Tag Archives: cultivation

derekpeterson

Terra Tech Expands, Maintains Quality: A Q&A with CEO Derek Peterson

By Aaron G. Biros
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derekpeterson
Derek Peterson, chief executive officer of Terra Tech

Terra Tech, with the recent acquisition of Blum, a dispensary in Oakland, and the line of concentrates, IVXX, is sweeping the cannabis industry by setting standards for safety and quality. Terra Tech, publicly traded in the Over-The-Counter market, is well known as an agricultural company, with the subsidiary brand, Edible Garden, selling produce to Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Kroger’s. In December of last year, we covered Terra Tech’s entrance into the cannabis marketplace and their experience with large-scale, sustainable agriculture. We sit down with Derek Peterson, chief executive officer of Terra Tech, to get an update on their progress and quality controls.

CannabisIndustryJournal: In January, Terra Tech announced revenue guidance of $20-22 million for 2016. Can you share some of your strategy going forward to meet your goals?

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Terra Tech is taking organic and GFSI-certified agricultural practices to growing cannabis

Derek Peterson: We have always played both a long game as well as a short game, meaning while we are building our longer term business, like in Nevada, we are also focusing on short term accretive acquisitions, like we did with Blum in Oakland. We want to make sure we capture short-term revenue growth while we plan our future revenue production. We feel confident about achieving those results.

CIJ: How big of a role does the acquisition of Blum and IVXX brand expansion play in meeting those goals?

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The Oakland location of Blum dispensary

Derek: Blum is a significant factor even though we are only capturing three quarters of revenue considering we closed the deal on March 31st of this year. So for the full year of 2017 we will have growth from this level considering we will be able to report a full year of Blum revenue. IVXX presents us with the best opportunity for growth in the coming years. As the market in California and Nevada grows we can continue to expand our IVXX footprint throughout the state. Being able to wholesale to thousands of other retail facilities affords us a significant opportunity to grow our sales.

CIJ: How do you think the brand of Edible Garden positions you well for expansion in the cannabis industry? 

Poinsettias ready for distribution at Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New Jersey
Produce ready for distribution at Edible Garden facility in Belvidere, New Jersey

Derek: One of the reasons we were so successful in the Nevada market was because regulators and legislators felt a high degree of confidence in our abilities considering we are USDA organic, Kosher and GFSI-certified. Our traditional agricultural experience has been very synergistic with our cannabis division from both an optics and operational perspective.

CIJ: Could you give us an update on progress in Medifarm LLC in Nevada? And on your distribution plan for IVXX in California?

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IVXX concentrates

Derek: We are continuing to expand our IVXX line throughout the state and increasing our sales force. In addition we will continue to develop new products to distribute into our existing supply chain, like we just did with our new pre filled cartridge line.

We are opening our Decatur location in Las Vegas in early July and Reno and Desert Inn towards the end of August. Our cultivation and extraction facilities should be complete no later than January 2017. We will have our entire infrastructure in place if the recreational bill passes in Nevada this November.

Blum Las Vegas location will open in July
Blum Las Vegas location will open in July

CIJ: Tell us about the role of laboratory testing in your business.

Derek: Laboratories play a significant role, as they are becoming a mandated step in most new legislation around the company. Independent lab testing is extremely important to maintain safe access for consumers and patients. We work primarily with Steep Hill Labs and CW analytics.

CIJ: Can you expand on your integrated pest management and your growing practices?

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Platinum Cookies ready for packaging and labelling

Derek: Well we cannot say organic, however we do cultivate all naturally. We also cultivate traditional produce that we sell to major retailers. We are USDA organic-certified and we implement similar processes in our cannabis cultivation. Pest control is extremely challenging for any farmer but we rely primarily on bio control, meaning the good bugs eat the bad bugs. This has been very effective for us in the cultivation of all our products.

CIJ: How is your business different from the slew of other dispensaries and growers in California?

Consistency in quality standards requires meticulous SOPs
Consistency in quality standards requires meticulous SOPs

Derek: Service and consistency; we have over 42,000 registered patients and our operations team has over 19 years of experience in California. One of the reasons we have become one of the largest dispensaries in the state is because of that experience. In addition, consistency is extremely important. Consumers expect the same product in every other business and ours is no different. If they come in for our Platinum Cookies one month and the next month it has different characteristics you are going to lose patient confidence. So in the front of the house, we are focused on pairing patients’ needs with the correct product and in the back of the house we are focused on providing a meticulously cultivated product, produced at the highest standards.

CIJ: Can you delve into some of the processing for concentrates? How do you meet such rigorous quality standards?

