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A Frank Conversation with Mowgli Holmes, CEO of Phylos Bioscience

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Phylos Bioscience
PHOTO | Supplied
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Earlier this year, Phylos Bioscience announced its plan to launch an in-house breeding program. The news prompted outrage within the community, sparking conversations about intellectual property and genetics research across the cannabis industry.

Many cultivators felt betrayed by the idea that the Portland-based cannabis science company would use data they submitted to the Phylos Galaxy — a comprehensive database that documents the cannabis genome — to steal vital cultivar information and use it against them.

Phylos released a statement assuring growers not to worry, that their fears were unfounded. They insisted they weren’t going to use their submitted data to create super strains to put craft cannabis growers out of business. None of that data can be used for breeding, and the breeding work they do will be primarily for large-scale biomass producers. The varieties they do develop for the craft flower market will be released under open-source licenses and should help to keep craft growers in business.

Now, a couple of months have passed. For the most part, Phylos has kept out of the media spotlight. Cannabis Aficionado spoke to CEO Mowgli Holmes to learn more about their approach to large-scale agriculture, plant patents and IP rights, and the future of cannabis.

Growers submitted their genomic data to you with the understanding that it would not be used to enhance any breeding programs. How did you not foresee this backlash from the industry following the announcement of your breeding program?

We didn’t foresee this reaction because this data isn’t useful for plant breeding. It’s just genetic sequence data, with no information on the plants themselves. The purpose of the galaxy has always been to empower everyone to learn from their plant’s data by comparing it to everything else. We made the galaxy and the raw data publicly available so that everyone could have full access to it.

I don’t think this question has really been about the data. It’s about having a company in the cannabis industry that is working with people from big ag. The science we’re using comes from those companies, and we’re hiring scientists who understand it. We’re also a company that is focused on environmental and social impact, and on moving agriculture toward sustainable practices. Cannabis growers don’t trust big ag and they don’t see how we could be working with people from those companies and still have these progressive goals. But we do.

You claim that your new breeding program will focus on large-scale agriculture. Why then do you think there is such a negative response to your breeding announcement from cannabis growers and craft cultivators?

Phylos concentrates on the global market because that’s where the plant needs the most work. I think that a lot of small growers assume that large-scale ag means lousy cannabis, so they don’t respect it. But it matters how the large growers operate. Phylos believes large-scale cannabis and hemp agriculture can actually operate sustainably and we’re committed to doing our part to move it in that direction. We also want to see the craft flower market thrive. We won’t be doing a lot of work there, but when we do it’s going to have a positive impact. The flower plants we release will be good for growers, and breeders will get to keep working with them.

Your presentation to investors at Benzinga seemed to confirm that you will use the submitted data to breed new strains. Why did you tell that to investors if it isn’t your intention? Why do you think your words were misconstrued?

That is not what I said to investors. But when I said that our testing business was a valuable data collection tool, I meant it. Having a high-throughput molecular genetics lab allowed us to generate lots of valuable data, but all of that work has been independent of the customer data we collected. As I said, the data we collected from customers cannot be used for breeding, period.

The data collected from customers was very limited and was made public via the Phylos Galaxy in order to prevent patent infringement and support greater transparency within the cannabis industry’s supply chain. It’s a tool for the industry, including our competitors, to use in understanding varieties and the evolution of cannabis. It’s not a tool that can help with breeding except in a very general way by letting people see relationships — and it’s available to everyone to use in that way.

Have you kept any of the genetic data so you could replicate any of the submitted material via plant tissue propagation?

No, we wouldn’t do that and it’s not possible. You can’t create a living plant from data and you can’t create a living plant from a dead tissue sample. We are not using any of our customer’s plants in our breeding program. The Galaxy is evidence that our customer’s plants belong to them.

We do have a large collection of living cannabis varieties, which we’ve acquired through fair and generous contracts with breeders, and we’re continuing to in-license new varieties.

