It’s difficult right now to think about much besides COVID-19, whether from a personal, professional, financial or societal perspective. The current pandemic has impacted each of us.
Personal and societal perspectives aside, Hemp Grower and its sister publications Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary, like most other businesses, have not been immune to the pandemic’s fallout. In March, we announced our decision to postpone Cannabis Conference 2020 (co-produced by all three publications), originally scheduled for April 21-23 in Las Vegas. Moving an event of its size—which brings thousands of people together from nearly 30 countries—is not something we expected. But we adapted quickly and have fortunately rescheduled the conference for Sept. 1-3. The lessons regarding the importance of nimbleness and backup plans have not been lost on me.
For the hemp industry, COVID-19’s impact has been severe. In a recent Hemp Grower survey, 84% of respondents said they predict revenue or operating capital losses due to the coronavirus pandemic; but this is not the only challenge facing the fledgling U.S. industry.
We are about five months away from the Oct. 31 deadline for states and tribes to either operate under a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-approved plan or under their pilot programs established under the 2014 Farm Bill. Also, the USDA is reviewing the first round of public comments to its interim final rule (IRF), which establishes hemp program requirements drawn from the 2018 Farm Bill.
Now, we wait to see what changes are made to the IRF. In “The Fragile State of Hemp,” reporter Paul Barbagallo explores what some state ag departments see as the IRF’s most significant issues and hindrances to farmers’ potential for success.
We see ongoing challenges weaving this newly legal plant into the fabric of the U.S., where confusion over regulations and hemp being mistaken for its higher-THC cannabis relative has fueled significant crop and financial losses and lawsuits. We see a supply chain struggling to evolve in a new industry.
But we also continue to see growth, potential and optimism.
The regulatory structure is not yet ideal, and challenges are sizeable, but farmers continue to build an industry from nothing. Nimbleness and backup plans will be the way of the industry at least a bit longer.
And as noted writer, poet and artist Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be.”
Staffing a business may seem like a straightforward endeavor, but with an often complex regulatory landscape and labor needs that fluctuate seasonally, hemp business owners have much to consider when hiring and training employees.
Hemp Temps launched in 2013 as one of the first staffing agencies to serve the cannabis and hemp industries. The Denver-based company specializes in helping Colorado and Oklahoma dispensaries, cultivation/farming operations, extraction facilities and kitchens find temporary and temporary-to-permanent employees. CEO John Paul Dreibelbis spoke with Hemp Grower to share his tips for hiring, from helping you determine the size and scope of your workforce needs to finding the right candidates to onboarding and training new employees.
Note: This article originally ran in the November/December 2019 issue of Hemp Grower.
1. Consider how labor needs fit into your overall business plan
Long before a business starts production and harvest, it should consider how many full-time, part-time and temporary workers are needed to achieve the business’s goals, Dreibelbis says.
Businesses should ensure standard operating procedures (SOPs) are in place for cultivation, drying, curing and processing with a clear end product and go-to-market strategy in mind. They should also maintain a calendar of harvest and testing dates. These objectives will help business owners understand the operation’s workflow and how much labor is needed to keep things running smoothly throughout the season, Dreibelbis says.
“Whether you’re using machines or doing hand-trimming or defoliation, have an understanding of what it’s really going to take to get the job done,” he says.
2. Define desired qualifications (and how you might teach them)
It is important to define the basic skill sets and qualifications needed when searching for candidates. In this nascent and rapidly growing field, Dreibelbis says to focus on attitude over experience.
“As long as they’re willing to do the job, learn and work hard, that’s really what we look for,” he says.
Some employers may take this a step further and require a certification or compliance training program as a prerequisite for certain positions, he adds. To meet those industry needs, Hemp Temps started Hemp Temps University, which offers free in-person and virtual training programs where employees undergo compliance and technical training to learn the job fundamentals.
Dreibelbis says all employees attend orientation, complete trimming and harvesting training and learn about the Environmental Protection Agency's Agriculture Worker Protection Standards (WPS).
For farmers who don’t have access to these training materials or prefer to self-train, it’s important to consider how you will vet qualified applicants and how you will train those new to the industry.
