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Ethical Questions Posed by Cannabis Proprietary Protections

Protecting industry secrets sparks high competition and patent wars.

The legalization of cannabis (and hemp) has spiraled down many interesting rabbit holes, one of which is the evolving pursuit of plant patents and protections. A lot is riding on botanical invention within a global industry expected to reach nearly 100 billion USD by 2027 (15.26 billion hemp and 73.6 billion legal cannabis).

But cannabis is an industry built on the backs of clandestine breeding programs. Furthermore, many cultivators are still passionate about patient-controlled medicine. The growing drive for cannabis and hemp plant patents pose an ethical dilemma to the sector.

PLANT PATENTS PROTECT THE CORPORATE SIDE OF THE INDUSTRY 

Both the backyard breeder and the industrial-scale producer can easily breed new cannabis cultivars. The main difference is the investment, as the producer pumps much more into the program than the backyard breeder. A new strain, with exceptional disease resistance, an exciting cannabinoid profile, or other unique characteristics, can provide exponential returns. A commercial grower lays their money, name, and future on the line with these genetic inventions. Financially speaking, it makes sense to protect these new botanical strains against the competition, and have a chance to reap the financial returns.

This need to protect the financial investment is the driving force behind plant patents. At the most elemental level, a patent provides financial protections to the inventor (in this case, the breeder). Upon approval, a patent ensures that the inventor can hold exclusive rights to the invention for the life of the patent. Whether it’s a new technology, pharmaceutical, or a unique cultivar, the same principle holds.

Although other crops have long had the option of plant patent protection, this is a relatively new development for hemp (and still not on the table for cannabis). As patent lawyer Jeremy Kapteyn discussed with KUNR in 2019, “the race is on for cannabis producers to secure the rights to their inventions.” In his opinion, protections like these help legitimize an emerging industry, meaning patents will quickly transform cannabis from a back yard, black market crop into an all-out-corporate industry.

GROWING DRIVE FOR CANNABIS PATENTS IGNORES THE PAST

Even Kapteyn recognizes this move to proprietary protections will not play fair. He explained, “there’s going to be winners and losers. It’s not a merit-based system. It’s whoever’s first and has the most money.” Small craft producers, who have transitioned from the black market to the open market may have invested years into specialized cultivars, but all this could be taken away with an aggressive move by a more financed commercial operation.

It’s impossible to discuss the ethics of cannabis and hemp patents without discussing the plant’s recent and illicit history. Although cannabis is now legal in a growing number of countries and states, it wasn’t that long ago that it existed only in the black market. This illicit history forced cannabis breeding programs underground and pitted producers and consumers against the government.

Cannabis advocates have a long history of distrust for government, bureaucracy, and regulation – and rightly so. There is also a strong tradition of medical cannabis patients who turned to the plant as a rejection of Big Pharma and corporate control. Cannabis has long offered people personal control over their own lives, and they have fought hard to maintain this control.

With hemp and likely soon, THC-rich cannabis, getting swept under the control of large corporate entities through proprietary protections, this old guard of cannabis advocates remains staunchly opposed to corporate greed and botanical takeovers. From their standpoint, cannabis (and especially medical cannabis) is a plant for the people, not corporate profits.

LESSONS FROM THE MONSANTO EXAMPLE

Patent fear isn’t just a holdover from a black market of regulation. Cannabis cultivators have watched patent wars play out in other agricultural settings, like the now-famous examples from Monsanto.

Monsanto, an agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology, has long patented it’s biological and chemical innovations and followed up with fierce litigations against hundreds of farmers who often unknowingly break the rules. Under most Monsanto patents and licensee agreements, their genetically engineered seeds (for potato, wheat, rapeseed, soybeans, and more) may be planted and harvested, but the seeds of these plants may not be collected and planted again.

But despite Monsanto’s fierce control of their genetic property, nature still controls the winds and pollination patterns. In some cases, farmers have replanted seed collected or harvested seeds from windblown crops, cross-pollinated with Monsanto’s cultivars. Monsanto continues to take these farmers to court for stealing protected property. Monsanto, a company worth 60 billion USD, has one every single lawsuit it has pursued against these small-scale farmers.