Phylos scientists in the lab. PHOTO | Supplied

Was patenting genetics, or your plans to use the data to create your own breeding program, in any fine print that people may have missed?

We’ve never had any plans to use that data for breeding because we always knew it wouldn’t be robust enough to breed with. But we were very openly and publicly building a breeding program meant to support other people’s plant work with our scientific tools. We just weren’t originally intending to do the actual plant work ourselves.

The largest part of a modern plant breeding program is the data infrastructure and we were clear very early on that we were developing genetic markers for breeding. As we’ve said, the customer data had no information on the physical characteristics of the plants themselves and couldn’t be used for breeding. We believed that this simple scientific fact would keep people from making the mistake of thinking we were using it for breeding.

As far as patenting goes, our position has always been that plant patents are fine, as long as they’re responsibly narrow and don’t cover entire categories of plants. Overly broad patents are bad for innovation and bad for the cannabis industry.

The Open Cannabis Project (OCP) closed at the end of May in response to your announcement, citing “deception” as the one reason. What are your thoughts on this situation?

We helped start the OCP to create a transparent and open-source repository of cannabis data that could enlarge the public domain and help to preserve genetic diversity in cannabis. I resigned from the board in order to ensure there was no connection between OCP and Phylos, but the board was already planning to dissolve the organization in December 2018 based on difficulty fundraising.

The OCP knew we were doing breeding work, they knew the science we were using was from big ag and they knew we were going to be willing to apply for limited patents. The OCP themselves have always supported limited patents. They also know how strong my personal commitment is to doing things differently than they’re done in traditional agriculture.

Nothing illustrates the intense emotion around this issue better than this does. Despite knowing all of that, I think they were genuinely shocked to see that we’re working with and hiring people from big ag companies. Progressives see those companies as truly evil, and they don’t have a framework for understanding how good people could possibly be working with them.

Unfortunately, nobody on the OCP board contacted us before they issued their statement. The idea that you could have one foot in both worlds and still be committed to being an ethical company — that’s impossible for many people to accept. But that stance is a decision to leave all of this scientific power in the hands of people you don’t trust.

How can growers trust you when you say you are not using their genomics and data to advance your own breeding program?

Anyone who looks at the science comes to see that you can’t use this data for breeding new plants.

But we are seeing that trust doesn’t come from scientific facts alone. We’re a mission-driven company and eventually people will see the benefits of the work we’re doing. The dust will clear and we’ll be working away, and then people will see.

Why do you think people were so quick to jump to the conclusion that you are using your position and power to harm the very people that you have spent so many years trying to protect?

This is the part that’s hard for me. Phylos has always been clear in our mission to bring science to cannabis and new approaches to agriculture, to preserve genetic diversity, and to help small farmers. It’s pretty crazy to find out that people can overnight decide you don’t mean the things you say. But again, I think the assumption is that if we had good intentions we wouldn’t be hiring scientists and advisors from the major ag companies. We need these people because they understand the complexities of the large-scale agricultural system better than anyone and they are uniquely positioned to help us change it for the better. The team of scientists that have joined Phylos is building an agricultural model that is profitable and sustainable for farmers. We always meant it when we said we cared about the craft flower community. But we also care about agriculture as a whole.

What is your desired achievement with your breeding program?

I got a lot of shit for saying this, but I’m just going to say it again: Phylos is going to create outrageous new plants. They’re going to work better for farmers and for consumers and they’re going to be constantly evolving.

We also believe that it’s important for us and the industry to give both fair credit and fair compensation to the breeders who have created amazing plants already and those that continue to do so. We are already signing agreements to make sure those breeders get paid as they should, and we hope it becomes the standard way of acquiring plants in the industry.

Phylos has built its mission around preserving the genetic diversity we’ve inherited. At the same time, we’re going to drive forward into the future of what this plant can do, which really will be incredible. We need to do both of those things.

