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Trying to corner the market on legal marijuana (gq.com)
124 points by seoguru on Aug 27, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments



I went ahead and looked up these patents. This one looks particularly bad:

https://www.google.com/patents/US9370164

This basically grants them a patent on every single cannabis plant which has >3% THC and CBD, and which Myrcene is not the dominant terpine. Can anyone who knows their bud say which strains this could be applied to?

Also, the specification on this is HUGE. This represents a large investment; they're going to filing continuations on this until the cows come home.

EDIT: I found this website: http://analytical360.com/

This lists a number of strains that could potentially read on this, such as Gorilla Glue: http://analytical360.com/m/archived/261533


Myrcene is the dominant terpene in all strains of cannabis according to this study: http://www.internationalhempassociation.org/jiha/jiha4208.ht...

Cannabis has been cultivated and sold illegally in the US for almost a century. It seems unlikely that the USPTO would be able to enforce compliance when law enforcement has not.


Legal marijuana will push out illegal marijuana. Large, industrial farms will outcompete anyone who is growing illegally.

And that is going to make it much easier to regulate. Patents have the potential to pick the winners in this industry if they are handed out irresponsibily.


Currently, the black market can provide cannabis in colorado, california or oregon for about half the price of the legal market (and generally, if you wanted half a lb to stock up for personal use, you can't just go buy it at a store anyway). Part of the lower price is due to competition from legal sources, part due to not paying taxes.

Personally, I would rather grow it at home exactly like tomatoes, if it's herb.

Most of the action these days is in extracts and fine products for connoisseurs. Don't underestimate the semi-luxury market - the same demographic who support microbreweries and small coffee roasters like cannabis. While there will be giant mass market Wal-Weed, and also large plantations like the wine complex of Napa, there will also be a lot, lot of small growers, extractors and breeders.


Ah, growing cannabis isn't quite like growing tomatoes. Growing tomatoes is something that a tomato plant does more or less of its own accord. Cannabis really wants to be 15 feet tall and to produce lots of little seeds. Getting it to exclusively produce flowers requires a bit more effort. The 15 feet tall thing may also require some adjustment.

What I'd like to do is to create something about refrigerator-sized which would use hydroponics to get cannabis growing as close to being a push-button operation as possible. I built a prototype a few years ago that was at least able to provide the entertainment of being able to control the lights/fans/pumps via cron job, but life hasn't worked out to be able to do that again. I do think there's a market for such things for pretty much the reasons you identify.


I think you missed the analogy. Firstly, it isn't about the amount of work required, because growing good tomatoes requires work as well. Yes, a tomato seed will produce tomatoes on its own, but so will cannabis produce flowers. But in both cases the product might not be as satisfactory as you'd like. You may lose some tomatoes to bugs, and they may not be very big. Same with cannabis, it may be seeded out if there are males around.

Secondly, I think the analogy was more about the enthusiasm a home gardener has, where tomatoes are often something they would grow. So the poster above meant that they'd rather cannabis to be regulated in the same way tomatoes are: you can grow them without regulation at your house, but if you want to sell them commercially (to stores and restaurants) then further licensing is required.


I suppose I wasn't clear enough. I do think that his characterization of the social role of cannabis is accurate, but the technical challenges are a bit different. Which is mostly just an opportunity to mention my personal technological interest in this. Which may not be quite entirely topical.


I think that the technical challenges of growing cannabis vs. tomatoes is indeed different, but can be equally difficult or simple, related to the quality of the product you want. There are similar such inventions for growing tomatoes to what you mention for cannabis. Tomatoes too have a long history of breeding for size and other aspects as well, again similar to cannabis. You can grow "ditch weed" just as easily as poor quality tomatoes by not tending the plants etc.


I think a lot of the technical challenge is in that few people try to grow tomatoes indoors. If you try to grow each indoors, or outdoors, the technical aspects are more similar.

I think it's great that you posted about your ideas about it, because there are huge opportunities related to everything about cannabis that most people will overlook due to the various issues from the past still surrounding it.


Right, I did mean like tomatoes in a social, cultural and economic sense. Meaning, one could grow it as a special treat for friends and family, and share it freely. Maybe another comparison would be to home-brewing. There are huge breweries, medium breweries, small breweries, but some people love to do it at home.