Cannabis cultivators see the Monsanto precedent and worry about cannabis. With hundreds, if not thousands, of unique cannabis cultivars available, could these long-standing strains snapped up by commercial grow operations with deep pockets?

NO STRAIGHT ANSWER ON THE ETHICS OF PLANT PATENTS AND PROTECTIONS 

The nascent cannabis sector has long held itself apart from commercial conventions. This is especially true in comparison to the conventional agricultural industry. But as the cannabis and hemp sector grows, cannabis is going corporate. A bigger market and bigger payoffs mean the industry is leaning into more competitive business practices.

One aggressive move by a big commercial grow, could financially devastate long-time growers who have worked for generations to cultivate award-winning strains. Furthermore, plant patents may even threaten patient rights. Could patients eventually be excluded from growing their medicine depending on how cannabis and hemp plant patent scheme develops? For the older generation of cannabis entrepreneurs and advocates, the business of prosperity patents is a terrifying evolution.

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High-Tech Cannabis Grow Systems Simplify Growing At Home

Ultimate guide to indoor grow systems, including automated, grow boxes, home grow systems, and DIY grow boxes.

Many states allowing legal cannabis also permit patients and residents to grow a certain number of plants for personal use. For many medical patients, producing their medicine at home dramatically reduces costs and increases their control over what they consume. However, learning how to grow a quality cannabis plant isn’t always as easy as it may seem.

Just as the refrigerator changed the way people shopped for food, and the microwave altered the way people cook, the cannabis indoor growing systems could revolutionize the way people grow their plants at home. Several companies are at the helm of the home grow revolution, and CannabisTech has all the details you need to know below about the future of home-grown cannabis technology.

THE ARMOIRE BY GREEN GODDESS SUPPLY

Price: $1,395+

The Armoire made by Green Goddess Supply has a furniture-inspired look and feel, in a unit that comes in two finishes. Resembling a traditional armoire, it’s an easy-to-use system that yields up to a quarter-pound of dry bud in a 60-day auto-flower harvest cycle. Growing cycles vary by species dominance, but the most popular is the 8 to 10-week strains (some strains can go as long as 12-14 weeks). The Armoire is ergonomically designed, lightweight, waterproof, and comes with everything you need except seeds, water, and soil mix (UV safety glasses, wi-fi camera, digital hygrometer [LCD temperature & humidity module] and moisture meter are just a few of accessories included with the system. The LED large footprint light is proprietary—designed down to the last nanometer— and uses an intuitive 4 winch pulley system for easy scaling as your plant grows. It’s also energy efficient — with a carbon footprint of approximately 150 watts. The system is user-serviceable and backed by a multi-component warranty. An industry first, a childproof magnetic lock is standard, which helps to ensure your plants aren’t accessed by anyone but the grower. The exhaust fan is quiet and can be easily removed for cleaning, the no odor carbon “long life” scrubber uses high-grade Australian activated carbon. Also included: 4 LST “plant training” rods, 4 internal circulation fans with six vents and protection grills, 2 fine mesh passive air intake filters, timer, grounded surge protector with both AC and USB input receptacles, cloth 5-gallon grow pot, and large, rigid water collection saucer.

This indoor grow system includes everything you need to start growing, minus the seeds, soil, and water. The GGS team provides a vetted list of online seed and soil vendors, along with personalized Concierge Service, to ensure your first grow goes smoothly. The team’s mantra is, “if you can water a houseplant, you will have success with The Armoire.” Designed and promoted as a “nurturing system,” the philosophy and grow protocol is the result of over 40 years of indoor and outdoor grow experience, tips, and tricks—including Autoflower-specific LST (Low-Stress Training) on-hands training. Although minimal, the GGS team embraces interaction with your plant–albeit just a few minutes a day. The company believes this is the best insurance, best practices, results-driven approach that professional handcrafted cultivars’ employ–brought down to a single plant, personal use scale.

If you are looking for a stylish and discreet grow box to easily grow high yielding plants in your home or apartment, The Armoire is the perfect unit to blend right in. And think about it; four ounces of top-shelf flower—including taxes (especially in metropolitan markets) equals the purchase price of The Armoire. It not only pays for itself with your first harvest, but you know—without a doubt that there are “no pesticides, no molds, and no chemical additives or nutrients.”