3. Implement a training program that thoroughly covers safety protocols
Newly hired staff will not only need to be trained in the day-to-day operations and job duties, but also on safety, Dreibelbis says.
“[Make] sure that people are wearing hairnets, beard nets, [and] changing out of their [street] clothes [while working in the processing and packaging areas]. Those are things to keep an eye out for.”
Federal and state agencies also have their own required safety training that employers must adhere to, such as the WPS. “Worker safety is a huge deal,” Dreibelbis says. “You can’t be exposing employees to pesticides, so understanding what those protocols are is … huge because [employers] can get fines from the Department of Agriculture and get potentially shut down.”
4. Set realistic expectations
Another part of the onboarding process is ensuring that new hires understand what is expected of them—and that these expectations can actually be achieved, Dreibelbis says.
“For us, [it’s] making sure they understand what they’re getting into because I think a lot of times, people just hire people, [and new hires] might read the title, but not really understand what it entails,” he says.
If job titles and descriptions are not clearly defined, a facility can quickly become unorganized, Dreibelbis adds.
“People show up, and then next thing you know, everybody’s kind of doing their own thing,” he says. “And then, when they’re not happy with the results, they start pointing fingers. [Be] proactive, [have] a clear picture of what’s going to be done, and maybe [set] some rewards for overproduction … to really keep everybody on the same page and happy.”
Businesses might consider having images and visual aids on the wall that offer examples of what is expected of employees as well as clearly documented processes and goals for each workday, Dreibelbis adds.
“[Take] 10 minutes before the day starts to give everyone a pep talk on what to expect, how the day’s going to go, what time breaks are going to be taken, … who’s in charge of what,” he says. "And [have] clear go-to SOPs where, if someone forgets, they can go look at pictures and diagrams.”
Beyond imagery, designate people who employees can seek out, both on the jobsite and at headquarters, with any questions or report any problems.
5. Consider the market when setting wages
Pay is often a touchy subject with potential hires and employees, but Dreibelbis says wages should be based on tenure, experience, reliability and the market forces at play.
“The price per pound really dictates the value of what the going rate for the position is,” he says. “Unemployment is super low right now, so we’re seeing wages rise. And if you look at [the overall] unemployment [rate] of 2.8% in Colorado, … less and less people [are] available to work. With that, wages are rising, and it’s just like anything else [with] supply and demand.”
While there are, of course, average going rates for each position, wages are ultimately decided based on what the employer and employee agree upon, Dreibelbis adds, but employers should keep in mind that employees are most willing to work for what they believe they are worth. Employers should also consider establishing clear avenues for raises and career advancements, which can help prevent or reduce turnover.
6. Keep your books in order
As a team grows, so do employers’ back-of-house duties, such as maintaining proper insurance coverage and payroll.
For example, companies might try to classify workers as independent contractors (1099) rather than full-time employees (W-2) because the companies don’t have to provide medical insurance or workers’ compensation to 1099s. In addition, wages are non-taxed for 1099s.
“It’s unfortunate, but we see a lot of companies that just try to pay everybody as a contractor, and the states are cracking down on that,” Dreibelbis says.
He points to Colorado as an example. The state conducted an audit of all employees who were classified as 1099 and found those people were not paid through a Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN). A deeper dive revealed that there was misclassification of employees.
7. Value your employees (equally)
Above all, businesses should treat their employees with respect and make them feel welcome regardless of their status as a full-time, part-time or seasonal worker, Dreibelbis says.
“[Make] them feel welcome and [make] them feel like they’re an equal with the rest of the staff,” he says. “A lot of times, there’s this culture where the existing staff don’t necessarily treat the temporary staff with the respect that they deserve. And inadvertently what happens is those people move on.”
Both temporary and permanent employees should be given the tools necessary for them to do their jobs, Dreibelbis adds. “[Have] the tools for them to be successful and [have] a really clear plan on how to explain that. Don’t just assume that employees know what you want. You have to explain to them what the process is going to be, and sometimes you have to explain it more than once.”
Businesses can implement incentive programs, he says, such as offering rewards when production goals are completed, to keep employees motivated and engaged.