Outdoor varieties do grow that tall, or more. Indicas and modern hybrids tend more towards about 5 feet, but it all depends on training, pruning, whether you use clones (every serious grower uses clones, not flowering a single plant grown from seed).

The seeds in your crop only happen if you have male plants, or a problem with hermaphrodites. Most people cull the males or use female clones. If you have a female plant, it only produces female flowers. Triggering flowering is quite simple as it only requires manipulation of photoperiod.

Growing cannabis is really not that complicated… mot only has hemp been domesticated for thousands of years, but herbal varieties have been bred like heck for decades to be easier to grow and productive especially grown indoors. Fertilizer wise, it is a lot like tomatoes, loving rich soil, drainage and nitrogen, and then switching to a bloom cycle. Overall it's a very hearty and resilient plant (weed?). It's true that doing it well takes time, money, facilities and skill, and ideally passion.

For the small, self-contained unit you described, it soubds like what people call a cabinet grow. I think there's a subreddit for that. The subterfuge aspect is less important these days, now that more people live in states where it is legal, but some still do cabinet grows for space or privacy reasons. The automatic aspect is a great idea... definitely there are vast opportunities in helping people grow their own healthy herbs.


What you say is accurate, but I feel like it sort of highlights the difference between cannabis and tomatoes. Cannabis is not difficult to grow; even a modest amount of care and attention can produce good sinsemilla. Tomatoes just seem to set a pretty low bar for effort, I think.

> but herbal varieties have been bred like heck for decades to be easier to grow and productive especially grown indoors.

This is probably what I would consider to be one of the key differences. Because of prohibition, there was a great deal of what we might almost call scientific research into maximizing yields. A tomato is pretty much a tomato any way you slice it, but the hemp growing on the roadside and the product of the expert grower are hardly recognizable as being from the same plant. I don't think humans have quite the same relationship with very many other crops.

I think the main appeal of an automated grow cabinet would be that it's relatively difficult to keep temp/humidity/CO2 at ideal levels without a fair amount of investment in HVAC. Monitoring TDS and pH is almost too easy not to do, and being able to adjust those automatically is probably trickier than it sounds, but tractable. Setting up truly ideal conditions for cannabis cultivation requires a lot of planning, and dedicated space. But as you say, this isn't very different from the home/small batch brewing scene, and there should be a similar market for equipment.


Last time I encountered this on the network, the hot thing was self-contained 55-gallon plastic drums, with integrated thermal signature hiding and odor control. You plug it in, add water and hydroponics chemicals, and mostly leave it alone until ready for harvest. But at the time I saw it, the electronic control systems were largely do-it-yourself, rather than turnkey, off-the-shelf control units.

By this time, there should probably be a package targeted for Raspberry Pis, and the ability for your cannabis plant to text you via Signal if she wants some attention.


When greed meets control, you get a black market.

I don't see illegal marijuana going away. There's always going to a black market for a product that's strictly regulated, so long as it's profitable and in high demand.


Unfortunately, this study is from 1997 and is out of date. This study from 2011 suggests that at least some strains do not have Myrcene as the dominant terpene: https://www.fundacion-canna.es/en/variations-terpene-profile...


That's interesting. The strains with lower Myrcene are all Sativa. Myrcene is thought to cause the 'couch-lock' feeling common in Indicas.


The PTO is not charged with enforcing patents, that's what the courts are for.


Ah, patents again. Who wants free markets when you can have a winner-take-all system based on government-granted monopolies.


Ah, capitalism. Who wants the free association of individual producers as labourers when you can have wage labour and the cycle of capital crisis in a commodity economy backed up by the State acting on behalf of the property owners for the benefit of the rich to the detriment of the poor as Adam Smith noted even in the 18th century?

The free market was so called because it is free from control of its participants :)

Edit: To be clear, I'm arguing against capitalism as a manifestation of freedom, I'm sure we both agree that patents and copyrights should not exist in a free society, though.


Please note that free market capitalism (Austrian economics) is not at all in favor of patents (because it creates a temporary monopoly), though I think copyrights are still a thing (because you must not just copy somebody else's work and just claim it was yours).

You may think the above two reasons apply to both patents and copyrights but I will argue they don't once someone asks me for it :)


Ah, socialism. Who wants a non-totalitarian state when you can just enslave the people like all the utopian socialist societies.

Oh, are we just being hyperbolic? A capitalist would say a socialist is wrong and this is cronyism. A socialist would say capitalism is wrong and this is cronyism.