Whether you are an amatuer marijuana user who wants to start their very first home grow, or an experienced cannabis connoisseur looking to streamline their home grow systems, these units offer a stealthy way to embark on your own home grow.

SEEDO BY SEEDOLAB

Price: $2,499+

The Seedo resembles a high-tech mini-fridge, but features an automated hydroponic system-based technology, with automated lighting, mineral system, and CO2 enhancement.

Its most significant benefit is the efficient size and automated growing process. It sports an app that allows you to control the growth process and receive alerts.

Officially launching in 2013, the excitement behind a product like this had generated a lot of social buzz and a huge wave of initial customer orders. Seedo even managed to secure a celebrity endorsement from the High Chief himself, Snoop Dogg.

While the Seedo looks like the optimal sizing for apartments, the unit is a little on the small side, the price is a bit steep, and there isn’t any yield expectation or approximate yield guide. 

There are more ongoing costs for operation due to the consumables (nutrients, pH balancing, C02 cartridges, etc.) required for these systems, and hydroponic systems bring issues with either hard piping in plumbing or dealing with bacterial and/or algae-collecting reservoirs. 

The company claims up to 4-oz— from 4 plants. At $2,500- it will take several grows to get your money’s worth, and the actual wattage is over 250 watts (the LED alone is 144 watts, and that doesn’t include the refrigeration unit and fans.

Seedo has gotten into some hot water recently as well, according to Reddit user u/reefer-rabbi, “Seedo simply doesn’t give a ”… customers who have purchased the initial units have reported numerous systems failures and a lack of transparency from the company. Buyer beware if you decide to purchase the Seedo, if you do have a working unit, please let us know how your grow is going. 

GROBOX BY CLOUDPONICS

Price: $2,690+

GroBox is a fully automated grow device that’s completely synced with an app (IOS or Android), where you can watch and monitor the progress of your plant(s). The primary benefit of this product is the software system that makes every aspect of the growing process automated. The app includes humidity control, watering frequency, pH buffering processes, temperature regulation, LED grow light scheduling, and auto-off. This makes it as close to a “set it and forget it” unit as possible.

The dimensions are 69.75″ x 29.50″ x 30.75″, making this a sizable unit for growing indoors. You will need to plan your growing location accordingly.

It’s priced at the top of the market, but it does produce a substantial yield, up to one pound in 3 months. However, customers have repeatedly vented their frustrations — they just don’t seem to work right. Hardwood floors and/or carpeting can be ruined if water sensors fail. They tend to weigh a lot, consume a lot of power and can be overly complicated. Recently, it has been reported that the company is pivoting away from selling the units outright and starting to use them in conjunction with consulting services instead because of all the issues reported. 

The Growbox by Cloudponics is currently “sold out” on their website.

LEAF BY GET LEAF

Price: $2,690+

The LEAF grow box is the most expensive automated home grow system on the market. LEAF utilizes an app to control and automate the growing process. The unit itself includes a carbon filter, HD camera, toolbox, LED lighting, water sensing, and exchanging cartridges and air control/ nutrient system.

The typical growth for this unit is 3-4 months long and yields about 4 ounces. The unit is a decent size at 62” x 27” x 25”. The LEAF unit will use about $15-50 a month in electricity and uses around 5 gallons a week of water. The LEAF unit is very versatile in that you can add water manually, or you can hook it up directly to water plumbing, therefore never having to worry about changing the water. It looks like an industrial refrigerator, and word is that they were still not shipping after 3 years of pre-orders. (This may or may not have changed by the time of this printing). This unit also uses consumables — purchased from the company — to run efficiently. Also, like the Seedo, it has an industrial look and feels.

GROBO BY GROBO

Price: $2,199+

Canadian startup Grobo aims to create a simple home growing system that takes the guesswork out of cultivating cannabis, to help users achieve consistently high-quality results (typical yield is two ounces every three months). 

The system is sleek-designed. After adding water and seeds, the growing process is automated within the unit. Each yield can bring up to 3 oz, and the unit is reported to pay for itself in 18 months.

