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Is Monsanto working to create GMO marijuana?

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As more and more states are moving to legalize medical marijuana, rumors have spread that Monsanto is poising to take control of the market with their own genetically modified strains.

Numerous sites have been speculating that Monsanto is moving into the marijuana trade, while there are already multiple reports that Monsanto has been quietly manufacturing genetically modified marijuana for years.

And while there is increasing evidence that Monsanto is looking to profit off of GM marijuana, they are definitely not alone.

Some websites have been sounding the alarm recently with headlines such as Why Legalize Marijuana? Because GMO Pot Is On Its Way and Monsanto, and GMO Terminator Cannabis. While much of these appear to be speculation without sources, there is still plenty of evidence that Monsanto is moving into the marijuana market.

Chicago Now reports in Is Monsanto Ready to Enter The Medical Marijuana War?:

As the largest producer of GMO plants, moving into medical marijuana may seem a logical next step for the agriculture giant. US labs already use strains of genetically modified cannabis for testing and research, and the growing demand for legally obtained medical marijuana is sure to spike in the near future.

There are also reports that Monsanto is moving into the arena in other countries, especially in Uruguay.

The Daily Bell speculated that the agri-giant may use Uruguay's new legalization of the drug to win favor for its widely-distrusted GM technology in South America, writing:

Monsanto, under attack regarding its GMO seeds, may need a new market to re-establish credibility and even popularity – as marijuana will surely prove a more welcome crop than soy in the public mind.

There are claims that the company is already moving on this front. The Argentian site Urgente24.com says:

The television campaign in Uruguay for the "responsible control " of marijuana, at a cost of US S100.000 would be financed in part by funds from abroad, from organizations directly linked to the multinational Monsanto which, in turn, plans patent a new transgenic seed marijuana on their behalf. (translated)

Others point out that Monsanto may look at the legalization of marijuana as a way into the lucrative market at last.

Cannabis Culture reported:

Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, Bayer, Dow and DuPont have, until recently, largely focused their energy on monopolizing the food industry, but some have developed a keen interest in this still-illegal plant as well.

They note that the prohibition of marijuana has been one of the reasons large companies haven't been able to monopolize on it until now, allowing current growers to produce healthier, higher quality plants with better, sustainable practices:

In North America, British Columbia has been a place of highly concentrated talent – growers from all over the world come to the Northwest to take advantage of its nutrient-rich soil, prime weather conditions, and historically lax laws to learn how to grow potent marijuana, learning the best techniques to breed a product with a high THC content.

The concentration of organic-friendly farmers and environmentally concerned activists in the area have been a bonus to growers who, like tomato and arugula cultivators, learn from each other using permaculture-based methods (to ward off pests naturally without pesticides or BT technology, for instance) and thereby nurture prime conditions for growing successful healthy crops.

They further note:

The biggest concern with cannabis and GM control now remains. While they gain a monopoly over medical marijuana, the challenge of governments who continue to wage the ostensible "War on Drugs" is being taken on by some of the Big 6. Monsanto and Syngenta are currently investing millions of dollars into a new GM technology called RNA interference...

If it weren't for the growing evidence that GM and RNAi crops may be damaging to humans, it's possible to imagine a host of potential benefits to genetically modifying the cannabis plant. Larger, more potent, and pest-resistent grow shows are an attractive proposition, but are they worth the many risks?

420 Magazine has reported in the past about Canadian drug trials that were scheduled to work with Monsanto to create the seeds for their research. They wrote at the time:

Cannabis seeds from Monsanto are almost definitely genetically engineered. Genetically engineered plants can be patented, and it is in Monsanto's best interest to hold a patent on any seed they sell. Seed patents ensure that companies like Monsanto can continue to profit from seeds from year to year, as farmers are legally bound to buy patented seeds from the patent holder rather than simply store them from the last year's crop.

They further noted:

Interestingly, low-potency pot of the kind produced by Monsanto seeds at the University of Mississippi is exactly the kind of product the Ministry of Health is asking for from contractors. The guidelines ask specifically for "standardized marijuana cigarettes with THC content of between 4% and 6% and weighing [about] 850 mg."

They point out that Monsanto's strain would deliver twice the tar as marijuana currently available from experienced growers with a much lower THC content.

Yet the product they choose to use is guaranteed to maximize the risks and problems associated with smoking. Could it be that the Ministry of Health is creating its own excuse not to use smoking as a delivery method?

Our anonymous source within the ministry assures us that the government plans to eventually only allow the use of inhalers, similar to asthma inhalers.

This would also effectively give Monsanto much more control of the medical marijuana market.

Monsanto is hardly the only group working to genetically modify marijuana, though. Even the University of Minnesota has been doing research on ways to genetically alter the plant. They announced in 2009 that they were working to engineer a drug-free marijuana plant and otherwise tinker with cannabis's genetic profile:

In a first step toward engineering a drug-free Cannabis plant for hemp fiber and oil, University of Minnesota researchers have identified genes producing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance in marijuana. Studying the genes could also lead to new and better drugs for pain, nausea and other conditions.

Back in 1998, New Scientist reported that the U.S. was also developing a genetically engineered fungus designed to kill plants that could be used to manufacture illegal drugs:

The U.S. Congress recently appropriated $23 million dollars to fund a "new solution" for the war on drugs. The new solution attacks drugs at their source — the drug plants. Researchers say they can eliminate drug plants with fungal pathogens. The fungi would be genetically engineered to kill only coca plants (Erythroxylon sp.), opium poppies (Papaver sp.), and marijuana (Cannabis sp.).

Scientists wrote at the time in the Journal of the International Hemp Association 6(1): 1, 4-8:

Last year, researchers were funded by the U.S. government to create fungi that destroy drug plants, including marijuana (Cannabis). The fungi will be genetically engineered. Controversies surrounding this "new solution" for the war on drugs are discussed, including the ethics of exterminating plant species that have occupied central roles in human culture for thousands of years. The importation of foreign fungi into new habitats is fraught with unpredictable environmental pitfalls; exotic pathogens can spread from their intended targets to other organisms. All known pathogens of marijuana also attack hemp; exterminating drug plants will probably spell the demise of the valuable and resurgent fiber and oil-seed crop. Genetically transformed fungi are genetically unstable and mutate easily. Fungi with recombinant DNA may reproduce with native fungi and create new strains of virulent, transgenic pathogens. Once these pathogens are released in the environment, they cannot be recalled. In summary, research involving transgenic pathogens of Cannabis is a dangerous misuse of biotechnology, and should be the subject of an immediate moratorium.

The University of Central Florida also has a pending US Patent for a cannabis sativa genetic modification technique. A British company also sequenced and published the genome of cannabis sativaby in 2011 in hopes of creating strains with lower THC levels and higher levels of other compounds that may have therapeutic medical benefits.

At this point, everybody from medical researchers to drug cartels is working on altering the genetic makeup of cannabis for multiple purposes. It remains to be seen how marijuana cultivars will change in the upcoming years and how this will impact science, medicine, agriculture, the illegal drug trade and more.

One thing that is certain is that with the money at stake, Monsanto and every other agricultural giant will be looking for new ways to cash in.

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