You talk like soviet-style socialism is the only alternative to capitalism, while even your parent comment talked about the concept of the free market by Adam Smith which is heavily based on the economic model that the Arab countries had successfully for centuries. In China you even have history of a pro-market anti-capital system for millennia.


I don't wish to excuse past totalitarian states, but the Communist hypothesis as Badiou writes is much broader than totalitarian forms of government; it is the job of modern day Marxists to consider why it happens and how to prevent it.

I have nothing against free trade, I am opposed to the idea that capitalism promotes a 'free' society. Although there are market Socialists, I am not one of them, because I do no think that it goes far enough to eliminate the law of Value which stands in the way of emancipation of the labourer from capital.


man, 'socialist' really has a branding problem

Guess the european nations are going to simply need a new word in order to stop being conflated with North Korea, and former european nations


Socialism does not mean redistribution. There are currently no socialist countries in Europe, if we take the definition of socialism as social ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Some socialist policies are implemented in some sectors of the economy and society in some countries, but there is no country in Europe where this is true for large enough parts of the economy.


Yeah but any politically active "socialist" in America is talking about "implementing some socialist policies in some sectors of the economy and society" just like in Western Europe

and gets run out by other Americans in all levels of society that imagine North Korea because of the word alone

branding problem. if you are talking about one thing and the other people don't understand, then the language isn't working.


Only if you're American and, honestly, after the shit the American electorate just pulled by electing Trump, you're on your own sorting this shit out. Come back to the world when you've worked out how to behave and not elect dangerous morons.


I thought it's more of a dirty word over in the USA, and in Western + Northern Europe we're generally fine with it. The UK's head of the opposition (Jeremy Corbyn) is a self-described socialist and massively ate into the majority the Conservative party had in the last election. Germany, France and the nordic countries are pretty ok with the word and I know Portugal is the same too. These are just the ones I can speak of, the remainder I'd presume to be not too different.

It's more of an issue in former warsaw pact countries who overthrew a "socialist" government in the late 80s however. I know among my group of friends I'd get eye-rolls and chuckles if I described myself as a socialist


I don't think many of the European nations woukd agree they are socialist, most see themselves trying to balance socialism and capitalism to gain the greatest benefit for all.

How successful their efforts have been is up to the individual to judge.

You are right that it's not as much of a dirty word here.


Headline of this evening's South China Morning Post: How China Quietly Grew Into a Cannabis Superpower

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2108347/green...

Article states that more than half of the 600 patents related to cannabis are held in China. Unclear if they relate to industrial hemp or medicinal uses.

The race to get coveted FDA approval is even more heated. If GW Pharmaceuticals' stock price is any indication, it may be first out the gate with its CBD-based epilepsy treatment, Epidiolex.

A powerful drug derived from marijuana is on the cusp of federal approval

http://www.businessinsider.com/marijuana-epilepsy-drug-2017-...


Its amazing that we at all allow the possibility of a field brimming with promise, that resulted in so much oppression to poor minorites, to be suddenly, just as the moment turned towards freedom, captured and terms dictated by a small group of rich people when others have bled, been deprived of their freedom, and were there first.


This is absurd. If these patents are ever enforced, I hope the cannabis industry doesn't stop until they've destroyed this company, the people who run it, and anyone who associates with them. In a court of law or otherwise.


they already are for soy and corn et al...


I once had an economics professor who insisted the bigger hurdle to marijuana legalization was monetizing it. It's a quite unique cash crop in that it only takes a small area and small amout of labor to produce large supply. His words, paraphrased: "You can grow enough marijuana in your basement to meet the demands of your whole neighborhood! And it's a difficult thing to patent to use IP ownership as a revenue model..."

Looks like BioTech Institute LLC (and I'm sure lots of others) are trying to address the second point.


It's also extremely simple to produce enough alcohol for your entire neighborhood in your basement with a home-made still.

That has not stopped the monetization of alcohol...

People who want to make billions from this will simply lobby until there are extremely strict laws in place to protect their profits, and then also lobby to make sure there are wars and extremely strict punishments for violators of those laws.


Even the easiest homebrewing requires more knowledge and skill than dumping some seeds in your garden, which is literally all you need to do to get an acceptable crop of weed


Acceptable certainly is relative. If you just "dumped some seeds in your garden", you would get seedy, low-grade crap weed, regardless of what strain you planted. Good weed requires proper attention and care.


