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Genetically Modified Cannabis – Is the Monster Real This Time?

Written by Petar Petrov

Genetic modification doesn’t exactly evoke trust and bona fide intentions. In fact, it tends to conjure up something along the lines of Wolverine’s flashbacks of the cruel lab experiments performed on him against his will. And in that spirit, few people would be excited by the thought of consuming cannabis which some weird, manic scientist played creator with in an obscure, top-secret government lab.

How close is genetically modified cannabis to becoming a regular commodity or even the new norm in the burgeoning industry and how much of the fear associated with this prospect stems from misinterpretation of genetic modification in the first place? These are questions which anyone involved with the cannabis industry in one way or another wants answered.

Fake News

A couple of years ago, rumors of genetically modified cannabis taking over the market were wildly circling the Internet, fueling doubt in average cannabis consumers regarding their products’ origins. However, those turned out to be nothing more than myths, debunked by experts. Mostly, the fake news derived from the confusion between genetically modified cannabis and the more potent cultivars fillingthe current market, the result of years of selective breeding.

“So if you have a GMO plant, you could introduce multiple copies of THC-synthase to produce more THC, but then there’s also ways that nature will do that by itself through gene duplication… So the plant that, by chance, had a duplication of THC-synthase is selected or favored and that’s carried on, while the rest die away,” CJ Schwartz from Marigene, a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin and an expert in cannabis genetics, explained to High Times.

Real News

But now, the concern is real. Experts believe Big Agriculture has its big, Sauron eye on the cannabis industry.

“The cannabis industry should be aware that sooner rather than later, there will be Big Ag at play in this industry,” Dr. Reggie Gaudino of the Berkeley-based Steep Hills cannabis laboratory says, according to The Cannifornian. “And Big Ag uses exactly these techniques [genetic modification]. We’re working to help the current population of farmers and breeders retain relevance when Big Ag comes knocking on the door.”

Big Corporations and Monopoly

Just like genetic modifications, big corporations tend to invoke a similar kind of fear and distrust, possibly because the two seem to often go hand in hand, along with monopoly, creating a dreadful triangle with few escape routes.

Monsanto, the leader in genetic modification, was recently bought out by Bayer, the leader in pharmaceutics. So how does Monsanto and Bayer’s merger affect the cannabis industry? The main doorway is Miracle-Gro.

Monsanto and Miracle-Gro are already partners, and the latter has more than blatantly expressed its intentions already:

“Invest, like, half a billion in the pot business. It is the biggest thing I’ve ever seen in lawn and garden,” Miracle-Gro CEO Jim Hagedorn advices and backs it up with serious cash, the kind of cash business moguls invest when they want to impose a monopoly.

To give his statement an even more solid expression, Hagedorn has already purchased three of the largest cannabis producers in the business – Botanicare, Gavita, and General Hydroponics. But others, like Hydroponics Lighting, have stood their ground:

“They want to bypass hydroponics retail stores. . . When we said we won’t get in bed with them they said, ‘Well, we could just buy your whole company like we did with Gavita and do whatever we want,’ ” a Hydroponics Lighting representative shared.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise then that George Soros, who owns shares of Monsanto, has invested major cash in his efforts to legalize cannabis.

The monster is hungry.

The Good News

On the one hand, genetic modification’s bad reputation might be rubbing off on some of the natural efforts to improve cannabis products which are standard for agriculture altogether.

“The future is not necessarily a bad thing in respect to genetics of cannabis. It’s a matter of understanding what you can do with it,” Dr. Gaudino continues. “I think a lot of people are afraid of it because of genetics. Really it’s something that all agriculture does because it makes sense, because we have the tools and the technology and can do things in a more cost-effective, intelligent manner. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re giving up the farm.”

On the other hand, other experts believe that when it comes to something like cannabis – a symbol of mother nature’s spontaneous magic andunadulterated healing power – people will never turn away from the transparency of artisanal and natural products and turn to genetic modification.

“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,” Mowgli Holmes, Phylos Bioscience’s CEO says. “GMOs can make cannabis that glows in the dark, but we don’t need that.”

He believes that the in-depth understanding of the cannabis genome which he’s devoted to researching holds the key to improved cultivars.

“People have been doing cross-breeding and hybridization, but they haven’t been doing it in a scientific way,” he said. “It needs a lot of rapid evolution to be commercially viable as the industry gets more crowded.”

And at the end of the day, even the most powerful corporations are powerless against an uninterested consumer. As long as there are people supporting the good, old-fashioned cannabis farming, coupled with innovative, but natural and transparent practices, the monsters will stay locked and hungry.

Words of Advice to Natural Growers

In another interview for Ganjapreneur, Dr. Gaudino shares some words of wisdom which growers can use to prepare themselves for a possible storm:

“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.”

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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