OG Kush or Purple Haze? God Bud or Girl Scout Cookies? Canada’s legal pot market may be alive and kicking but the industry has a long way to go in terms of regulating the genetic makeup of its product, a factor which may keep recreational users tied to the black market.
You may know the THC and CBD content of that joint purchased from your province’s retail shop but as far as cannabis strains go it’s still the Wild West out there, as licensed producers such as Canopy Growth, while required to prove that their products are free from contaminants like mould and pesticides, have free rein when it comes to classifying and branding.
“Names don’t identify the plant —you can have different strains that show the same chemical profile,” says Timothy Harvey, CEO of cannabis gene sequencing company Lighthouse Genomics, speaking to the Vancouver Sun recently. “It’s staggering —but currently there is no requirement for genetic consistency in batches and certainly no way of validating it and there is no regulatory requirement for genetic identities.”
The lack of scientific rigour is in keeping with the hobbyist nature of cannabis culture, pre-legalization, says Harvey.
“That’s a vestige of the culture of the black market. Unlike other crops like apples, which are registered under the (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), or have other scientific programs involved with breeding and verifying their identity, cannabis has just come out of the black market where the strain identities essentially amount to urban myth or folklore,” he says.
But with the federal government’s stated aim to drive out black market pot, regulating cannabis strains will have to become part of process. Recent data from Health Canada shows that during the last quarter, the first to feature Canada’s legal rec cannabis industry, black market sales fell by eight per cent yet still made up 79 per cent of the overall market.
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Cannabis companies are taking note of the eventual need for more scientific rigour in identifying their products. Jordan Sinclair is VP of Communications for Canopy Growth, where in-house genetic research is being ramped up in order to create identifiable and consistent strains.
“A lot of our work right now is focused on genetics,” says Sinclair, in conversation with the GrowthOp. “The way that we look at it now is that we’re using genetics that consumers might have had somewhere else —they might have experienced it in the black market. In the next couple of years, they will start to see genetics that they’ve never seen before that we’ve come up with ourselves because we’ve bred things together selectively.”
“I sort of stepped away from consuming cannabis because it wasn’t easy to figure out what the outcome was going to be. You couldn’t always predict what a single joint was going to give you and there was no way to verify what it was,” he says.
Sinclair says that clarifying their strains will make customers more comfortable in using their products.
“We’ve probably gone through dozens and dozens of genetic offerings that just are no longer offered and we no longer grow them because we’ve come up with better stuff,” he says. “What we’ve ended up with after five years is a really strong set of offerings. We’ve got a really good Hindu Kush, we’ve got a really good CBD skunk haze. We’ve got some products that I think are being received really well.”
Below: Canopy Growth focused on future of cannabis genetics, learning from black market