In addition, “[Have] a location that’s easy to get to, the right facilities, bathrooms for people to use, the break area [and give] employees the breaks that are state and federally mandated. [Understand] those rules,” Dreibelbis says, and treat employees like you value their contributions to your business.
The need for and shortage of qualified staff will continue to grow as companies ramp up production and as the hemp industry standardizes and matures. Farmers can’t do it all themselves, and they can’t get by on family and friends anymore, either. It’s important to take the time now to focus on staffing and formalize procedures to help make the hiring process less burdensome and set standards that make it easier to find and train future applicants, as well as retain talented employees.
Melissa Schiller is assistant digital editor of sister magazines Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
So, you’re ready to make money off your hemp-related intellectual property (IP)? You have managed to develop a cultivar that consistently yields a high percentage of cannabidiol (CBD) and a low percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Naturally, you believe you’ve got something special on your hands that people will line up to pay for. And you’d be correct. With proper IP protection, you can easily license the right to use that cultivar and watch the money flow in. Right? Well, not so fast.
The process of obtaining IP protection is not as straightforward as you think, and the competition is fierce. The threshold to prove your uniqueness is high.
Following the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill), the “unicorn” that everyone is chasing right now is a cultivar of hemp that guarantees high CBD and low THC, says Corey Cox, J.D., an attorney in Vicente Sederberg’s Denver office.
“We are seeing a huge push right now toward proprietary hemp genetics and unique varieties of the hemp plant,” says Cox, who specializes in regulatory compliance for hemp and marijuana businesses. “People are trying to develop these varieties and protect them from use by competitors. And some want to only license their IP, so they don’t have to have any physical manufacturing capabilities. They simply want to license their genetics to production partners.”
This hemp IP rush can be attributed to new federal testing guidelines. To be legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp must test at or below 0.3% THC—the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. If your hemp crop tests above the 0.3% limit, you’ve got what is known as “hot hemp,” which to the federal government essentially means you grew illegal marijuana. According to most state statutes, those hemp crops must then be destroyed. That puts a premium on good genetics. And while genetics are not the only factor involved in a crop’s final CBD and THC levels, they are an essential foundation
“Having hemp seeds that you know are not going to test high for THC—and can be reproduced without complication—is a really, really big deal,” says Dale Hunt, Ph.D., J.D., a plant scientist, cannabis lawyer and registered U.S. patent attorney with over 20 years of experience protecting plant varieties.
But while IP licensing may soon become big business in the hemp industry, the devil is in the details. U.S. IP law and regulations, along with the 2018 Farm Bill itself, have far more nuances and complexity than many people understand up front.
To separate fact from fiction, Hemp Grower spoke with IP experts who offered three imperatives to help you not only protect your intellectual property but also profit from it.
1. Study Your Options.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides different protections for different kinds of intellectual property. As a starting point, hemp businesses should understand the key differences between at least two types of patents: a plant patent and a utility patent.
A plant patent is granted to someone who invents or discovers—and asexually reproduces—a distinct and new variety of plant (other than a tuber-propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state). As Sterne, Kessler Goldstein & Fox P.L.L.C. attorneys Pauline Pelletier, J.D., and Deborah Sterling, J.D., explain in a recent blog post, plant patents offer protection for asexually propagated plants (clones having identical genetics to those of the patented plant), but they do not protect sexually produced plants (those cultivated by seed). A plant patent, in essence, provides legal protection from a competitor who grows your specific cultivar from a clone.
A utility patent, on the other hand, is granted to someone who creates a new or improved—and useful—product, process or machine. A utility patent offers much broader protections than a plant patent. It protects your unique seeds and the various chemical compositions of the plant—not just the clone.
“While a plant patent covering a commercially valuable strain for cloning purposes certainly has value, its scope is bounded to the genetics of the patented plant and leaves room for sexual reproduction (e.g., seed farming),” Pelletier and Sterling wrote in their blog post. “By contrast, a utility patent covering a non-naturally occurring strain, where the claim is defined in terms of the plant’s novel characteristics, could make the avoidance of infringement more difficult and thus serve as stronger patent protection.”
