The Rise of Marijuana™ (Patent Pending)
To the cannabis industry, a patent granted last August was either doomsday or the dawn of a new era, depending on who you asked.
U.S. Patent No. 9095554 covered the “compositions and methods for the breeding, production, processing and use of specialty cannabis.” Filed by a group of California marijuana growers, it covers any cannabis plants with a certain chemical profile, including THC (the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana) and terpenes (the molecules that give different varieties their distinctive odors). Although the government had issued patents on certain compounds derived from the cannabis plant, this was the first time a patent had been issued for the plant itself.
“It’s seen as the big guys versus the little guys. There are a lot of people who are afraid of Big Ag and Big Pharma coming in and taking over,” says Jennifer Martin, a cannabis grower and consultant.
The patent comes as social norms around marijuana are loosening and cash-strapped states turn to the drug to alleviate their budget crises. Today, 20 states have legalized medical marijuana, and pot has become a business valued at $6.7 billion. Although the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug with “no accepted medical use,” the industry’s reach—and revenue—is still expected to climb as more states loosen their restrictions on the drug.
As the industry’s supply chain has transitioned from underground growers to legally recognized suppliers, it has caught the attention of scientists and entrepreneurs interested in cataloging and capitalizing on marijuana’s medicinal potential.