Pubdate: Thu, 19 May 2011
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoula Independent
Author: Matthew Frank
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


Growers Lament Loss of Cannabis Genetics

Last Friday, an immature cannabis plant appeared at Garden Mother 
Herbs in Missoula like a baby on the doorstep. Katrina Farnum, the 
business's owner, said she has no clue where it came from. All that 
identified the five-inch-tall plant was a white label stuck in the 
soil with the word "Misty" Sharpied on it.

That was enough for Farnum, a medical marijuana caregiver, to know 
that she'd been entrusted with a special strain of cannabis--one that 
someone wants to preserve.

Misty is among the few cannabis strains in Montana found to contain 
high levels of CBD, or cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic compound 
scientists have zeroed in on to help treat cancer, diabetes, muscle 
spasms, nausea, inflammation, and pain, among other conditions.

As the medical marijuana community counts down to July 1, when the 
industry will be all but outlawed, the anonymous delivery of the 
Misty clone reflects one of the caregivers' top concerns. "People are 
feeling so pressured and so stressed to make sure that those genetics 
are protected, that they're safe," Farnum says. "At this point, it's 
not even about having business diversity, it's, 'Holy crap, save 
these plants. Just save them. Everyone, someone, take a cutting or 
whatever and take care of it the best you can.'"

When Senate Bill 423 becomes law, the for-profit medical marijuana 
industry that's exploded over the last two years will be replaced 
with a grow-your-own model that will shift marijuana production from 
professional grow-houses to the closets and basements of thousands of 
patients who probably have never grown marijuana before. What will be 
lost, caregivers say, is the patients' ability to obtain cannabis 
strains bred for certain effects and to treat specific ailments.

"I feel terrible for people who are starting from seed, because it's 
a crapshoot," says one grower and caregiver, whom we'll call Jack. 
(He asked to remain anonymous in the wake of federal agents raiding 
26 medical marijuana businesses across the state in March.) Jack, 
who's grown cannabis for his patients for nearly five years, speaks 
passionately about cannabis genetics and things like "multi-gene 
inheritance, F1s and F2s, and inbreed lines." He likens the genetic 
variability of cannabis to that of dogs. "The variety that's 
potentially out there and available is just staggering," he says, 
adding that "the ability to manipulate that into such a specific 
direction" is "unique to cannabis."

SB 423 limits caregivers--who, come July 1, will be called 
"providers"--to three patients. That's too few for providers to 
develop true breeding programs, Jack contends. "You can forget about 
having the ability to choose specific strains for specific ailments. 
In fact, it's going to be a lot more like the black market, where you 
don't even get to choose between indica and sativa." The effects of 
indicas tend to be more physical whereas sativas' are more cerebral.

"It's like, 'Here, I brought some marijuana for you,'" Jack 
continues. "There's no more to it."

In March, when federal agents raided MCM Caregivers, in Belgrade, 
they seized between 500 and 700 cannabis plants, says owner Randy 
Leibenguth. Many of the strains contained high levels of CBD, the 
cannabinoid that makes Misty so unique. Some patients are drawn to 
CBD-heavy strains because, unlike THC, CBD doesn't make them high, 
but it still provides therapeutic effects. Leibenguth had found a 
niche in developing high-CBD strains, including Misty. He hired 
Montana Botanical Analysis, a Bozeman-based cannabis lab, to quantify 
the strains' cannabinoid levels.

MCM may be forced to shut down in six weeks, but Leibenguth plans to 
ensure that his plants' genetics live on. "On July 1, if they come in 
and they want to take everything, I'm going to have these seeds 
buried in the yard or something so I don't have to worry about them 
being taken," Leibenguth says. "They'll take all the plant material 
and they'll probably get the Misty strain unless somebody can hold 
onto it. It's a very vital strain to hold onto."

Exacerbating the loss of genetic breeding programs, the Montana 
Legislature nixed giving legal cover to cannabis labs like Montana 
Botanical Analysis. Chemist Noel Palmer, the lab's director, says 
it's a "slap in the face" that the legislature failed to acknowledge 
the role labs play in developing new strains of marijuana and 
bringing quality control to the industry. Palmer, like many others 
employed by the medical marijuana industry, now finds himself looking 
for another job.

"I think once we realize how powerful of a medicine it really is, 
we're really going to be wishing that we had done what we could to 
encourage diversity rather than stamp it out," Jack says.

In the meantime, he says, he's looking to another plant to keep his 
skills sharp. "I want to start developing tomato varieties, just so I 
can practice and learn more about how different traits combine. I can 
apply so much of what I learn doing that to cannabis if and when I 
ever get an opportunity to [begin] a true breeding program of 
cannabis--not just some closet, pollen-chucking sort of thing."
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