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Extraction equipment in one of the processing facilities for IVXX

Derek: Through research and development, we have engineered a proprietary process in which our solvent profiles used under our proprietary conditions ensures solvent residual levels which are not detected by instrumentation at 3rd party testing agencies such as Steep Hill Labs. In addition, any good scientific method requires repetition and corroboration of results. In order to accomplish this we also rely on random routine testing in which we send out extracts out to other 3rd party testing labs. Proprietary conditions include, but are not limited to, heat, vacuum, agitation, etc. By utilizing the correct amalgamation of solvent profiles, extraction conditions, purging conditions, as well as rigorous quality control standards, we are able to ensure a product that is void of any residual solvents, without sacrificing potency or identity of the cannabinoids and terpenes. Cannabinoids and terpenes are of chief interest when extracting cannabis for patients so that they have access to these essential oils without any of the actual leaf and bud.

All solvents used are the highest grade available to us, which ensures a truly medical product for the patient. In addition, all of our extraction equipment is routinely cleaned and sterilized using medical grade cleaning agents.

Building or Converting to a Greenhouse? Four Considerations for Commercial Growers

By Taylor Engert
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Successful cannabis cultivation practices leverage commercial agricultural industry practices for the most efficient and cost-effective production of the crop. Since the 1990s, the cannabis industry has cultivated primarily in indoor warehouses and outdoor farms, however the industry is experiencing a significant shift toward greenhouses.

Shelly Peterson, vice president of light product solutions at urban-gro, joined a recent panel of industry experts including Shivawn Brady, chief executive officer and founder of Seva Crop Consulting, and Karl Keich, executive director at Canna Consulting Group, at the Marijuana Business Conference in Orlando, Florida, to discuss how to transition from an indoor or outdoor grow to a greenhouse facility.

What are the considerations when deciding between a warehouse and greenhouse? The panel shares four factors around the costs and operational challenges, and the benefits of a greenhouse.

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The panel at the Marijuana Business Conference.

Maximize Efficiency in Every Process

Why are cannabis cultivators looking toward greenhouses? Peterson says it is all about efficiency. “In a warehouse, electricity costs can run up to 50 percent of the total cost of goods sold, which is a tremendous amount that can be decreased by switching to a greenhouse,” says Peterson. “In a greenhouse, you can add supplemental lighting to augment what the plant is receiving from the sun.”

For cultivators, Peterson noted that it is critical to ensure growers have experienced vendors and advisors on the team to help maximize the efficiency of the greenhouse. “As the cost of this product comes down, the efficient growers will be the ones in it for the long haul,” added Peterson.

Construction vs. Operating Costs

A greenhouse facility that urban-gro helped bring to operation.
A greenhouse facility that urban-gro helped bring to operation.

The panel identified upfront cost as one of the biggest challenges faced when building out a greenhouse. “The cost of retrofitting a warehouse and building a greenhouse are similar, but where you will save is in the operational costs,” says Peterson. “Lighting can be up to one third of your total cost in indoor facilities, when you switch to a greenhouse that cost can be reduced by 50 to 70 percent.”

Brady acknowledged that some traditional greenhouses have challenges in controlling the environment, but automated greenhouses offer retractable roofs and siding. “If you have the resources to invest in your greenhouse system upfront, that is generally a better way to save money in the long run,” says Brady. “Managing pests in greenhouses can also become very challenging if you don’t have the proper climate regulations.”

Lighting for Your Greenhouse

One of the greatest benefits of growing in a greenhouse is the ability to source natural light. But what about the required light levels? Peterson pointed out that light levels change throughout the year and the plants have different light needs in different stage. Supplement with a lighting system that can read the natural light levels received over any given period of time and be adjusted accordingly. “Greenhouse facilities also need to be outfitted to meet the needs of the cannabis plant, which differ in some ways from other agricultural crops,” says Peterson.

Peterson explained that every light is designed with a different purpose in mind. “There are different lights for indoor warehouse facilities where the lighting system provides 100 percent of the available light for cannabis growth versus supplemental lighting for greenhouses,” Peterson adds. “The key is to measure how much light is actually delivered by the sun on a daily basis, which changes throughout the year; at urban-gro, we supplement the facility with light fixtures that will not create shadowing during hours of sunlight and adjust to reach the optimal collective light levels.”

With LED lighting a hot button topic, Peterson explained that the most important consideration for any light fixture, whether LED or HPS, is it’s efficiency capacity. “It all depends on the budget and payback period and a lot of numbers need to be crunched,” says Peterson. “Yield is directly correlated to light; planning properly, sealing your environment, making sure you have the right target DLI, and buying good light meters, are all key.”

Make a Positive Impact and Quality Product

Brady noted that industry leaders are conscious of positive impact towards human health and environmental stewardship when moving to a greenhouse. Cultivators may find the process challenging initially, however the facilities are quite easy to operate and manage, and allow stress-free cultivation of commercial-scale crops.

Keich added that the cannabis industry is becoming more like commercial agriculture. By utilizing the correct technologies and regulators, greenhouse cultivation makes the crop smell, taste and look that much better. “Let’s use natural sunlight to minimize costs and be environmentally friendly to produce a superior product,” says Keich.

