USDA Greenlights Modified Hemp Variant Free from CBD, THC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) recently gave the green light to genetically engineered hemp that doesn’t produce cannabidiol (“CBD”) or tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”). This is the second genetically engineered variety of hemp to receive approval from the USDA. A low CBD-and THC strain by Growing Together Research was approved by the agency last year.

Hemp, under the 2018 Farm Bill, is defined as the cannabis sativa plant and any part with nothing more than 0.3% delta-9 THC concentration on dry weight basis. Anything above this limit is categorized as marijuana.

While there are different varieties of hemp that are low in THC, their THC concentration may surpass the limit due to a number of factors, including environmental ones. When this happens, farmers often have to destroy the crop and may sometimes even face criminal charges.

To help prevent this from occurring and farmers losing huge portions of their crop, genetic engineering has provided a number of solutions. For instance, investigators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a cannabis plant called Badger G that has no THC/THCA and CBD/CBDA. The researchers explained that their plant would offer growers in America compliance and agronomic benefits, including higher CBG levels.

For the plant to reach growers, however, some hurdles need to be overcome. For example, any plant developed using genetic engineering may receive exemption once a regulatory status review is completed. The review, carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”), determines if the crop is subject to regulations stipulated in the APHIS regulations at 7 CFR part 340.

Late last year, Michael Petersen, senior researcher at the Wisconsin Crop Innovation Center, made a request for a regulatory status review that sought an exemption for the center’s genetically modified cannabis plant. Earlier this week, the inspection service exempted the plant from the regulations. It should be noted that until the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service completes this review, any genetically engineered crop isn’t eligible for exemption under 7 CFR 340.

In its statement, the body noted that the decision to exempt the genetically engineered plant from the regulations extended to any progeny of the plant derived from crosses with other nonaltered crops or other modified crops that also weren’t subject to the aforementioned regulations.

At this moment, it remains unclear when Badger G shall be made available commercially. It is expected to have a lot of demand, given the many benefits it offers farmers in particular. It would be interesting to get a glimpse into the possible plans that cannabis companies such as Cronos Group Inc. (NASDAQ: CRON) (TSX: CRON) would have regarding how to leverage such modified varieties of hemp.

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