Hunt explains a plant patent is like a copyright on a single cultivar—it protects against illegal clonal copying of the exact genotype of the claimed cultivar. In contrast, a utility patent treats a cultivar as an invention.
One other way exists to protect IP associated with plant varieties. In addition to legalizing industrial hemp, the 2018 Farm Bill opened the possibility for hemp IP protection through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Plant Variety Protection Office, which provides intellectual property protection to breeders of new varieties of seeds and tubers for 20 years.
Plant Variety Protection (PVP) essentially protects seeds from being “copied” in bulk to compete with the owner of the variety. However, it permits use of the seeds for breeding to make other new varieties. This is called the “breeder’s exemption.” PVP rules also expressly permit the purchaser of protected seeds to keep enough seeds to replant the same acreage as the seeds he or she originally purchased for planting. This is called the “farmer’s exemption.”
In sum, while plant patents apply to asexually propagated plants, utility patents may apply to genes, traits, methods, plant parts and varieties. Additionally, PVP is now available for seeds and tubers.
2. Let the Business Be Your Guide.
No one-size-fits-all solution exists in plant IP, especially with a plant like cannabis that can be propagated via seeds or clones. This is why companies should let their sales strategy dictate their IP strategy, Hunt says.
So, based on what you sell, what kind of IP protection do you need?
If you make money selling hemp seeds, a utility patent may be your best defense. A plant patent would only be useful if the cultivar that is the source of the seeds is itself so valuable that you would want to control its propagation, Hunt says. The most prominent example of this in the hemp industry is Charlotte’s Web, a popular CBD-dominant strain that has helped countless young patients as an epilepsy treatment and has become a figurehead for the legalization of medical cannabis after its appearance in CNN’s Weed series. In 2019, Charlotte’s Web received what is believed to be the first plant patent for a hemp strain. The plant patent describes “CW2A” as a Cannabis sativa L. cultivar that is capable of producing up to 6.24% CBD and only 0.27% THC. For Charlotte’s Web, a plant patent is like insurance against potential theft of the propagating material of its “seed parent” cultivar. However, that plant patent would not directly fit or support the business of selling seeds; in those cases, you would need a utility patent, since a utility patent protects your unique seeds, not just your clones, Hunt says.
Shifting to another scenario, let’s say you sell clones to nurseries that will propagate and sell more clones to other people. Then you need a plant patent and a license agreement with that nursery requiring it to pay you for every clone it makes and sells, Hunt says.
But if you’re only selling harvested flower or extracts and you do all your own farming, the risk of IP theft or infringement would be negligible, since you would have more control over what potential IP others can access. But Hunt says a grower can still seek IP protection as a form of insurance: a plant patent to protect the genetics in case someone was to take a cutting and start competing with you or a utility patent to claim the genetic line more broadly.
3. Prepare for Legal Battles.
While patent litigation has long been a battlefront for technology-focused companies, IP skirmishes are beginning to expand into the cannabis and hemp industries. In 2018, in the first case of its kind, United Cannabis Corporation (UCANN) sued Pure Hemp Collective Inc., for infringing on its 911 Patent, which covers liquid cannabinoid formulations of a purified CBD and/or THC greater than 95%.
The case serves as a reminder that cannabis and hemp companies must be mindful that production methods, technologies and business processes, as well as product logos and packaging, are all subject to legal protection, wrote Knobbe Martens lawyers Jonathan Hyman, Hans Mayer and Christopher Smith in an article for Hemp Grower’s sister magazine Cannabis Business Times. As laws surrounding production and sale of cannabis begin to relax, companies may be more willing, or even eager, to enforce their intellectual property rights than before, they noted.
As the hemp industry grows, legal battles over awarded patents’ validity may intensify, says Theodore Y. McDonough, J.D., counsel for Carter Ledyard & Milburn.
“People have been experimenting with cannabis and hemp for quite some time behind the scenes, under the radar,” McDonough points out. “Somebody may very well have come up with that CBD formulation a number of years prior, and the question is, is that going to be a ‘prior use’ that would invalidate an otherwise valid patent? We really don’t know yet.” In intellectual-property law, “prior user rights” can serve as a patent-infringement defense. But there has not been much case law to go on.