Peterson wrapped up by stressing that cultivators should evaluate the greenhouse environment and lighting to improve their bottom line. “Look at the most efficient way to lower your cost of goods sold. Lighting is a very big component to that,” she continued. “Make sure you evaluate the efficiency of the fixture and ask the questions: Why are we targeting this light level? Is the color spectrum correct? Are you measuring in micromoles per watt? These are all different questions, however figure out how much light is coming out of the fixture and verify it for yourself, and you will be successful,” says Peterson.

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Solutions for Cannabis Cultivation: Integrated Pest Management

By Aaron G. Biros
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Pest problems in cultivating cannabis such as spider mites and powdery mildew are major concerns facing growers on a daily basis. Colorado’s ongoing recalls for cannabis products containing pesticides serve as a reminder that pest problems continue to plague growers. Utilizing integrated pest management (IPM) can help reduce the need to use any pesticides, as well as mitigate the risk of unwanted pests wreaking havoc on a cannabis harvest. urban-gro, a solutions provider for commercial cannabis cultivation, builds IPM plans for large-scale cannabis growers tailored to meet specific needs in regulatory compliance for different states.

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urban-gro helped design this facility in Durango, Colorado.

Biological controls are essential to any proper IPM solution for growers. Beneficial living organisms such as insects, mites, nematodes or entomopathogenic fungi can all be applied as a method for controlling pests. Biological controls like those can reduce the need to use pesticides on cannabis. John Chandler, vice president of cultivation technologies at urban-gro, believes IPM requires a broad, systematic approach to eliminate the need for pesticides. “IPM is a combination of cultural, chemical and biological control,” says Chandler. “We start by evaluating the air flow of the facility, how plants are transported, any exclusion barriers and air filtration.” A robust IPM plan begins in the design phase of a new facility. “We can make key adjustments in floor plans, layouts and mechanical systems to optimize that first line of defense that is critical to mitigating the risk of pest issues.” Incorporating good agricultural practices can also help mitigate those risks.

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A close-up of a plant entering flowering at the Durango facility

“We help develop standard operating procedures with good agricultural practices in mind, including preventing cross contamination, which is the biggest pest issue facing cannabis growers,” says Chandler. “I encourage clients to set up harvest and vegetative rooms so that the plants are moving in one specific direction between rooms rather than back and forth.” Using positive air pressure with proper ventilation can further prevent cross contamination. Chandler also recommends scrubbing air coming into the building with gaseous hydrogen peroxide to keep filtering air in ventilation.

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IPM plans require thinking in terms of systems to find the right balance of biological controls.

According to Mark Doherty, director of sales at urban-gro, their IPM plans are customized to meet different states’ rules and regulations, including each list of approved pesticides. “We work to design a system that meets each individual grower’s needs, while helping them navigate regulations in any given state,” says Doherty. “It is important to make cannabis safe for patients and IPM is critical in building a healthy ecosystem for plants to be grown in a safe, yet cost-effective manner.” Proper use of IPM can reduce the need to use pesticides, which could impact a cultivator’s bottom line, but ultimately protect patients’ wellbeing by providing safe and pesticide-free cannabis.

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Procidic works on contact and with residual action.

When all else fails and pests still find their way onto cannabis, there is a solution to address major losses. urban-gro distributes a product called Procidic2®, a broad-spectrum bactericide and fungicide compound, manufactured by Greenspire Global. The advanced commercial formula is designed to eliminate pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Procidic2® can be applied as a preventive and a curative. WSDA Organic Program has approved Procidic2® for use in organic agriculture production and handling. According to Steve Knauss, president of Greenspire Global, “Procidic2® works in sync with the plant through two modes of action: First it controls powdery mildew and gray mold on contact, and secondly it is absorbed systemically into the plant to control disease infection such as root rot,” says Knauss.

Implementing a comprehensive IPM system requires making key changes in cultural, biological and chemical controls. In doing so, growers can successfully mitigate the risk of pest problems, thus reducing the need for potentially harmful pesticides.

The Great LED Debate

By Aaron G. Biros
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The preferred choice for indoor cannabis growing has long been high-pressure sodium (HPS) 1000-watt light bulbs during flowering. Light-emitting diodes (LED) are quickly changing the indoor farming landscape with innovative technologies and promising energy savings. Many think the technology still needs time to develop. There are certainly many pros and cons to switching an indoor cultivation facility from HPS to LED lighting systems.

Steve Kruss, president of Light-Waves Electronics, Inc., gave a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of various light sources at the CannaGrow Conference and Expo. “The first adopters [of LED light technology] more than two years ago did not get the results they wanted, so many growers gave them a bad rap very early on,” says Kruss. His discussion delved into the pros and cons of both LED and HPS lights in growing cannabis.

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Light-Waves Electronics Inc. LED fixtures being installed in a cultivation facility.

