CEO: Cannabis needs mega research

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The North Coast’s marijuana industrial complex must have a structured research, testing and development bedrock if consumers are to have disease- and toxin-free cannabis products.

That is the judgment of Rick Crum, the CEO of a fledgling, non-profit Arcata company, Humboldt DNA. Crum plans to establish a cannabis biotechnology laboratory in Arcata’s proposed Medical Marijuana Innovation Zone (MMIZ) that would ensure safe seeds, gardens and nurseries.

The lab would specialize in disease identification and establish a cannabis plant pathology database, showing what pathogens are prevalent in seed and nursery inventories.

Because such research is virtually nonexistent, Crum avoids using the loaded word “viruses” in favor of the broad term Putative Cannabis Infectious Agents (PCIAs), which he calls “a huge category” of missing knowledge and study.

PCIAs include infections that growers are not even aware of, he says. “There’s just no work done on this and that’s our advocacy standpoint.”             

Crum maintains that Humboldt DNA’s research would support safe, non-GMO biotechnology practices and provide medical cannabis nurseries and patients with access to clean stock and clean medicine.          

The requisite technology is well developed, he says, and already applied in agricultural industries as diverse as bananas, grapes, hops, potatoes and strawberries.

Legally, his proposed laboratory would operate within the state’s Proposition 215 medical guidelines.

“It is imperative that we quickly develop this technology for cannabis,” Crum asserts. The removal of widespread, systemic diseases would enable farmers to produce cleaner medical marijuana. It would secure higher yields and dramatically curb the dumping of pesticides and fungicides into streams, rivers and besieged ecosystems.

Humboldt DNA is in the midst of a multi-year study of widespread diseases and other infectious agents that are suspected of blighting cannabis seed and nursery stock nationwide.

How many diseases and what type remain unknown, owing to the flagrant lack of research forced by the federal prohibition of cannabis, Crum said in an interview late last week in his office on the Plaza.

He believes his research will likely confirm that such infections are causing massive, and otherwise unexplained, crop losses that are mistakenly blamed on endemic mite infestations.

The losses lead black market growers to apply large amounts of industrial toxins to their crops, compounding the dangers of human consumption and environmental poisoning. Often they are ineffective and applied in vain, according to Crum.

Humboldt DNA is, in his words, “standing by to scale-up a research project to identify and remove putative viruses, systemic powdery mildews and insect infestations from the clone and seed supply.”

Crum appealed to the county Board of Supervisors in January to proffer a research permit ordinance in concert with pending state Assembly bill AB 1575. The Assembly language would permit the possession and purchase of marijuana for use by legitimate research institutions, enlarge the medical marijuana industry’s access to financial services and clarify that licensees can operate as either a profit or non-profit business or both.

Crum’s pitch to the board was that disease-free harvests would enable farmers to make more money and “Humboldt-branded cannabis [to] hold onto to its world-class title.”

He added one other sweetener: disease-free genetics in legitimate grows would provide a competitive incentive to black market profiteers to shift to compliance and obtain clean nursery stock. Burdens on law enforcement would ease as a concomitant, Crum  advocates.    

The need for the large-scale, systematic research he proposes is broadly documented by national think tanks like the Brookings Institution and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Union Jan. 27).

They agree that the necessary science to establish the benefits and risks of cannabis consumption is far behind the momentum for legalization, as in the proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) ballot measure in California this November.

Scientists decry Uncle Sam’s prohibition as counterproductive, because it rules out the concerted study required to ensure public safety and confirm whether medical marijuana does in fact have the therapeutic properties long attributed to it, either by experience or folk superstition rather than by empirical science.         

What is more, the fungicides, pesticides, rodenticides and other toxins used by black market growers, whose residues cling over to marijuana products, can aggravate the very health problems that clinical patients assume they are treating with medical cannabis.

Crum cites as an example the risk of patients unknowingly ingesting medical cannabis tainted with myclobutanil. It is the main active ingredient in the contaminant fungicide Eagle 20, “a chemical still irresponsibly used to stop powder leaf mildew.” It also contaminates food and water.     

A 2002 Humboldt State University alumnus, Crum laments that the nation’s cannabis prohibition blocks researchers’ access to the electron microscopes necessary for research and readily available on campuses, including HSU. Universities depend heavily on federal aid and literally cannot afford to run afoul of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

In consequence, “poisons are being dumped in our water supply because the work that needs to take place can’t happen yet,” Crum says.

Solving plant diseases is in the interests of every sector of the marijuana industrial complex in his view – “except the people who sell poison,” he joked.

If Crum and his colleagues succeed in building their laboratory in Arcata’s MMIZ, it would serve as Humboldt DNA’s primary research facility, he said, aimed at fostering responsible and sustainable cannabis farming, in anticipation of expanded legalization.

In simple terms, the North Coast’s marijuana industrial complex should have a companion marijuana industrial research complex, Crum believes. “And I feel strongly that not only should that exist but that should be embraced and encouraged. I feel we’re underrepresented in the [industry complex] population,” he says, but the good news is that “everywhere I’ve presented to the county [and] Arcata, they’ve embraced that idea; so we have momentum.”

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