With growers under pressure to produce hemp that will test below the 0.3% THC limit, all eyes for now are on the genetics.
“Any company that’s involved in genetics has a huge business opportunity in developing these strains, and obviously that takes time and money,” says Nathalie Bougenies, an attorney with Harris Bricken who represents clients who have filed for hemp patents. “As we know, a big part of the value in a company is their IP assets. My advice is to definitely spend the time to prepare a patent application [to] protect your work and make money.”
Paul Barbagallo is a Boston-based writer and a former senior editor for Bloomberg News and beat reporter for Bloomberg BNA.
Today, a multitude of Cannabis seed companies are producing more seeds than ever, and now that laws are changing, more and more cannabis crops are being grown outdoors from seed.
Broadacre (farms that produce crops on a large scale) cannabidiol (CBD) producers are leading the return to growing crops from seed. Auto-flowering tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD varieties are gaining popularity, especially in regions exceeding 40° latitude north or south, where summer days are too long to induce flowering in most cultivars.
But the growing of seed crops can cause problems. Put simply, the airborne pollen from seed crops poses a serious threat to the much more lucrative business of growing seedless drug cannabis flowers.
Biology Meets Agronomics
Most plants produce flowers bearing both male and female sexual organs, and the majority of these are pollinated by various animals ranging from insects to bats. In natural settings, Cannabis plants present an exception to the norm, with millions of pollen grains borne on male plants that release their genetic potential into the breezes. Those pollen grains that complete their reproductive journey land on the receptive ovule-containing flowers borne on female plants and fertilize them, the seeds maturing a few weeks later. Individual male plants die within a few weeks, leaving the remaining pollinated female plants to mature their precious seeds (the next generation) without competition for water, nutrients and sunlight.
In another exception to the norm, separation of the sexes is the key to horticultural cannabis flower production. Both THC and CBD drug cannabis crops are grown without seeds. The sinsemilla (seedless) method is commonly used to enhance the production of secondary metabolite target compounds such as THC, CBD and aromatic terpenes. When seedless Cannabis is grown for drug production, any seeds are undesirable and drastically lower the value of the dried flowers. Early sinsemilla growers realized that they could simply remove all male plants so no seeds formed, and their precious females would develop much larger and more potent flowers. Female plants with desirable traits were vegetatively reproduced to multiply the clones in common production today, and there are no longer troublesome male plants in most modern drug crops.
We believe seeds producing all-female crops will be widely used for broadacre THC and CBD production in the near future. Why grow any males when you can grow only females, and why keep mothers and make cuttings when you can more easily, efficiently and cheaply sow seeds that are essentially a female cutting in seed form?
This sounds like a perfect scenario. What could possibly go wrong?
Enter Traditional Industrial Hemp
In Europe and North America, hemp fiber crops have traditionally been harvested upon reaching technical maturity when the male plants begin to shed pollen. In eastern Asia, hemp fiber crops destined for fine textile production are harvested before they flower, and therefore no pollen or seed is produced. No flowers, no pollen and no problems. The timing of a fiber crop harvest—either before or after it releases pollen—determines whether it poses a threat to neighboring sinsemilla cannabis growers. Depending on cropping techniques, fiber hemp production can be compatible anywhere. The real issue is not about hemp fiber production but seedless drug cultivation. However, the situation differs with hemp seed crops.
Hemp seed crops are grown specifically for seeds sold primarily to the food and body-care industries. Hemp seed and seed oil are more in demand than at any other time in recent history, and the profitable growing of hemp seed is increasing at suitable temperate latitudes worldwide. Based on their common environmental needs, seedless drug cannabis thrives in the same agricultural niches as hemp seed crops, and this can lead to competition between these agronomically incompatible crops.
Long-distance Cannabis pollen transport is well-documented. A single male Cannabis plant can produce millions of pollen grains that are easily carried on the wind. Each summer, allergenic pollen traps installed along the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain collect Cannabis pollen that drifts across 100 miles of open sea from hashish fields in the Rif Mountains of Morocco.
