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As more states legalize cannabis, the market for seeds is in full bloom

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People streamed into his Jordan, Minnesota, shop to buy them in person. They bombarded him on social media about availability. His phone rang off the hook with calls from customers curious about growing their own cannabis.

“We definitely saw a huge influx of people looking and purchasing seeds that day. It’s stayed steady since,” Cramond said.

Right before Cramond launched sales, he predicted that he would have to restock his seeds and growing equipment about every three weeks. Today, he’s placing reorders weekly. In September, he started offering classes to teach customers how to make their seeds grow into full, bud-producing plants. Even without social media promotion, hundreds of people have already attended his introductory tutorials.

Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational cannabis use back in 2012. In the decade since, just less than two dozen jurisdictions have followed suit, including three territories (recently the US Virgin Islands) and the District of Columbia. Today about half of Americans live in states where weed is legal.

As a result of widespread regulation and public acceptance, consumers today have become increasingly interested in growing their own plants and harvesting their own buds at home. Legalization of seed buying comes with some restrictions, though. Most states cap the number of plants that residents can have in their household at a given time.

Many would-be home growers want to save money by producing their own supply, and some relish the chance to nurture a plant from seed to flower in their own gardens.

But for residents in some states, buying seeds is also the only way they can legally come to possess cannabis right now.

In Minnesota, for example, most recreational dispensaries won’t actually be up and running until 2025. That’s because the state will need time to set up an oversight regime for its coming retail market. (A few recreational stores have opened in tribal nations, which are sovereign and can operate independently from the state.)

Virginia is in another kind of limbo. In 2021, the state legislature legalized recreational cannabis use and possession. But lawmakers haven’t laid the regulatory groundwork necessary to establish a commercial marketplace for cannabis products. In the meantime, as a gray area workaround, local horticulture companies and smoke shops have taken to selling seeds or even giving them away free.

After Maryland legalized recreational cannabis in July, volunteers for the local advocacy group Maryland Marijuana Justice hosted a statewide seed giveaway, doling out 30,000 cannabis seeds to the people for free. The organization saw the distribution as a celebration of a step forward in cannabis policy reform.

“Marylanders no longer have to live in fear of possessing and growing a healing plant that has benefited so many people,” the organization’s co-founder Kris Furnish wrote in a press release announcing the giveaway.

Cramond’s Minnesota shop didn’t begin selling seeds until last month, as he was cautious to stay within the clear regulatory boundaries drawn by state law. But other retailers have been selling them for much longer, thanks to the legal haziness surrounding seeds.

James Bean runs Seeds Here Now, an online cannabis seed bank that sells nationwide. Sales have increased over its decade in business, but they boomed particularly during the first two years of the pandemic.

“People were growing at home,” he said. “You’re worried about whether you’ll be able to go out and get your medicine. So you’re gonna grow your own.”

When Bean first started slinging seeds, he was selling them through dispensaries in Washington state and advertising his availability through Craigslist. Today, Seeds Here Now boasts of having more than 3,500 varieties of cannabis seeds.

But Bean’s ride has been a bumpy one. Multiple times, his shipments have been seized by the US Postal Service. When that happens, he has to reship orders, which can be expensive, and every now and then he loses customers spooked by the prospect of getting into legal problems.

That’s because cannabis seeds occupy a unique place in the messy intersection of botany and the law. Cannabis itself remains a Schedule I controlled substance, which means the federal government deems it as having no medical use and a high risk of abuse. But depending on whom you ask, seeds are a different story.

Unlike the rest of a cannabis plant, seeds contain little to no tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly referred to by the acronym THC. That’s the psychoactive component that produces a euphoric high. And due to a quirky provision in the wonky world of agricultural laws, cannabis seeds’ THC content – or lack of it – might just make it a seed like any other seed.

In 2018, the Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp, a specific type of cannabis defined by its low THC levels. As a crop, hemp has a wide range of uses, from energy (its oil can be used as a fuel) to agriculture (its seed can produce milk or cheese) to manufacturing (its fibers can be used for textiles). But hemp was also notable for what it couldn’t do: because hemp is defined as having a THC content of less than 0.3% of its weight when dry, it can’t get consumers high.

Last year, Shane Pennington, a lawyer specializing in federal cannabis regulation, wrote a letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency to clarify the status of cannabis seeds. To Pennington’s mind, it was obvious that cannabis seeds’ negligible THC content placed them under the definition of hemp. Sure, some of these might go on to produce cannabis flowers and buds that could produce a high. But in their seed form, Pennington reasoned, they should be legal to own and sell, just like hemp. To the surprise of many industry insiders, the agency agreed with the lawyer, in an official determination now known as the “Pennington letter”.

Pennington felt validated by the letter, though he cautioned that because this area of law is so new and untested, it’s still possible to get into trouble, if authorities continue to enforce outdated or conflicting laws. “People need to be very careful,” he said.

In a way, cannabis seeds can be thought of occupying the same head-spinning gray area as magic mushroom spores. On their own, they’re not really controlled because they contain little to no THC or psilocybin – the substance that causes psychedelic effects in those who consume it – respectively.

But because they have the potential to turn into controlled substances over time and with careful cultivation, those who sell sometimes twist themselves into strange marketing contortions to cover their bases. Spore sellers often add disclaimers to their websites insisting that their wares are for use as microscope specimens. Bean says that he means to sell seeds only as “souvenirs”.

“They’re just collector’s items,” he said wryly. “Don’t get them wet or dirty, or they will explode.”

For those who live in places that have already legalized seed sales and home grows, the explosion is the point.

source : theguardian.com