production and genetics—a fear bred out of precedents set by the commercial agriculture market.”
Carefully breeding crops or animals in order to reduce or eliminate certain traits and magnify others—in pursuit of a fast racehorse; a particularly cute (or thicc) dog; a fruit that’s very tasty, with high yields and good resistance to bugs and blight—is something that’s been done “for centuries,” as the Federation of American Scientists observed in its official entry for “genetically modified crops.”
One main difference between what, say, the Amish do and what’s done in corporate labs—and what freaks certain people out and leads to certain countries, like in Europe, to ban GMO crops, while others, chief among them the United States, to heartily embrace lab-honed foodstuffs—is that you can breed a certain gene in or out “in one generation rather than 20.” (Whether the main risk is genetic instability leading to food insecurity or the subsequent dumping of patented pesticides and herbicides on fields of GMO corn or soybeans—the praxis for farmers purchasing, for example, RoundUp Ready products from agribusiness giant Monsanto—can depend on whom you ask.)
To do this, the farm partnered with Phylos Bioscience, a genomics firm that has, for at least four years, been crowdsourcing cannabis genetics to build a database of all the cannabis plant’s various tones. The growing experiment was well underway until a video of Phylos’ CEO Mowgli Holmes speaking highly of partnering with Big Ag to breed plants surfaced. That led East Fork Cultivars to publicly break with Phylos.
All of this touches a very sensitive nerve in the marijuana industry, which has for years been haunted by the specter of GMO weed. It’s been enough of a thing that both Snopes and Monsanto felt the need to address—and dismiss as an “internet rumor”—the allegation that its scientists were working on GMO marijuana. (Whether this is an honest denial or an exercise in nominalism—perhaps Monsanto is working on something that’s cannabis sativa, AKA hemp, which would make their statement correct—only company insiders know).