Field-grown hemp seed crops are agronomically and economically incompatible with drug cannabis crops, and growing them within the range of pollen travel will likely result in conflicts. Even Cannabis plants grown in greenhouses and grow rooms can become fertilized by pollen that enters through the ventilation system. It is of note that during the early days of industrial hemp cultivation in the Netherlands several indoor and glasshouse sinsemilla growers reported finding seeds in their normally seedless crops. (Tip: High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters effectively remove pollen from air intakes in sealed grow rooms.)
In the sinsemilla setting of zero tolerance for seeds, long-range pollen drift, especially outdoors, sounds frightening. Reactionary voices within the cannabis community have raised the alarm, but is there a real threat? How are the cropping strategies of growing seeded hemp cultivars for their CBD content versus growing seedless drug varieties for THC and/or CBD content playing out across North America and worldwide?
International Precedents and Lessons
In response to increased market demand for both hemp seeds and CBD, traditional hemp cultivars’ flowers are now commonly grown to produce both CBD and seed. Hemp stalks are harvested for their economically valuable fiber from both the male and female plants, while female flowers produce economically valuable compounds such as CBD, THC and aromatic terpenes as well as seed. Broken flowers remain after threshing hemp seeds. Until recently, this CBD-rich waste was burned in the fields. Now, CBD is extracted from the flower biomass. Several hemp cultivars contain sufficient amounts of CBD to make extraction profitable.
We perceive the most lucrative agronomic model to be triple cropping an existing approved (low-THC) industrial hemp cultivar for fiber, seed and CBD. HempFlax BV, a hemp cultivation and processing company with cultivation sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Romania, harvests all three products from the same standing crop. This lucrative cropping strategy allows a farmer to make agronomic decisions based on three commodity markets— fiber, food and drug—and we predict will prevail in the near future among progressive farmers worldwide.
China and Romania are traditional hemp farming regions without commercial seedless drug cannabis production. Manitoba farmers have dominated North American hemp grain seed production for 20 years and have established Manitoba as a hemp seed producing region. Few outdoor sinsemilla growers would attempt to establish production there. Rather, drug cannabis is more often grown indoors in urban areas, and in glasshouses and outdoors in regions without hemp seed crops. To that end, conflicts are rare but could still arise.
In most drug cannabis producing regions (e.g., Colombia and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Asia), crops are grown seedless to increase the flowers’ potency. It would be unwise to attempt growing seeded crops in these regions. In all these examples, a pairing of local traditions with economic factors determines whether Cannabis crops are grown with or without seeds.
Several of the aforementioned agricultural business models could prove economically viable in any given region, but many are not mutually compatible. The agricultural differences among broadacre, greenhouse and indoor production create an economically segregated terrain where few conflicts have yet to arise. However, conflicts will undoubtedly arise unless specific cannabis growing regions become set aside for female-only growing of seedless drug crops.
North American Constraints
In the face of steadily expanding seedless drug crop acreage bolstered by supportive legislation across America, will there remain anywhere for hemp grain seed crops to make their long-awaited comeback? Will the U.S. always rely on Canada and China for healthy hemp seed products?
The expanding range of Farm Bill hemp (high-CBD seedless flower) production in 2018 reached 23 states. Colorado and Montana, leaders in U.S. hemp production, each grew more than 20,000 acres; followed by Kentucky and Oregon with around 7,000 acres each; and Tennessee, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Nevada, Wisconsin and Vermont had 1,000 to more than 3,000 acres under licensed cultivation. More than 78,000 acres of Farm Bill hemp were grown in 2018, nearly tripling the less than 26,000 acres grown in 2017.
Now, private citizens as well as agricultural entities across North America are increasingly allowed to grow both industrial hemp (including hemp grain seed crops) as well as seedless drug cannabis for medical and adult use. In some areas, this situation sets the stage for potential conflicts until industry self-regulation and enlightened agricultural policies take effect. In the meantime, most regions appear to offer opportunities for everyone.
However, the situation is becoming increasingly convoluted. The U.S. landscape is a complex puzzle of differing jurisdictions, each with its own evolving cannabis scenarios and range of regulatory solutions. Until the advent of the CBD industry, industrial hemp cultivation held little attraction in most regions of the U.S., and largely due to prohibition, most seedless drug cannabis was grown either in remote rural or insular urban settings isolated from any hemp pollen. Many newly cannabis-tolerant jurisdictions may allow Cannabis plants to be grown for whatever end use someone might choose—be it fiber, seed and/or drug.