It is important to highlight the weaknesses in many common HPS systems and the possible solutions that LED technology could offer. According to Kruss, HPS lights do not match the light spectrum’s photosynthesis curve that plants need to absorb energy. HPS lights give off a tremendous amount of heat that requires more energy to cool a facility down with an HVAC system, increasing energy costs for growers. Since LED’s use 50% less wattage, they produce approximately 50% less heat, significantly reducing cooling costs. HPS light bulbs need to be replaced multiple times per year. Quality LED fixtures can last more than 50,000 hours, or roughly eleven years. “The reality is HPS is putting a lot of light out but that energy is wasted because so much of it is in a light spectrum that plants do not absorb,” says Kruss. Perhaps most important is the lack of ability to vary the light spectrum; any light that HPS bulbs produce that the plant does not absorb is essentially wasted energy.

LED light bulbs provide a solution to the wasted light in HPS by targeting the particular spectrum that plants need for photosynthesis. By targeting the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), roughly 400-700nm, LEDs can effectively mimic the sun’s ability to produce the wavelength of light specifically needed in a certain stage of cultivation. The absorption spectra and action spectra are wavelengths of light preferable for harvest as well as plant growth and metabolism, respectively. LED manufacturers and growers commonly try to harness the Emerson Effect, which uses red (670nm) and far red (700nm) to increase the rate of photosynthesis.

A plant in flowering under a Light-Waves Electronics LED fixture
A plant in flowering under a Light-Waves Electronics LED fixture

The benefits of LED lights in growing cannabis are numerous. The primary benefit is that it provides light at the specific wavelengths chosen to match the specific needs of plants. When finely tuned, LEDs can influence the growth process by slowing down vegetative plant growth and inducing flowering when appropriate. LEDs are more energy efficient than their counterparts partially because they give off substantially less heat in the beam itself, reducing cooling costs. Some growers use LEDs together with HPS lights, some use LEDs with natural sunlight in a greenhouse setting and some use strictly LEDs for the entire growth cycle. Each cultivation operation has its own budgetary restraints and structural limitations, but energy efficiency is one area that all growers should look to improve. According to Adam Koh, chief cultivation officer of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), indoor growers can get away with T5 fluorescent lamps (which do not consume much energy) throughout the vegetative process.

For some, the debate is over and growers recognize the added benefits that LEDs bring to growing cannabis. According to Kruss, LED technology is almost there. “In terms of yields, LED lights are providing around 75% of the weight that HPS produces, but on the vegetative side, the growth is considerably faster which could make up for that weight loss with faster grow cycles and an extra harvest,” says Kruss.

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An LED cultivation operation set up by Tall Trees LED Company

Adam Jacques, award-winning grower and founder of Growers’ Guild Gardens, has used LEDs in tandem with sunlight. Him and his team have bred and grown cannabis in indoor, greenhouse and outdoor operations. “I love the huge steps that some LED manufacturers have made in the past year,” says Jacques. “When I utilize them within a greenhouse setting I really like the product it grows.” Jacques’ findings in the field echo Kruss’ statements that LED lights have made considerable progress very recently. “It does take a little dialing in due to the plants’ increased feeding regiment, but it is a small price to pay for all of the benefits we see,” adds Jacques. His success with the new technology is representative of a larger trend; more and more growers are beginning to implement LEDs in some form.

Some claim the yield is less from LED lights during flowering.
Some claim the yield is less from LED lights during flowering.

Maxx Wiley and Robert Manes, co-founders of Tall Trees LED Company based in Arizona, believe their technology is on par with the yields other growers are getting with different light sources. “We conducted heads-up tests with our 500-watt LEDs versus other 1000-watt HPS bulbs and have seen very impressive results,” says Wiley. “The plants under our lights were consistently getting more weight and more flowers; the flowers appeared smaller but were actually denser and heavier in reality.” Wiley’s company makes commercial LED luminaires that are IP 65 waterproof rated and he claims they never had any issues with failures. The technology uses no moving parts to cool the lights, just metal clad circuit boards, heat sinks and conductive thermal-bonding materials. “We have had customers run potency analyses and have found tremendous variation in plants grown with HPS,” says Wiley. “We see more compound production and more consistency crop-to-crop with our LED technology.” There are currently a handful of manufacturers bringing innovative designs to market.

A cultivation operation in Maine using GS Thermal Solution liquid-cooled LED fixtures
A cultivation operation in Maine using GS Thermal Solution liquid-cooled LED fixtures

GS Thermal Solutions, based in Connecticut, manufactures 1000-watt LED fixtures that are liquid-cooled. The company makes lights that are fully adjustable, so growers can dial in each spectrum of light intensity independently and tailor to specific strains as well as stages of growth. According to Rick Rhyins, vice president of sales at GS Thermal Solutions, the liquid cooling technology allows for a much longer lifetime of the LED and a much more efficient energy consumption. “Our technology addresses the shortcomings and previous problems with early generation LED models,” says Rhyins. Coupled with facility automation, GS Thermal Solutions uses a central control system to monitor cooling, light intensity and spectra, nutrient monitoring and feed control.