We’re combining advanced science with sustainability principles. We’re using traditional breeding driven by genomic knowledge. We’re studying methods that let farmers minimize inputs costs at the same time as they’re building healthier soil. We’re going to help farmers profit from sustainability — and we’re going to make sustainability work better because it’s driven by hard data.

Where does Phylos Bioscience go from here?

We have to accept that some people see big ag companies as the enemy and they don’t trust anyone who’s working with them. But we need to have companies who can use the science from big ag in ways that are driven by a sense of social responsibility. We need to have companies who can figure out how to support environmentally sustainable approaches as they use this science. We need to have companies that are a bridge between these two worlds.

Phylos has one foot in the cannabis world and one foot in the world of large-scale agriculture. The role of our company is to be a bridge between these two worlds that don’t trust each other. To make it work, we’re going to have to be really committed to maintaining our values and measuring our success based on them. We’re going to have to be a little bit like Switzerland and work with everyone.  We have to accept that we’re not going to make everyone happy, but we’re going to make damn sure the farms that work with us are successful.

To us, that means that they’re sustainably successful in ways that work long-term for them, and their workers, and the environment. For most of these larger farms the first step is simple: start growing hemp.

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Culture

Cannabis Legalization IS a Civil Rights Issue

Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. It’s a Civil Rights issue.

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Civil Rights
PHOTO | Alex Brandon

Americans have the right to political and social freedom and equality, as guaranteed by the Constitution. But reflecting on how this country was founded, there is no doubt the reason the U.S. is a superpower today is because the colonists and subsequent immigrants who became the industrialists had free labor through ownership of slaves to build their homesteads, ranches, companies and corporations.

The country would never have the infrastructure it does in terms of roads, buildings and power supplies if it was not for slave labor of people of color. This incomprehensible display of racism has attributed to the empires of American families with names like Rockefeller, Forbes, Vanderbilt and Griswold, to name only a few. The freedom of slaves and later the civil rights movement were pivotal moments of liberty for American people of color, who were not given the same rights to political and social freedom and equality that the Constitution guaranteed.

The legalization of cannabis can also create a huge shift in the Civil Rights of Americans.

Cannabis, Civil Rights and Reefer Madness

After the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws enacted racial segregation and the legal principle “separate but equal.” This carried into schooling, transportation and public facilities. Not until 1954, when the landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down, did segregation become unconstitutional. Though it took years to implement the decisions, the Supreme Court continued to hand down rulings against the Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were the last laws to help overturn the institutional discrimination.

However, during this period, in 1942, the Japanese Internment took place and people were suspected of committing crimes against the country during WWII solely because of their Japanese ancestry. The abusive move by the American government to substitute race and national origin for evidence is today recognized as shameful and a horrific event in our country’s history. The admission a sign that times are changing.

While laws and policy remove these intolerable acts of American racism on paper, the psychology and education for reform within people is taking longer to change. Decades after the Civil Rights Act was passed, many are still being targeted for the color of their skin, often being stopped at airports, pulled over in traffic and experiencing Constitutional violations of the 4th Amendment, for search and seizure. Official denials and insufficient proof have upheld these behaviors.

Again, in a country not above using skin color as evidence, the prohibition of cannabis in the mid-1930s started a wave of incarceration for people of color who use, grow, or sell marijuana. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, made it his mission to seek out jazz musicians who used ‘marihuana.’ His internal memos berated jazz, reading, “It sounded like the jungles in the dead of night.” A different memo cautioned, “Unbelievably ancient indecent rites of the East Indies are resurrected.” And that the lives of jazz players “reek of filth.” He hoped to round up all-black jazz musicians and famously went after singer Billy Holiday for her heroin use — while helping white actress Judy Garland with her “troubled addiction” to heroin and wouldn’t dare arrest her.

