The Cannabis industry is now thriving more than ever before, and with this comes big investments, large corporations and a profit oriented marketplace. The Humboldt Seed Organization sat down with Beth from the Open Cannabis Project to learn more about a movement that is being created to counteract patent control, over the beloved strains in which we have kept preserved since our lifetimes.
By Stoney Tark
What is the Open Cannabis Project?
Open Cannabis Project (OCP) is a nonprofit dedicated to keeping cannabis plants – and cannabis data – in the public domain. Our goal is to create the kind of robust documentation of cannabis that exists for other agricultural crops like corn. This primarily plays out as aggregating cannabis genetic and chemical data. You can see a prototype of this part of the project at data.opencannabisproject.org.
The work we're doing counters the past 80 years of prohibition that has kept scientific information and plant-specific documentation about cannabis plants and their properties in the dark. This work also helps protect existing plants from overbroad patents. OCP was founded in response to the issuance of the controversial Biotech Institute, LLC, patent family – a series of utility patents covering a large portion of CBD-dominant and 1:1 cannabis plants, as well as products made with them and any plants bred with them.
When did the O.C.P start?
OCP was started by Dr. Mowgli Holmes of Phylos Bioscience and Jeremy Plumb of Farma in 2015. I got involved in late 2017 because I wanted to help people that I admire to solve a problem in service of helping independent farmers and creating open data. I accepted leadership because I saw that I had a rare combination of skills and experience that could help the effort. I keep going, every day, because I believe in protecting cannabis plants and independent farmers. I'm angry (though unsurprised) at how quickly larger companies are taking over the space, and want to do everything I can to counter it.
What are your values and ethos at the O.C.P?
Our main values are listed on our site: Openness, Transparency, Inclusivity, and Innovation. We also believe in using evidence and facts for decision-making.
Who are you working with in order to obtain the results you require?
So far, we've been working with labs and other organizations that aggregate cannabis data – like Cascadia Labs and Confident Cannabis – to work on building out our database and create better methods for sharing data with us. This information will be released the week of Nov. 12, 2018 – at which point we want to invite every lab out there to share data with us! Open data is at its best when everyone gets to participate. We're excited to finally have the technology and frameworks to make that happen.
We've also been working with our legal advisors and others from the legal cannabis community to make sure that the work we're doing has the kind of legal legitimacy to be effective. I'm super grateful to our legal advisors, Dale Hunt and John Mansfield, and to Christopher Davis of the National Cannabis Bar Association for endless support in this regard.
What evidence-based practices are being performed and to what standard?
Defensive documentation is proven method of keeping patents off of certain inventions. The first step, for us, is to collect the data and make it public. To ensure that the patent office sees our work and considers it as prior art, we are then looking to partner with academics, researchers, and universities to analyze the data and get peer-reviewed information published about it in journals. Another option is to get our data into a database like MIT's Prior Art Archive. We have reached out to MIT and are waiting to hear whether or not they will accept cannabis data.
Can you tell us more about your involvement with Phylos?
I came to OCP through Phylos: Mowgli, their CEO and a co-founder of OCP, hired me at first to help with some science writing in the fall of 2017. Realizing that I had experience with nonprofits, he asked if I'd also help him to divest OCP from their organization – he, and others, realized the obvious (though, from what I can tell, unintended) conflict of interest and wanted for OCP to be set up properly. I agreed, and we set up a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2017. Since OCP was born out of Phylos, the two organizations will likely always have some kind of relationship. However, it's important that OCP is a project for everyone – that means all growers and all labs must be able to participate (barring issues of data integrity or hostile interpersonal communication, for example), and to do so without fear of conflict of interest with another lab. This is why we are now our own nonprofit organization, fiscally sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
I'm angry at how quickly larger companies are taking over the space, and want to do everything I can to counter it.
Where does the Cannabis market stand as far as commercialization and patenting is concerned?
The best way to answer this question is to look at MJPatentsWeekly.com, a site developed by one of our legal advisors, Dale Hunt. Dale – though a patent lawyer himself – has been an advocate for transparency and fairness in the patenting process, which is ultimately why he developed the site. MJPatentsWeekly shows every cannabis-related patent that has been issued in the US, Canada, or through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It also lists published patent applications, and invites comments from users who may have evidence of prior art to counter a patent or patent application.
Looking at the site, you can see that the vast majority of patents being issued are on formulations, processes, and uses of cannabis and cannabinoids. There's a green tea composition with THC, a modular transdermal delivery system, an organic based extraction system, and thousands more.
Given the scope and quantity of these cannabis-related patents, my guess is that we will see more restrictions based on these kinds of patents, rather than patents on the cannabis plants themselves. In Colorado, a federal court is handling the country's first cannabis patent dispute, as the United Cannabis Corporation (UCANN) sues Pure Hemp Collective for violating its patent on liquid CBD formulations.
Do you think that breeders and growers will have to work differently if commercialization of the cannabis is the plan?
We are already beginning to see that the answer to this question is yes. In Canada, where legalization is in full swing, the market is entrenched by a few large companies. There's a similar trend in the US, still confounded by federal illegality and the bureaucratic hoops (not to mention over taxation) that come with it. Independent craft farmers and breeders are going to have to work together and use some clever business tactics if we're going to make space for specialized genetics on the market. Again, I'm happy to see efforts like the Mendocino Appellations project and others move us in this direction.
Can you explain how the O.C.P databases work and what can be found on the website?
The OCP database is home to aggregated chemical and genetic data. Right now we're focused on collecting cannabinoid and terpene data. Labs sharing genetic data often publish it on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website, which is specially built to accommodate genetic data. The USPTO and other intellectual property agencies already sue NCBI in their prior art searches, and OCP uses the NCBI API to import genetic data from there. You can see what we have on data.opencannabisproject.org, and follow us through our newsletter and instagram (@opecannabisproject) for information on how to share data with us.
For those out there who are passionate about this project, how can they personally get involved?
There are lots of ways to get involved with the Open Cannabis Project.
- Share your data! Our prototyping partners – Confident Cannabis and Cascadia Labs – have helped us to develop tools that allow people to share their data with us. Confident Cannabis customers can share data with us directly, while Cascadia Labs' customers have the option of using Confident or opting in through their Cascadia customer account. Learn more at opencannabisproject.org/sharing-data
- If you're a lab, become a data partner! Sign up at opencannabisproject.org/data-partner. We'll follow up with the information you need to get started.
- Volunteer! We are in critical need of software developers, data formatters, and researchers. If you're interested, reach out to email@example.com
And of course, if you're able to and like what we're doing, please consider making a donation: opencannabisproject.org./make-a-donation. And yes, we accept Bitcoin.
Finally...Do you have any social media platforms that you can be followed on?
Yes! People can find us primarily on Instagram under @opencannabisproject, but we're also on Facebook and Twitter. People interested in learning more about how patents work and what we're up to can get more information on our blog on Medium. We also recommend that people sign up for our newsletter: opencannabisproject.org/get-involved