Yet some are still skeptical of the LED lighting in today’s market and feel the technology is not there yet. Nic Easley, chief executive officer of Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), has brought over sixty cultivation operations to market and is hesitant to endorse the technology at this point. “I will never be an early adopter when it comes to new lighting technology and I feel we are at least a year out from seeing consistently efficient LED lighting,” says Easley. “There are still a lot of false claims out there and I want to wait until I see repeatable results on a small scale before I feel comfortable endorsing LED lights for cannabis cultivation.” While companies will continue to innovate lighting solutions for indoor cultivation, in many cases (but not all) it seems using the sun to grow cannabis would be more energy efficient.

An Introduction to Cannabis Genetics, Part II

By Dr. CJ Schwartz
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Plants and animals have roughly 25,000 to 30,000 genes. The genes provide the information needed to make a protein, and proteins are the building blocks for all biological organisms. An ideal analogy is a blueprint (DNA) for an alternator (the protein) in a car (the plant). Proteins are the ‘parts’ for living things. Some proteins will work better than others, leading to visible differences that we call phenotypes.

geneticspaintedchromMany traits, and the genes controlling them, are of interest to the cannabis industry. For hemp seed oil, quality, quantity and content can be manipulated through breeding natural genetic variants. Hemp fibers are already some of the best in nature, due to their length and strength. Finding the genes and proteins responsible for elongating the fibers can allow for the breeding of hemp for even longer fibers. In cannabis, the two most popular genes are THCA and CBDA synthases. There are currently over 100 sequences of the THCAS/CBDAS genes, and many natural DNA variations are known. We can make a family tree using just the THCAS, gene data and identify ‘branches’ that result in high, low or intermediate THCA levels. Generally most of the DNA changes have little to no effect on the gene, but some of the changes can have profound effects.

In fact, CBDAS and THCAS are related, in other words, they have a common ancestor. At some point the gene went through changes that resulted in the protein producing CDBA, or THCA or both. This is further supported by the fact that certain CBDAS can produce some THCA, and vice-versa. Studies into the THCAS and CBDAS family are ongoing and extensive, with terpene synthase genes following close behind.

Identifying gene (genetic) variants and characterizing their biological function allows us to combine certain genes in specific combinations to maximize yield, but determining which genes are important (gene discovery) is the first step to utilizing marker-assisted breeding.

Gene Discovery & Manipulation

The term genetics is often misused in the cannabis industry. Genetics is actually “the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics.” When people say they have good genetics, what they really mean is that they have good strains, presumably with good gene variants. When people begin to cross or stabilize strains, they are performing genetic manipulation.Slide1

A geneticist will observe or measure two strains of interest, for example a plant branching and myrcene production. The high-myrcene plant is tall and skinny with no branching, reducing the yield. Crossing the two strains will produce F1 hybrid seeds. In some cases, F1 hybrids create unique desirable phenotypes (synergy) and the breeder’s work is completed. More often, traits act additively, thus we would expect the F1 to be of medium branching and medium myrcene production, a value between that of the values recorded for the parents (additive). Crossing F1 plants will produce an F2 population. An F2 population is comprised of the genes from both parents all mixed up. In this case we would expect the F2 progeny to have many different phenotypes. In our example, 25% of the plants would branch like parent A, and 25% of the F2 plants will have high myrcene like parent B. To get a plant with good branching and high myrcene, we predict that 6.25% (25% x 25%) of the F2 plants would have the correct combination.

The above-described scenario is how geneticists assign gene function, or generally called gene discovery. When the gene for height or branching is identified, it can now be tracked at the DNA level versus the phenotype level. In the above example, 93.5% of your F2 plants can be discarded, there is no need to grow them all to maturity and measure all of their phenotypes.Slide1

The most widely used method for gene discovery using natural genetic variation is by quantitative trait loci mapping (QTL). For these types of experiments, hundreds of plants are grown, phenotyped and genotyped and the data is statistically analyzed for correlations between genes (genotype) and traits (phenotype; figure). For example, all high-myrcene F2 plants will have one gene in common responsible for high myrcene, while all the other genes in those F2 plants will be randomly distributed, thus explaining the need for robust statistics. In this scenario, a gene conferring increased myrcene production has been discovered and can now be incorporated into an efficient marker-assisted breeding program to rapidly increase myrcene production in other desirable strains.

CannaGrow: Education on the Science of Cultivation

By Aaron G. Biros
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The CannaGrow Conference & Expo, held in San Diego on May 7th and 8th, educated attendees on the science of cannabis cultivation. The conference brought subject matter experts from around the country to discuss cannabis breeding and genetics, soil science and cultivation facility design.rsz_img_5038

Discussions at the conference delved deep into the science behind growing while providing some expert advice. Drew Plebani, chief executive officer of Commercial Cultivator, Inc., gave a comprehensive review of soil ecology and how understanding soil fertility is crucial to successfully growing consistent cannabis. “Soil fertility is measured by laboratories in terms of soil minerals, plant-available nutrients, percent of organic materials, pH levels and most importantly the balance of the soil’s chemical makeup,” says Plebani. “There is no silver bullet in soil ecology; increasing your soil fertility comes down to understanding the composition of soil with analytical testing.” Plebani went on to add that soil systems for cannabis need to be slightly fungal-dominant in developing an endomycorrhizal system, which is optimal for cannabis plant growth.