“Prohibition was always used to eliminate people from this society and make it harder for them. It was part of the greater effort to continue what our country was unfortunately built on, slavery,” shared Allison Margolin, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense and cannabis attorney who has been heavily involved with California cannabis licensing and criminal drug cases.

Systemic racism leftover from the founders of this country gave way to modern racial profiling by law enforcement and the judiciary courts. The drug war greenlit in the 1980s increased the Jim Crow hysteria for cannabis tenfold, as rogue policy led to training DEA agents to look for people of color to pull over, especially if they’re black and driving expensive cars.

Cannabis was villainized by ‘reefer madness’ and in its own Jim Crow nightmare — no matter the American right to control our body and mind, covered in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, which guarantees “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Freedom of thought is also guaranteed by the first amendment. The prohibition of cannabis was unconstitutional from the get-go.

But, evolution pushes at humanity and while today humans are under attack by their own species, many people are choosing a higher consciousness over slavery. Prohibition can’t be justified on moral or legal ground. The American Medical Association and the Federal Drug Administration have denied the truth about drugs when they come in conflict with government policies and corporate agendas, but thanks to democracy, cannabis is being freed from illegality and stigma, one state at a time. In a groundbreaking national effort, on November 19th, 2019, The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10 to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, sponsored by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). If passed by Congress, the U.S. is looking at ending federal cannabis prohibition completely.

The MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, authorize the provision of resources, funded by an excise tax on marijuana products, to address the needs of communities that have been most seriously impacted by the war on drugs and provide for the expungement of federal marijuana convictions and arrests.

First Nations people, the Native Americans who lived in North America before the Europeans invaded, have begun to open dispensaries and cultivation businesses on their reservations. With sovereign immunity from the U.S., the MORE Act will only change things slightly. Josh Grant, IIPAY Tribe member and Chairman of the Santa Ysabel Tribal Development Corporation, explained, “Let’s say the Fed pass the MORE Act and they put regulations in place, now do we want to give up our sovereign immunity and start operating on federal regulations? Do we want to waive our sovereign immunity and start functioning on state regulation? Probably not. Do we want to make our own regulations that fold these other ones in? Yes, we do.”

Not All Social Equity is Created Equal

Racial profiling is responsible for putting many people of color behind bars for cannabis. Expungement may be a huge win for America but what about reparations? While 40 acres and a mule was a Civil War promise never realized, Native Americans have long suffered in displacement and Mexicans completely shunned in the face of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, cannabis legalization in many states has promised to develop and implement policies that seek to center equity in cannabis policy reform.

Grant shares how deep these reforms are needed for First Nations people.

“What about tribal sovereignty and our ability and our inherent right to provide for our people by any means necessary? When we have elders without power and their houses are falling apart, when we have children without housing, without heat, without running water, when we have third-world conditions on our reservation, shouldn’t we be allowed under our tribal sovereignty to provide an economic plan to try to help these people with the proper dispersal of profit or income to cover the tribe? There’s a major civil right.

“What they’re violating is our tribal sovereignty by restricting us from having a free market to develop our resources to provide for our people. That’s first and foremost here. We’re talking first nations here; we’re talking first people. We’ve been pushed into a corner of worthless land, while the bulk of our territory has been taken and government entities are collecting taxes on that land without remitting a portion of those taxes back to the original people.”

Social equity programs hope to repair the damage done by the war on drugs and assist equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry to decrease disparities in low-income and marginalized communities.

Margolin explained the importance of social equity within the legalization framework, “I think that it’s one of the first times that any of the governmental bodies in the United States has chosen attempt at reparations in any kind of way shape or form. I think there’s obviously a lot that could be done to try to increase the power of social equity applicants. Most of those have to do with access to banking, not having to rely upon individuals or potential conglomerates who might make deals that aren’t like the best, but its better than nothing. It’s definitely a good beginning.”

But is social equity working? While all legal states do not have the same social equity programs, at the local level, cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles are trying to set up stronger programs to combat the barriers to enter the cannabis business and offer employment and business ownership opportunities.

