There's no doubt that legalization will radically change the cannabis industry, but not all developments will necessarily be positive. For small-scale growers, legalization means legal corporations will enter the business, potentially pushing out little operations that have helped develop the market for years.
But there is hope for smaller companies if they begin preparing for legalization now by taking Dr. Reggie Gaudino's advice.
In November 2015, Ganjapreneur's Shango Los sat down with Gaudino, Vice President of Scientific Operation and Director of Intellectual Property at Steep Hill, a cannabis analysis, biotechnology and research facility. From this interview, we pulled seven pieces of sage advice for aspiring strain scientists and patent holders.
1. Beware Big Agra
Industry insiders and advocates often discuss the pros and cons of Big Marijuana, the idea that legalization will allow large corporations will take over the industry from smaller growers.
But Gaudino warns growers that the corporate farming companies (a.k.a. Big Agriculture) are already waiting on the doorstep to take over the cannabis industry:
At some point, big agriculture, Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, the pharmaceutical industry, they're all going to jump on the bandwagon once everything goes from schedule I to schedule II. That's a reality, it's not when is it going to happen or maybe it will happen. It's going to happen and it's going to come pretty soon. There's a lot of movement in the government right now. A savvy observer of the industry will see that the movement is gaining momentum and is moving towards that direction.
2. Most strains are 'open source'
Big Agra poses a threat to smaller growers because most strains that are currently on the market can't be protected with patents:
"Every strain that is publicly available for sale right now basically becomes open source," said Gaudino. "Patent law states that you can't apply for a patent of any kind anything that's been being sold for a year or more."
3. Attack of the clones
Without patents, small-scale growers can't protect their strains from being cloned or their revenue streams from being siphoned into Big Agra's pockets:
"The rule in patent law is, if you have been selling something for a year or more, commercially, or if it has been offered for sale, then it cannot be patented. That means everything on the shelves in a dispensary right now, Monsanto and Dow Agrosciences and all those other big Ag companies, can come in, buy clones, but not pay a penny to the original breeder, and grow them and outsell you because they will be able to do it faster, better, and at a lower price point."
4. 'Breed your butts off'
In order to compete with commercial farmers, Gaudino says that small-scale growers need to develop new, patentable strains by investing in genetic research and making their plants breed like bunnies:
"The message that Steep Hill is trying to get out is...if you're a breeder, the best thing that you can be doing right now is breeding your butt off. Finding those nuances, going after those new unique strains, trying to develop better phenotypes, so that you can have some relevance...a few years down the line. There's not a single grower who seriously has the power to compete with the likes of Monsanto or Dow Agrosciences."
5. Get in the patent queue
Growers hoping to protect new strains should place them in the patent queue rather than the open market:
"There are a number of plant patents that are in the plant patent queue that the government is kind of dragging their feet on them. But they're there, you can go and you can look at all the plant patent applications, there's dozens if not hundreds of plant patent applications already out there. That is where breeders have to go to be able to maintain being relevant, to maintain not only their revenue stream, but the rights to what they want to do or who they want to give their product to."
6. Expect friendly fire
Dr. Gaudino predicts that the entry of big business will turn the marijuana industry from a laid-back operation into a cutthroat enterprise:
"Everything that has been done in the cannabis industry through the altruism and the kind of camaraderie that has typically been associated with the industry, when you get to big business, that goes away. It's unfortunate, but the industry is going to change."
7. Consider going back to school
If you'd rather study strains than develop your own, Dr. Gaudino says plenty of jobs are waiting for you:
Cannabis is a commercially important agricultural crop that we know nothing about. We know so much more about wheat, about rice, about all these other things and so, it was basically a blank slate here. There's a lot of room, there's so much to be done in the cannabis industry in terms of understanding the genetics and understanding the biology of the plant that I would say anybody who's in college, who's studying biology, this field is just waiting with open arms.
If you want to learn more, check out the full interview here.