Aside from the process being automated, Grobo’s unit is somewhat compact at 48” x 14” x 14”, customers have a choice of the Grobo and the Grobo Premium. The base model is a sleek looking windowless grow box while for those who really want to show off their buds, the Grobo Premium offers a fluid glass window that can display your plant at the touch of a button.

SUPERSTAR SMART GROW BOX BY SUPERCLOSET

Price: $1,384+

The SuperStar Smart Grow Box is a hydroponic system that combines top feed watering and bottom feed oxygenation. Designed like a locker, built sturdy, and with a door locking mechanism, this system can be modulated to grow clones or traditional cannabis plants. The unit’s dimensions are 24” wide, 24” deep, and 60” high. The SuperStar Smart Grow Box features include a Kind LED K3 Series 2 XL300 light, dual activated carbon scrubbers, digital hygrometer and thermometer, and an adjustable internal circulation fan. Wattage is quite high, and prior grow experience is recommended.

DIY GROW BOX OR TENT

Another option for some is to individually purchase all the equipment necessary to build your own DIY grow tent or convert a space in your home to a DIY grow room. While it can be more of a process, this allows home growers to fine-tune the setup to their individual needs.

The advantages of setting up your own cannabis grow tent are mostly in the price. You can find lights, tents, pots, and nutrients all online. This is good for those who aspire to become a professional cannabis grower. Individual component warranties vary from none to “some”… If you are on a tight budget, know what you are doing and only care about price (not safety or manufacturer’s liability), this is a workable, albeit high learning curve alternative. Choosing what kind of lights you feel would best suit the size and number of plants you are looking to grow, hydro or soil, child safety, and other considerations must be part of the pros and cons of building such a system.

Not always, but often one gets what they pay for. Home grow tents can have more kinks in how they operate and be less seamless than automated systems. Another disadvantage of a DIY grow tent is you must possess the knowledge of each facet of the grow. It can be hard for the casual grower to know what pots, lights, tent, nutrients, temperature, humidity air circulation, acceptable noise levels, and the watering system is best for them and their situation. In addition, pests such as spider mites can be the norm if set up in a garage or basement.

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Celebrity Influence in Cannabis Technology

Teaming Up with Tyson: Chris Kanik, CEO of Smart Cups talks about joining forces with Tyson Ranch to introduce innovations in cannabis beverages.

Supposedly impossible technologies are usually a goldmine just waiting to happen. Through combining the power of celebrity with progressive science, Tyson Ranch and Smart Cups are developing one of the most exciting cannabis products of 2020. 

WHAT ARE SMART CUPS? HOW DOES THIS TECHNOLOGY WORK? 

While he may not walk on water, Chris Kanik, CEO of Smart Cups, had an epiphany about turning his water into alcohol at a Taco Tuesday. Instead of waiting for his drink at the bar, or even having to order one, he wanted something more accessible. He wanted to be able to use a cup of water to create his drink. Now, he has the solution. Host Kristina Etter spoke with Kanik and Rob Hickman, CEO of Tyson Ranch, about how they are making 3D printed drinks and the development of this partnership. 

By encapsulating material in a proprietary polymer blend, Smart Cups can create readymade energy drinks, alcoholic drinks, and cannabis-infused beverage. “It does a nice job at creating a shell for the ingredients and does a nice job sticking on surfaces,” Kanik said. “It’s an amphiphilic polymer, so when it comes into contact with a liquid, not just water any liquid, it releases. The shell opens up, releasing the ingredients, and there’s a self-stirring mechanism involved that then creates that beverage, so you don’t need to stir. In a couple of seconds, you have that product.” 

All that’s needed to access these products is water, as any liquid will open up the polymers, and create the beverage. Kanik figured out the science behind it by dehydrating Everclear and mixing readymade drinks in his kitchen. After he had three flavors of alcohol mix, he partnered with an inventor to figure out the polymer delivery system. Later, this experimentation would lead to an exciting deal with champion Mike Tyson. 

The polymer printing technology is meant to be a medical delivery system. Smart Cups aims to be the company that normalizes this technology and proves its value in the free-market. 