Allison Margolin commented on the effectiveness of Los Angeles Social Equity Program,

“There’s social equity issues that will arrive, like we had this whole thing with the electronic first come, first serve, that became a situation and had levels of unfairness. But I think that if we fairly increase the number of dispensaries allowed, there’s no cap and we relax in the sensitive use requirements and if the state has certain requirements for the social equity on the local level that’d be great. Also, if the state-mandated there wouldn’t be a dry county, we could fix this huge disparity between the philosophy of before — the philosophy that’s supposed to be underpinning all of this and going on in these local governments, which is like reefer madness.

“Without the local governments being on board right now we don’t have too much access and that affects the whole market. We need to have more retail. We need to have more state-mandated social equity ownership requirements. But even with those things, yes, people can make money but there are a lot of control issues and the ability to control the market. Otherwise social equity can have benefits.”

States like Illinois and Massachusetts made social equity an integral part of their cannabis legalization. In states that didn’t, like Oregon, the city of Portland stepped up and granted eligibility for reduced license fees to businesses whose owners or staff had previous marijuana convictions; and in 2016, they enacted a city marijuana sales tax to generate funds for economic and education programs in communities where drug laws were disproportionately enforced.

Finding a happy medium for reparations can make sure who is supposed to benefit does, but there are many ways to create categories that were maybe not defined outright. For example, in Los Angeles, there is a three-tier social equity program with many different qualifications and benefits. A workforce requirement has a good faith effort to employ 50% of the weekly hourly workforce from the residents living within a three-mile radius of the cannabis business premises, with 20% social equity workers and 10% transitional workers. There are ways to make opportunities for everyone.

The Importance of Social Equity

Just as vital to understanding that legalization is a civil rights issue, is to be aware of the campaign of disinformation by the government. America is a nation with so many elephants in the room. It’s a zoo. Conscious evolution aside, changes can be made through policy and social equity is a good start.

“Reparations need to happen in the country in order for the United States to survive. Basically, this can be a good beginning to how we start it,” Margolin said. The people who have gone to prison for cannabis had to hire attorneys, had to be bailed out and they lost their jobs. “There should be a way for those people to benefit first economically. In addition to all these laws, the financing needs to be opened up, so passing state and federal banking is part of the effort because then you can have government-mandated funds and specialty programs. But now, you’re basically on your own unless you’re part of a bigger conglomerate, which might be like a big management company or otherwise you’re just in not of good positioning power,” she added.

Social equity is important to help people of color move on from the racist inquisition of cannabis prohibition. Margolin expressed that her grandparents were Holocaust survivors and received reparations from the Germans during her entire life. “They weren’t bitter towards Germans. They had no issues with Germans. Actually they’re both from Poland and they never went back there because they said there was so much anti-Semitism, but they went to Germany.”

The emotional and psychological trauma of racism is a scar this entire nation will carry until it can become completely transparent and make amends. Cannabis legalization is a gigantic step towards equality for all.

Margolin adds, “Basically the drug war and the war with cannabis has always been about taking things that are basic human needs and basic human impulses, which are the right to alter our consciousness on a level that’s pretty nuanced and not bad for you and punishing people for something most everyone does or that many people do.”

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Culture

Maximize Your Dry January Enjoyment With Daytrip CBD Beverages

Daytrip has developed a range of natural, premium CBD beverages that delight the senses and open the mind to new possibilities.

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PHOTOS | Daytrip

Do you feel like you overindulged over the holiday season? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. After all the festivities of the Christmas and New Year’s period, some people decide to commit to a month of sobriety, otherwise known as ‘Dry January.’

Researchers at the University of Sussex have been studying Dry January since 2014. They have discovered that participants can expect to have better health – and a healthier bank balance.

But fear not! Dry January doesn’t mean forgoing all things deliciously effervescent. In fact, why not use this opportunity to embark on a new facet of your wellness journey by swapping out sugary sodas with sugar-free CBD beverages.