Plebani notes that growth and viability are reliant on maximum root mass.
Plebani notes that growth and viability are reliant on maximum root mass.

Tom Lauerman, colloquially known as Farmer Tom and founder of Farmer Tom Organics, kicked off the conference with an introduction to cultivation techniques. Lauerman also delved into his experience working with federal agencies in conducting the first ever health hazard evaluation (HHE) for cannabis with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Through the HHE program, NIOSH responds to requests for evaluations of workplace health hazards, which are then enforced by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Lauerman worked with those federal agencies, allowing them to tour his cultivation facilities to perform an HHE for cannabis processing worker safety. “I was honored to introduce those federal agencies to cannabis and I think this is a great step toward normalizing cannabis by getting the federal government involved on the ground level,” says Lauerman. Through the presentation, Lauerman emphasized the importance of working with NIOSH and OSHA to show federal agencies how the cannabis production industry emerged from the black market, branding itself with a sense of legitimacy.

Attendees flocked to Jacques and his team after the presentation to meet them.
Attendees flocked to Jacques and his team after the presentation to meet them.

Adam Jacques, award-winning cultivator and owner of Grower’s Guild Gardens, discussed his success in breeding CBD-dominant strains and producing customized whole-plant extractions for specific patients’ needs. “I find higher percentages of CBD in plants harvested slightly earlier than you would for a high-THC strain,” says Jacques. “Using closed-loop carbon dioxide extraction equipment, we can use multiple strains to homogenize an oil dialed in for each patient’s specific needs.” As a huge proponent of the Entourage Effect, Jacques stressed the importance of full plant extraction using fractionation with carbon dioxide. He also stressed the importance of analytical testing at every step during processing.

Hildenbrand discussing some of the lesser-known terpenoids yet to be studied.
Hildenbrand discussing some of the lesser-known terpenoids yet to be studied.

Zacariah Hildenbrand, Ph.D., chief scientific officer at C4 Laboratories, provided the 30,000-foot view of the science behind compounds in cannabis, their interactions and his research. With the help of their DEA license, he started the C4 Cannabinomics Collaborative, where they are working with Dr. Kevin Schug at the University of Texas-Arlington to screen various cannabis strains to discover new molecules and characterize their structure. “Secondarily, we are using gene expression profiles and analysis to understand the human physiological response and the mechanism through which they elicit that response,” says Hildenbrand. “As this research evolves, we should look to epigenetics and understanding how genes are expressed.” His collaborative effort uses Shimadzu’s Vacuum Ultraviolet Spectroscopy (VUV), and they use the only VUV instrument in an academic laboratory in the United States. “Pharmaceuticals are supposed to be a targeted therapy and that is where we need to go with cannabis,” says Hildenbrand. Him and his team at C4 Laboratories want to work on the discovery of new terpenes and analyze their potential benefits, which could be significant research for cannabis medicine.

Other important topics at the conference included facility design and optimization regarding efficient technologies such as LED lighting and integrated pest management.

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Biros' Blog

Ongoing Pesticide Recalls a Sign of Industry Maturity

By Aaron G. Biros
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Regulators in Colorado last week announced another massive recall of cannabis found to contain banned pesticides. 92 batches of cannabis plants, with roughly a dozen plants in each batch, were recalled for using the product, Guardian, on the plants. The culprit was an ingredient in the product called avermectin, a pesticide listed as a ‘bad actor’ by the Pesticide Action Network.

The recall follows dozens of others in Colorado this year, all because tests found pesticides present in cannabis samples. When news spreads of cannabis recalls due to concerns of pesticide contamination, it paints a picture of worrisome problems rampant in the cannabis industry. Alarmists say continued recalls could have disastrous consequences like stalling legalization initiatives or slowing growth in new markets.

In the food industry, recalls are a part of routine business. The FDA created the Reportable Food Registry (RFR) as a way to prevent the shipment of contaminated food products into the supply. In 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill made news when it sickened dozens with an E.coli outbreak and issued extensive recalls as a result. After that happened, the company reevaluated its practices and improved their food safety program to prevent future outbreaks.

When a recall occurs, it should prompt a surge in inquiries, responses and audits that need to be addressed and reviewed carefully. Ample proactive planning including HACCP, comprehensive risk analysis and validation studies or documents help prevent recalls from occurring in the first place. When recalls do happen, reactive measures should occur immediately with a strategy in place to deal with all of the regulatory compliance, quality, safety and branding ramifications.