“IBM went out years ago and created IBM Watson, which is artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence was like the hot thing out there, and it cost 600 million dollars to install it,” Hickman explained. “They run national commercial and everybody wondered why. They were making everyone aware of the technology, and then they started creating products from that, using AI, which then made it consumer-ready. So it’s similar, that’s why I was interested in [Kanik], and what he was doing, it was very similar to that.” 

WHAT MAKES SMART CUPS SO INNOVATIVE? 

While the partnership between Smart Cups and Tyson Ranch will lead to CBD products shortly after the ruling on whether or not people can consume CBD in America, there’s more in the works. “When I looked at the cannabis space, I viewed it more through a pharmaceutical lens,” Kanik stated. 

The delivery system behind Smart Cups allows for specific formulations of any reasonable materials. Realistically, Smart Cups would be able to contain specific cannabinoid concentrations, such as CBG or CBC content, that would be ideal for dosing. Cannabis research and prescription have been held back by inferior dosing methods for decades. This delivery system might give a significant push for the modernization of cannabis dosing. 

“I realized there was a deficiency in dosing solutions in the industry,” Kanik said. “So I thought that this would be a perfect solution that could help further legitimize the industry and make it even more mainstream from a medicinal standpoint because if you’re a doctor, how do you tell your patients to take this? What’s the proper dosage?” 

While Smart Cups will be an excellent medical tool, their recreation value is also apparent, and not to be underrated. Combined with the star power behind the ranch and other collaborations, the technology behind Smart Cups is ready to burst into the mainstream. 

WHY DO SMART CUPS HAVE ONE OF THE BEST SHOTS? 

Even without Mike Tyson’s return to fighting on September 12th, 2020, he is one of the most famous Americans ever to live. Having his ranch as a serious partner means that Smart Cups are already enjoying household brand legitimacy. Other partners mentioned by Hickman include William Shatner, and so the limit of the reach of these companies is literally up in the stars. 

The old world of cannabis is dying. No longer is it to be bought behind dumpsters from teenagers looking to replace a broken guitar amp. Now the future of cannabis lies within convenient delivery methods, consistent dosing, and major celebrities. Acceptance is here in that we know it’s profitable. Now it’s just up for the entrepreneurs to get cannabis in pantries and medicine cabinets across the world. 

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Data: Illinois Sees Record Marijuana Sales Amid Pandemic

Medical marijuana

Marijuana sales in Illinois have totaled more than $300 million since the start of the year, with July having the most sales of any month, according to state figures.

July cannabis sales hit $61 million, which is up from $47.6 million in June and $44.3 million in May, according to the Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation and New Frontier Data.

One reason for the increase in sales could be the customers’ ability to order online, which many dispensaries started to keep lines down, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“We got a lot better at being able to get people in and out because of the online order reservations,” said Jonah Rapino, spokesman for NuEra, which has dispensaries in Chicago, East Peoria and Urbana and recently changed its name from NuMed.

The amount of money that customers spend at dispensaries has also increased. The average transaction was $126 in the first three months of the year but increased to $150 in April, May and June, according to Washington, D.C.-based New Frontier.

Greg Butler, chief commercial officer at Chicago-based marijuana company Cresco Labs, said the pandemic could be credited to the increase in demand, too.

More product availability could also be a contributing factor to the high demand. During the beginning of the year, there were some supply issues. The Tribune previously reported that dispensaries said they needed more marijuana and employees.

Butler noted that many facilities that grow marijuana expanded operation, and those products started hitting the shelves over the summer. Cresco expanded at some of its facilities and increased production at its Joliet location.

“With supply picking up, it has allowed customers to purchase that extra product or two that might not have been available,” said Michael Mandera, general manager of the Herbal Care Center dispensary.

Katie Johnston-Smith, 33, who was feeling “a good, healthy amount of panic” at the beginning of the pandemic, has started using marijuana a few times a week compared to a couple times a month.

Experts say she is not the only one. Many people have chosen marijuana as a way to decrease anxiety brought on by the pandemic.

“It was pretty nice because it did help me mellow out,” Johnston-Smith said. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is way better than mellowing out with a glass of wine.‘”