Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana , joining California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington state, among others. While cannabis advocates in Illinois are celebrating, those in the industry across other legal states know the opportunities of legalization also come with some serious challenges.
Some think it’s only a matter of time before those uphill battles are being fought on a nationwide scale. If it’s only a matter of time before federal legalization comes into play, then it’s inevitable that growers and distributors will face stricter legislation and mass commoditization of the market. The difference will be that this time, commoditization will play out across 50 states and more than 327 million people.
As cannabis industry experts already know from their state-legalization experience, differentiation will be key. If you have a product that makes you stand out, you’ll be ahead of the curve when federal legalization does happen.
Right now, growers have plenty of opportunity to differentiate themselves and get ready for the national spotlight. One of those opportunities is developing and patenting new plant hybrids.
Not Your Mama’s Weed
Talk to almost anyone who used cannabis between the 1960s and the 1980s, and you’re likely to hear the same sentiment: “Weed isn’t the same.”
It’s true; weed has changed in the last 30 years or so. Cannabis advocates and growers have been developing new plants, or “strains,” of cannabis for years now. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a push to create strains with higher and higher THC content.
Cannabinoids, the chemical substances responsible for most of marijuana’s effects on the human body and mind, were discovered in the late 19th century, but scientists didn’t truly understand their chemistry until the 1940s. THC itself wasn’t identified until the 1960s. As cannabis gained popularity with the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, people became involved in cannabis advocacy—and in growing.
The push to increasing THC content happened because of THC’s label as the substance that gets you high. THC is responsible for all of the classic stoner stereotypes: It will make you tired, give you the munchies, and help you relax.
Thing is, most cannabis plants have more than one cannabinoid in them. In fact, in some different strains, CBD is actually more common than THC. As advocates selectively bred plants for more THC, cannabinoids like CBD were nearly wiped out.
The Comeback Kid
The increasing THC content in some strains has been associated with more “negative” experiences with weed. Since THC is psychoactive, it can help you relax. It can also set off panic attacks and anxiety. For some people, a small dose of THC is all it takes. For others, a much larger dose is needed.
THC-only synthetics also tend to have negative effects. Research now suggests that blended CBD-THC mixtures have better outcomes for users. Non-psychoactive CBD seems to moderate the effects of THC.
Not only that, but scientific research is now delving deep into what CBD can do in terms of health. While most early medical cannabis research focused on the effects of THC, more recent studies have shown CBD has a wealth of health benefits.
Cue the CBD boom. The CBD industry alone soared to around $500 million in 2018 , and it’s projected to reach $22 billion by 2022. Part of the appeal is that you can use it without getting high, making it perfect for people who want the benefits of cannabis without the effects of THC.
The problem? High-CBD strains of cannabis are relatively rare these days. With renewed interest in CBD, though, some growers are already exploring high-CBD strains and more balanced blends.
The Ticket to Green Gold
Cannabis sativa plants come in three varieties: indica, sativa and hybrids. Indicas usually have more CBD content, while sativas trend to higher THC. Hybrids are a blend of various plants. To get high-CBD strains, some growers have crossed high-CBD indicas together.
Many indicas, however, have a reputation for mellowing people out too much or even putting them to sleep (think of strains like Big Bud or the ever-popular Granddaddy Purple). Sativa strains, on the other hand, have a reputation for being more uplifting. People often have more get up and go with a sativa.
This makes them excellent choices for day use or for novice cannabis users. With expanding medical markets and recreational legalization, you can expect the demand for both beginner-friendly and daytime strains to continue to expand.
The THC content of many sativa strains can pose problems for some users, though. Beginners may be overwhelmed, while some experienced users are sensitive to THC and experience negative effects in small doses. Some people just don’t want the psychoactive effects associated with THC.
Producers have been listening, and the result has been an interest in sativa-dominant, high-CBD strains like the popular Pacific Northwest flower called Harlequin , among others. The CBD-dominant profile delivers health benefits without the high, right alongside the uplifting feeling sativa strains can provide.
Harlequin has also been crossed with Jack the Ripper to create Pennywise, an indica-dominant strain with high CBD and low THC content. The popularity of the strain shows that there’s not only interest but demand for high-CBD flower of all types.
A Strain All Your Own
While growers have been eager to develop new plant hybrids and cash in on the increasing demand for CBD-only and blended strains, many have been less forward-thinking in terms of differentiating themselves for a nationalized market.
While there’s a history of openness in terms of sharing and growing hybrid plants, when federal legislation passes, it’s likely the “culture” of the cannabis industry will be disrupted. As big agriculture firms move in, willingness to share seed technology and hybrid plants is likely to disappear in the face of a hyper-competitive market.
Time Is on Your Side
The good news for growers right now is that federal legalization is some ways off. While this creates a barrier to putting patents on seed technology right now, it does give you time to experiment and create unique new strains that will help you stand out in the nationwide market.
It also gives you a chance to put your paperwork in order. When federal legalization happens, you’ll be ready with the quick draw on patenting your plant technology.