When a recall occurs in the food industry, it generally means that there was a foodborne illness outbreak, followed by a reactive measure. That reactive measure, the recall itself, is what prevents foodborne illness outbreaks from growing or becoming an epidemic. Recalls in the food industry show that regulators are concerned about contamination and taking action to safeguard public health. In other words, when a recall occurs, it means that someone is watching.

I think recalls in the cannabis industry are a sign of the marketplace growing up. Recalls can be seen as a good thing, a sign of proper safety measures in place to prevent further contamination. Reporting recalls or failures means that professionals are beginning to pay attention to the safety and quality of processes in place at cannabis production facilities. Looking at the long-term sustainability of the cannabis industry, keeping quality and safety at top of mind will help businesses self-legitimize. Those not striving for the safest practices and the best quality will lose their ability to compete as the market continues to grow. Recalls can tarnish a company’s brand, but they also indicate that the industry has reached a point of legitimacy. Cannabis is now out of the closet and under a microscope.

DEA To Consider Rescheduling Cannabis, Could Mean Policy Shift

By Aaron G. Biros
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In a letter sent to lawmakers last week, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced plans to make a decision on rescheduling cannabis by mid-2016. The announcement could represent the culmination of a shift in the federal government’s attitude toward cannabis legalization.Dea_color_logo

Currently, cannabis is a Schedule I narcotic, meaning the government views it as lacking medical benefits and have a high potential for abuse. The rescheduling of cannabis has the potential to open the floodgates for research, including much needed clinical trials.

Derek Peterson, chief executive officer at Terra Tech, a cannabis-focused agriculture company, believes this bodes well for the growth potential of the cannabis industry. “From the perspective of quality and safety standards, I find it unlikely that rescheduling it would negatively impact the degree to which cannabis is examined,” says Peterson. “It’s unnecessarily high position on the DEA drug schedule does nothing but limit the industry’s potential for growth, stall any meaningful pharmaceutical testing and increase law enforcement’s ability to prosecute non-violent drug offenders,” adds Peterson.

The rescheduling could also potentially allow for the prescribing of cannabis for patients. Stephen Goldner, founder of Pinnacle Labs and president of Regulatory Affairs Associates, is hopeful this will lead to a greater shift in public attitude towards cannabis. “The DEA’s announcement is a clear message to all States and possibly even to United Nations policy makers: even the DEA is willing to reconsider cannabis,” says Goldner. “Since the DEA is reconsidering cannabis, state politicians and local police departments can also be flexible and move away from prohibition, towards the regulation of cannabis.”

The rescheduling of cannabis could have a tremendous impact on the growth of the cannabis industry, including more clinical trials, medical research and physician participation. It could also open the door for more federal agency involvement, as the Schedule I status inhibits any EPA research on cannabis pesticide use or FDA guidance on food and drug good manufacturing practices. When reached for comment, the FDA’s press office said they could not speculate on any involvement in the matter.

An Introduction to Cannabis Genetics, Part I

By Dr. CJ Schwartz
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What is DNA?

DNA stores information about how to build an organism. Just as a series of 0’s and 1’s represents digital data, DNA data is represented by four letters (A, C, G and T), which inherently allows DNA to store more information per unit (Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

The amount of DNA required to build a human is mind-boggling. The human genome has 3.2 billion A’s, C’s, G’s, or T’s, (called nucleotides). Cannabis has 820 million nucleotides. This is true for every cell in the organism. The DNA from a single human cell when spread out would stretch six feet long. A cell is not visible to the naked eye, yet it contains a microscopic thread of DNA six feet long! If you put all the DNA molecules in your body end to end, the DNA would reach from the Earth to the Sun.

DNA is common in all living things, and all living things are related through DNA. Humans and plants share 50% of their genes. In humans, 99.9% of the DNA is identical, thus just 0.1% of DNA differences accounts for all of the variation observed in humans. Cannabis, as a species, is more variable with approximately 1% of the DNA being different among strains. DNA is a super efficient and reliable information storage system. However, mistakes (mutations) do occur and while infrequent, these mutations account for all the differences observed within a species and is called natural genetic variation. Variation within the genomes of a species can help the species survive in unfavorable conditions (evolution) and is also the source of differences in traits, which is the material that is required for successful breeding.

Natural Genetic Variation

DNA mutations occur in every generation and these changes will be different in each individual creating natural genetic variation. Mutations (or more accurately referred to as DNA changes) will be inherited by offspring and will persist in the population if the offspring reproduce.

Figure 2
Figure 2

DNA differences maintain diversity in the gene pool, allowing organisms to respond to new environments (migration) or environmental changes (adaptation). The two most commonly described cannabis families are Indicas and Sativas. Indicas, being from cooler temperate regions, have wide leaves allowing the maximum capture of light during the shorter growing season. Sativas, being equatorial, have smaller leaves, which may be an advantage for such things as powdery mildew in a humid environment. Figure 2 shows the enormous amount of natural variation in leaves for one species with a worldwide population (Arabidopsis thaliana).

