It was only a matter of time before Monsanto, everyone’s most hated agricultural behemoth, would get its grubby GMO fingers on cannabis.
Monsanto has denied that it’s working on genetically modified strains of marijuana, but there are rumors to the contrary.
“While Monsanto certainly isn’t above criticism, we have identified incorrect information that — after being repeated numerous times in different articles and online communities — has now evolved into ‘myths’ about what we do,” the company posted on its website. “Monsanto has not and is not working on GMO marijuana. This allegation is an Internet rumor.”
The term “marijuana,” however is different from “cannabis.” Legally speaking, marijuana refers to a cannabis plant with more than .03 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical compound that makes you feel high, while hemp refers to its THC-less cousin. Cannabis can be used as an umbrella term for the plant, including both hemp and marijuana.
While to date, no one has officially announced working on genetically modified marijuana, the threat of corporate conquest by Monsanto or one of its peers is a growing threat to small-time cannabis cultivators. Hemp and hemp-derived products, such as non-psychotropic CBD (cannabidiol) oil, are currently the most vulnerable to the Monsanto’s of the world. And while few mom-and-pops are going after U.S. patent protection yet for particular cannabis strains, when patents become more commonplace, they’ll likely first get handed out to Big Pharma.
As the FDA comes to regulate CBD derived from hemp, cultivators and producers will come under more scrutiny, according to Craig Brand, founder of the international firm Ganja Law. That means tougher competition for the little guys coming from big pharmaceutical companies.
“Monsanto is already growing various strains of hemp,” Brand told Ganjapreneur. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out their next move and our forthcoming fight to remain on the playing field.”
In a conversation with Jane Street, Brand alluded to a “bigger play at hand” involving both big business and the FDA. While historically big pharmaceutical companies have rallied against marijuana legalization, he suggests the tide is changing with evidence that legal weed is a $6.7 billion industry and growing.
Today, the only cannabinoid-based medications with FDA approval employ synthetic cannabinoids instead of those derived from actual plant material. Dronabinol, a synthetic form of THC, for instance, is sold under the brand name Marinol.
However, if marijuana gets descheduled one day or rescheduled as a federally legal medication, Brand speculates pharmaceutical companies will seek FDA or USDA approval, looking ultimately to stock the shelves of CVS or Wallgreens with cannabis-derived medications. “Monsanto will work on its strains of hemp, and could get FDA approval or USDA approval for those strains,” Brand says. “And if you end using those strains, you’ll be subject to patent or trademark violations.”
Ralph Risch, chief operating officer at Phylos Bioscience, is also concerned. “Like many growers and breeders, we’re concerned that Monsanto or someone else could come into this space and start filing patents in a way that would restrict the ability of the people who already have the genetics to use the varieties we have.”
Smaller scale cannabis cultivators birthed the industry, for decades risking their freedom to provide whole plant medicine to those in needs. “We created this industry, we gave it life and brought it to the people,” says Brand. “Now it needs to be run by the people, not be lost to big pharmaceutical companies and companies like Monsanto taking it away from us.”