Daytrip craft natural, premium 100% water-soluble CBD drinks that absorb quickly into the body to maximize the cannabinoid’s bioavailability. CBD is an oil-based product, so when the technology doesn’t create a fully water-soluble CBD, the end product can’t effectively absorb into the body.

For this reason, Daytrip is different from other CBD drink options. The company has developed proprietary Foliole Nexus Technology, leveraging high-frequency energy to minimize the hemp-derived CBD’s particle size, enabling the cannabinoid to provide a near-instant effect and deliver consistent results.

Then, they infuse CBD into sparkling water and a botanical terpene profile to create four delicious flavors — cherry, coconut pineapple, lemon lime and tangerine — that can be used to create CBD cocktails that promote a happy effervescent feeling.

The Daytripper

  • 3/4 cup lemon lime Daytrip CBD sparkling water
  • Ginger – muddled
  • ¼ cup peach nectar
  • 1 lemon wedge

Combine all ingredients in a glass and garnish with lemon and a ginger shaving.

The Daytripper

The Bubbly Brunch

  • 1/2 cup Tangerine Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 TBSP elderflower syrup
  • 1 lime wedge squeezed into glass

Combine all ingredients in a glass.

The Fiesta

  • 2 oz Cherry Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
  • 5 oz tequila
  • 2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz pomegranate juice

Combine all ingredients in a glass and garnish with cherries and orange slices.

The Fiesta

Endless Summer

  • ½ can Coconut Pineapple Daytrip CBD Sparkling Water
  • 1 shot clear rum
  • 2 slices of fresh pineapple Ice

Muddle one slice of pineapple and pour in Daytrip Coconut Pineapple, rum and ice. Garnish with the second pineapple slice

Firmly rooted in California culture, Daytrip embraces all that the Golden State represents; getting away from the grind and sharing good vibes.

Whether you’re at the beach, on the slopes, or simply in your own back yard, Daytrip wants to help you maximize your enjoyment.

Use code DRYJAN to save 20% off your purchase.

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Culture

The K.Haring Collection Is the Embodiment of Functional Art

The new K.Haring Collection is the epitome of his artistic style — vibrant yet sophisticated, stylish yet accessible and extremely enjoyable. 

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K.Haring Collection
PHOTOS | K. Haring Collection

Keith Haring is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the 1980s. His graffiti-inspired artwork depicted simplified people, barking dogs and flying saucers worked into tightly arranged patterns. He drew inspiration from popular culture that surrounded him in New York City and beyond, his work could be found in all its bright, graphic glory in the streets, in clubs and the subway.

So it makes perfect sense then that the new K.Haring Collection is the epitome of his artistic style — vibrant yet sophisticated, stylish yet accessible and extremely enjoyable.

“The art world has long had an intertwined relationship with cannabis and has in many ways been instrumental in the advancement of the industry,” said Sasha Kadey, Chief Marketing Officer of Greenlane and Creative Director for the K.Haring Collection.

“The K.Haring Collection will help our mission to destigmatize and elevate the cannabis experience.”

The ten-piece collection is being released through Greenlane Holdings Inc and includes some of Haring’s most recognizable work in four colorways. It includes all of the essentials for an elevated smoking experience: bubblers, rigs, water pipes, tasters, spoon pipes, glass trays, and catchalls. A collaboration with BiC completes the collection with eight distinct lighters in bold hues that feature a range of the artist’s dynamic designs.

Peep the full collection below.

K.Haring Tray, $60

K.Haring Collection

K.Haring Spoon, $50

K.Haring Rig, $180

K.Haring Collection

K.Haring Bubbler, $120

K.Haring Water Pipe, $220

K.Haring Collection

K.Haring Taster, $30

K.Haring Angel Catchall, $60

BiC collaboration

The K.Haring Collection is available now from haringglass.com.

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