A DNA change that occurred a long time ago will be more useful to divide people/plants into different groups. For example, there are ancient DNA changes that differentiate humans originating from Europe or Asia. Other newer DNA changes allow us to further divide Europeans into those originating from Northern versus Southern Europe. Thus, different DNA changes have different values for determining relatedness or ancestry, yet every DNA change provides some information for determining heredity.

Figure 3
Figure 3

Family Trees

By comparing DNA changes among different strains, we can measure the relatedness between strains. For example, if strain A has a DNA change indicative of Kush ancestry and strain B has a DNA change indicative of hemp ancestry, we can assign strains to branches of the cannabis family tree comprised of strains that contain similar DNA changes. Figure 3 shows 184 strains that have been characterized for these changes, and the position of each strain is based on its shared DNA with neighboring strains. The two best-defined families of cannabis are hemp (blue) and kush (black). Strains within a family are more closely related. Strains in separate families, such as kush and hemp, are more distantly related.


 

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a series of articles focused on answering common questions regarding cannabis genetics. If you have questions regarding cannabis genetics, or wish to speak more about the topic please post in the comments section below. The next installment will delve into the THC synthase, gene discovery and manipulation and mapping chromosomes.

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Biros' Blog

The Cannabis Industry’s Pesticide Problem

By Aaron G. Biros
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Colorado regulators recalled roughly 65 batches of cannabis produced by two separate companies last Friday. Pesticide recalls plastered all over the news in the past few months have painted a picture of the cannabis marketplace to the public as unsafe and lacking crucial quality standards. The continued pesticide recalls in Colorado, along with poor safety standards in Washington, show the cannabis industry in an unfavorable light. The recalls include not only cannabis sold recreationally, but also medical cannabis, which should highlight a sense of urgency to deal with such a pervasive issue.

Because patients with weakened immune systems are seeking treatment with cannabis, it is the producer’s obligation to grow cannabis safely and without pesticides. That requires proper quality controls, pesticide use standard operating procedures, very robust lab testing and an overall push to protect consumer safety from both regulators and industry leaders.

The pesticides most commonly found in cannabis products include myclobutanil, a fungicide in Eagle 20, and avermectin, commonly found in Avid pesticides. The Pesticide Action Network lists both compounds as “bad actors” and as developmental or reproductive toxins.

Largely due to federal illegality, there are no EPA-approved pesticides for use in cannabis production, thus a lack of guidelines for states to follow in regulating pesticide use. As a result, states are working to write their own lists of approved pesticides.

Until very recently, Washington had no procedure for recalls of cannabis in place. “The LCB in Washington State has implemented emergency recall rules but more clarity on what types of pesticides are harmful is needed,” says Trek Hollnagel, co-founder of Dope Magazine and a chain of dispensaries in Seattle, WA. It is no secret that the Washington State Liquor Cannabis Board (LCB) poorly regulates cannabis labs.

Reports show immense variation in different labs’ results and rampant laboratory shopping. Dana Luce, co-founder of GOAT Labs, Inc., a cannabis-testing laboratory based in Vancouver, Washington, has been clamoring for a standardized recall procedure. “The state needs to take a much more proactive approach in monitoring laboratories,” says Luce. “Using blind testing or secret shoppers would give them the opportunity to catching those labs playing below board.” Luce also believes that retail outlets should absorb the cost of recalls, which could help prevent laboratory shopping just for higher potency test results.

In Washington, regulators rely on producers to self-report coupled with random inspections; furthermore they do not even require pesticide testing. Without a burden of proof placed on the producer or even the laboratory, it is hardly a regulated market.

Those producing cannabis with pesticides listed above should know they are violating the law. According to Comprehensive Cannabis Consulting (3C), “applying pesticides off label is a violation of state and federal law and could result in criminal and civil sanctions…”

In reality, the solution to this problem is not just a quick fix, but a multitude of corrective actions to move the cannabis industry forward. Nic Easley, chief executive officer of 3C, believes it starts with educating cultivators on using pesticides properly and good agricultural practices (GAP). “Many of the pest problems prompting the illegal use of pesticides are due to poor facility design, lack of cleanliness, over-fertilization and other general plant health issues,” says Easley. “All of those issues could be greatly reduced through education in GAP.”

Then comes regulator-industry collaboration, where all parties are constantly learning. “Regulators or independent third-party groups need to be performing on-site inspections, which cultivators need to participate in openly and transparently,” adds Easley. The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) is actively working on this aspect by offering workshops aimed at helping producers get up to speed with worker protection standards.

“Adequate standards need to be applied across the board to labs, and ongoing proficiency testing needs to take place to ensure that a lab’s facility, processes and instruments are fully validated,” says Easley. So the problem is cannabis producers still using pesticides off label and if that continues, so will the recalls. It seems the solution involves industry-regulator collaboration, more robust laboratory systems and calibration methods and educating cultivators on good agricultural practices. Additionally, more state guidance is needed in the form of research for an approved list of pesticides on cannabis and a bigger push for regulation in the form of inspections and laboratory oversight.