In many regions across North America, sinsemilla growers arrived decades earlier than the recently arrived hemp growers. North American sinsemilla growers pioneered drug cannabis cultivation and established their turfs long ago, largely in agriculturally marginal rural areas not well suited to broadacre hemp fiber and seed production. California presents several cases in point.
Sparsely populated rural regions of Northern California have been the primary producers of sinsemilla since the 1960s, and since the 1980s indoor, artificial-light growing has become increasingly popular in more urban regions with access to the electrical grid. The established agricultural precedent in both scenarios is drug cannabis production. So far, industrial hemp and hemp seed crops have had little, if any, effect. It is really up to the growers of seedless high-THC and high-CBD drug crops to defend their turf (especially outdoor cultivation, which is common in California and expanding elsewhere) from the potential pollen threat of seeded crops.
On the West Coast, state cannabis grower associations are striving to establish sinsemilla production regions based on climate and terroir similar to the appellation system used in wine branding. These groups have grown organically from illicit rural grower communities and provide good examples of self-regulation of our industry from within by a group of peers. Appellation membership will likely require qualified farmers to grow only female plants from cuttings, and the sowing of seeds (a possible source of male plants and contaminating pollen) will be strictly controlled.
Both industrial and medical hemp crops are most profitably produced under broadacre agriculture, while sinsemilla flower crops are most profitably produced under glass. California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin, Imperial and Salinas valleys present examples of regions where potentially conflicting business models may clash. Many growers in these traditionally broadacre farm and orchard regions have switched to glasshouse production of vegetables, bedding, house plants and cut flowers. Sinsemilla flower growers will move into regions where glasshouses are readily available, and local regulations usually stipulate that existing glasshouse infrastructure must be utilized. This places seedless growers near neighboring broadacre farms where it is also economically feasible to grow fiber and seed hemp.Southern California provides an even more dynamic terrain. As urban areas grow, cultivators occupy former farmlands that still border active agricultural zones. And traditional broadacre farming regions that previously grew few, if any, sinsemilla or hemp crops are now open to the growing of either one or both.
These scenarios exemplify the need for agricultural authorities to take responsibility for local regulation of their cannabis industries before conflicts between growers arise. There are few established historical and agricultural precedents for either sinsemilla or hemp growing in prime agricultural regions. These areas produce many crops profitably and, as with other crops, are where the future of commercial cannabis production for many different products will be focused.
How will various jurisdictions with differing constituencies and priorities create equitable policies for the control of stray Cannabis pollen in sinsemilla-only areas?People are quirky, and a few individuals always will grow fiber or seed hemp in regions where drug crops are commonly grown, and there will be others who try to grow seedless cannabis flowers where seed hemp is well established, but these will be exceptions to the local norms. Across North America, effective and fair regulation of our burgeoning cannabis industry will largely rely on understanding which branch of our industry was established in each region first, and whether a precedent exists for its continuation; ultimately, policy decisions will be based on which end use offers the most income (including compliance costs, local trade, employment and taxes) to local and state jurisdictions.
Local, state and federal agriculture organizations should control cannabis licensing and permitting, first in local jurisdictions and eventually nationwide. Agricultural officials must take stock of regional conditions and become sensitive to the unfolding cannabis industry and determine the traditional basis for cannabis economics in their region. If sinsemilla growers have contributed to the economic viability of their local economy, albeit illegally, then they should be invited to have a strong voice in determining future cannabis policies and regulations.
This article was reprinted with permission from Cannabis Business Times’ September 2019 issue.
Mojave Richmond is the developer of many award-winning varieties such as S.A.G.E., which served as a springboard for creating many notable cultivars. Richmond is a founding member of the international consulting company BioAgronomics Group. email@example.com
Robert C. Clarke is a freelance writer, photographer, ethnobotanist, plant breeder, textile collector and co-founder of BioAgronomics Group Consultants, specializing in smoothing the transition to a wholly legal and normalized cannabis market. firstname.lastname@example.org