Plants are amazing forms of life that have found a way to adapt and persevere for much longer than animals. There are male and female plants as well, and like animals they must reproduce and so male plants will release pollen into the air or have it picked up by some flying bug to hopefully reach a female plant. Plants are not very discriminating either and so there is a lot of cross pollination with plants that are not exactly the same, which gives birth to whole new strains and types of plants that helps in its ability to adapt and survive.
Most discussions of legal medical marijuana cultivators, not just here in Florida but throughout the country, is about their indoor facilities and the amazing technologies that have been engineered to facilitate indoor growth. Some medical marijuana treatment centers will buy unused warehouses to create their indoor grow facility, and others utilize nurseries with greenhouses. Whatever the indoor choice, they are expensive relative to growing cannabis outdoors. The controlled environment is necessary though, especially when it comes to medical marijuana, to help prevent cross pollination and other contaminants, from altering the cannabinoid makeup of the plant. But make no mistake, marijuana does grow outdoors and realistically that is where the majority of the crop for the United States will come from, which means that cross pollination is a real problem. Have you ever considered studying botany?
In Pueblo County, Colorado, pollen drift is wreaking havoc on cannabis crops. Tom Dermody, Executive Director of the Industrial Hemp Research Foundation (IHRF), calls it a ticking time bomb with national implications. Pollen drift is the unintentional cross-pollination between different types of crops. With cannabis, that includes three variations:
When female cannabis plants are allowed to cross pollinate with seed and fiber orientated-cannabis, their cannabinoid potency plummets. This means CBD-producing hemp and THC-producing marijuana crops are particularly at risk. If they become pollinated, they’re either discounted as substandard or considered a total loss.
Pueblo County’s solution was to enact a four-mile buffer between hemp and marijuana grows. It didn’t work out as they’d hoped. “It sounds like a great fix,” says Dermody, “but pollen dust travels far greater distances than four miles. And the county cannot interfere with the production of industrial hemp outside the county line.”
Indeed, pollen dust can travel hundreds of miles. One famous case of pollen drift occurred in southern Spain in 1995. Scientists taking air samples detected large amounts of marijuana pollen, which had traveled 250 miles over the Strait of Gibraltar and 100 miles inland from Morocco. While the U.S. may not have warm sea winds to carry pollen for hundreds of miles, the example does show that pollen dust won’t stop at an imaginary line.
The buffer problem has now extended beyond Pueblo, which could spell crop loss in other states as well. Washington, for example, took Pueblo County’s four-mile buffer as gospel, writing it into the state’s recent hemp legislation, HB2064. As a result, Washington now has two problems on its hands. With so many recreational marijuana grows in the western part of the state, it’s nearly impossible to grow industrial hemp in that region. And as buffer zones may be ineffectual, pollen-drift-related crop loss could happen anyway.
“This has resulted in a significant amount of pollen transfer-related crop loss,” says Dermody, “somewhere to the tune of 12 to 18 percent, depending on which part of the county you’re in.”
We need science-backed research that can give us real data regarding buffer zones and pollen drift. And we need to find alternatives. This is where the IHRF comes in. They help institutions of higher learning get the financial and material support they need to conduct hemp-related research. They have several projects scheduled for 2018 to study how, when and where pollen drift occurs with cannabis, and how to prevent it.
They hope to have a solution by 2019. Dermody expects it will have less to do with buffers, and more to do with strategic timing and planting schedules, alternating between industrial hemp and all-female cannabis crops industry-wide.
“It’s more a question of developing a planting schedule,” Dermody explains, “where female grows would plant their clones into outdoor production [after] the highest rate of pollen transfer from the male producing plants.” This solution seems more bulletproof than buffer zones. It could allow large-scale outdoor hemp and marijuana grows to co-exist in areas like Pueblo County and Western Washington. This would be a boon for all facets of the cannabis industry.