Wont kill them or blind them. Will get them High. Wont taste that good.bad weed is More acceptable than Bad alcohol


At worst, any weed being sold today will make for fantastic edibles.


In my experience, as long as you select the right seeds/strain (feminized seeds are readily available) and harvest in time, you won't have "low grade crap weed"(obviously that description is subjective) but a very marketable product. Yeild is more difficult to optimize for.

Since other people are comparing rudimentary horticulture to consumable alcohol production for some reason, making market grade alcohol is not nearly as simple. Aside from maybe some parts of West Virginia, basement hooch is not in high demand.



Distilling liquor is significantly more dangerous than growing a plant.


Also, it's much more labor and processing time intensive. It's not true that alcohol demand can be satifsfied in anywhere near similar space and labor requirements that marijuana demand can be.


Plus there's the risk factor. If you fuck up distillation of alcohol, even slightly, people may die.

You get the temperature control on your distillation wrong by 3 degrees, people will get sick from drinking it. 5 degrees, and it may kill kids who happen to get a hold of it, and starting at about 8 degrees it gets to the point where 2-3 glasses of your homebrew whiskey will kill a full blown adult.


I know that home distillation of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C8%9Auic%C4%83 is still fairly common in Romania for example, and you don't see many people dieing. It can't be as hard you think.


In Romania, while many rural families leave a barrel of their own plums, apples, apricots, etc. to ferment, they usually take the fermented fruit to a central village distillery to distill it. The men working there have long years of experience and know how to run the equipment. I have always found copper stills to be "as hard as you think"; I couldn't imagine ever trying to set one up in my own home.


My experiences of home brewed stuff from all over Latin America and West Africa disagree with your theory.

Drink it, you'll be fine!


The most common liquor in West Africa is palm wine, which is not distilled and so methanol does not form. However, West African countries fairly regularly see cases of drinkers going blind from homemade distilled beverages, I would be very cautious about the provenance of any strong liquor offered to me.


In my experience with Latin America, much of that homebrew was produced by the local experts and most people don't make their own moonshine.


Similar to tobacco - which has a bunch of regulations associated with growing it for sale.


Similar, however the space requirement to produce enough tobacco to satisfy the demand of a typical cigarette/cigar smoker is drastically larger than for marijuana.


What is the current state of Case Law with regard to DNA in the US? And how, if at all, would this carry over to the genetics of plants?

How much of a natural product is it safe to say is patentable? And how much of the patent has to depend on things like "processes of manufacturing", etc?


What annoys me is I was trying to tell people this was were this was headed. I suspect Monsanto is the big player or affiliated with whoever it is.

The right to grow needs yo be solidified.


If you'd read the article, you'd know it's not Monsanto.


It would not be surprising if they were counting on the possibility of selling to the giants like Monsanto. The giants don't dare get involved directly at the early stage, just too much legal and reputational danger, but they are one of the logical exits for people who can go in earlier and lock up all the IP.


Honestly the biggest fear is you can't lawfully use water to grow your own food. Patents be damned, you will be in jail in many states if your water use wasn't to just poop in a toilet. I guess people in a desert like Phoenix will be able to justify a grass lawn and a pool via some absurd use of water law.


The sad thing about growing up is that most of the magic unicorns die. Yes, it is a nice story, but if it is not the 1 in a million exceptional story it's probably one of the five big players behind this company. And if they really are close to getting a legal lock on the market the other big players are either making deals with them already behind closed doors or they are partnering up and we'll soon see legal battles about these patents.

For the end result it also doesn't really matter how the fight will go. Either 1, 2 or 3 of them will find a balance that all of them can live with and the rest of the market will just die, starting from the smaller participants, either by going bankrupt or by merging with bigger players. Soon everything will become legal and you can buy standardized packages in the super market with a few illegal players continuing to gamble against the law but never really making big bucks out of it.


Great article.

I love good journalism like this. Well written, informative, and interesting.

Thanks for sharing!


I in particular enjoyed the narrative it was woven into -- following the steps of the investigation bit by bit.


Nobody filed a post-grant objection. It's easy to challenge a patent in the first 9 months, but 9,370,164 has been out for more than a year.


Funny....my cousin just got locked up for that a few weeks ago.


Tell him to move somewhere that it's legal.


His ability to move now might be impeded.


So everybody goes back to growing it surreptitiously.




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