I was having a debate with my friend the other day. He cried hoax – April Fool’s! I said brave new world. So, which is it? Is genetically modified – GMO – marijuana under development, or is this just a joke?
  The news article that kicked off this debate entitled, “Monsanto Creates First Genetically Modified Strain of Marijuana,” appeared in the online newspaper World News Daily Report. Actually, not the optimal source. In its own disclaimer, the Report calls its articles “satirical and fictional.” Further, a website calling out fakery labeled the article “False.” Score one for my friend.
  But the question remains open. Is genetically modified pot little more than an April Fool’s joke?
  A February article in The Columbus Free Press described GMOs as “living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory.” Without question, they are getting a bad rap. GMOs have been banned in some countries, linked to illnesses and even deemed unethical by the Vatican. So why would a company want to genetically modify marijuana?
  Control seems plausible. As the cannabis market opens up with the emergence of legalization in states like Colorado and Washington, there would be an obvious need to distinguish “legal” weed (grown and sold under a licensing system that creates accounting records to make it taxable) from “illegal” weed (grown and sold outside of this system, now currently the province of clandestine growers and black market cartels). That “illegal” weed will disappear without some kind of marked enforcement is naïve, understanding the counter argument: cannabis is just that – a weed.
  Modifying the plant for this purpose creates a new type of genetically modified crop, one not based in-theory on growing a better plant, but rather on distinguishing taxable from non-taxable, profitable from non-profitable, legal from illegal.  
  If profit always wins, then GMO marijuana has a bright future, since the global value of biotech seed was estimated at $13.2 billion in 2011. With that kind of money, it’s little wonder that 88 percent of the corn and 94 percent of the soy grown in the United States in 2012 was genetically modified. And, the players in this market are DuPont, Dow Chemical, Bayer and, yes, Monsanto. Score one for me.
  Of course, growers have been modifying cannabis’ genetic code for most of the plant’s 10,000-plus year history by using selective breeding to produce desired traits. Strains with high THC percentages owe their existence to genetic titration. In fact, the marijuana genome was sequenced in 2011, allowing scientists to identify the specific genes governing THC. Later that same year, a patent was issued to the University of South Florida for a method of producing a “transformed plant cell.” Transformed equals modified; at the cellular level, it equals GMO. More recently, scientists are reportedly well on their way toward sequencing thousands of cannabis strains into a database that could comprise a “genetic identity test” for cannabis. A “genetically certified stamp” would identify every – legal – strain.
  The final piece of the rebuttal to my friend can be found in a small South American country, Uruguay, where legalization was implemented in 2013. Part of the plan advanced by then President Jose Mujica called for a unique genetic code to identify cannabis for the purpose of “keeping the black market under control.”
  OK, to settle this debate, no direct line currently connects Monsanto to GMO marijuana. My friend won that one. But the genetic code for marijuana has been identified, manipulated and modified, and a use has been found for this new technology: Legalization. Welcome to a brave new world.

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