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Will Cannabis Soon Have Molecular ‘Tags’ to Trace Its Origins?

The world of cannabis has never been one of black and white margins and clear, rigorous, or universal standards. Only recently has it become subject to any regulatory framework at all, save for criminal prohibition. How, in the legal cannabis era, does one verify a product is what its label claims it is, what strain it is, and where it came from?

One New York-based company thinks it has the answer to those questions, with technology it says will allow cannabis producers, customers, and regulators to track cannabis flower from seed to harvest to the dispensary shelf. 

Applied DNA Sciences’ “CertainT” platform tags raw cannabis materials and products with a unique molecular identifier that the company says can be tracked as the product travels through its entire supply chain, potentially enabling new levels of compliance, quality control, and safety. 

Young cannabis plants.
Young cannabis plants. (Eric Limon/123rf)

According to John Shearman, Applied DNA Sciences’ vice president of marketing & cannabis business lead, this method has already been used to great success in the textile industry. The company applied its molecular tags to cotton before it was shipped from the gin in order to verify the finished products’ components and origins.

“In cotton, people were claiming that it was 100% Pima cotton and when we tested the materials, especially bedsheets, we found that over 80% of it was blended with a different cotton,” Shearman said. 

In addition to cotton and other textiles, Shearman said the company has also used the platform to track stolen and counterfeited goods in security and crime prevention and to track and authenticate parts used in the military hardware supply chain, among other uses. 

Two years ago, they were approached by a cannabis company that asked if the technology could be used for cannabis. Applied DNA Sciences saw the potential and went full-speed ahead applying the system to cannabis, Shearman said. 

Molecular tags sprayed onto cannabis flower

Marijuana growing at an indoor facility
Marijuana growing at an indoor facility. (Tyson Anderson/123rf)

How does it work? First a unique molecular tag called “SigNature” is applied to the cannabis flower — and this molecular tag code is also stored in a secure database. An additional tag is applied to the extracts and finished products made with that form of cannabis. All along the supply chain from then on out, it can be checked. 

For marijuana and hemp flower, this tag would be applied with “fogging” or by way of an electrostatic spray. In oils, tinctures, tablets, and lotions, the tag would be added directly to the formulation. 

The molecular tag would later appear on labels on the finished product, which could eventually also be used to authenticate the products before and while they are on dispensary shelves. 

Is it safe to ingest?

Cannabis flower in a dispensary
Cannabis flower in a dispensary. (El Roi/123rf)

The molecules in question are short, synthetic DNA fragments that are administered at less than 100 nanograms per label or dose. They are not of human, viral, or bacterial sequence origin, and which can be used as physical chemical identifiers (PCIDs). 

In a letter attesting to the safety of the PCIDs, the engineering firm Ramboll said that because the DNA-based PCID consists simply of normal DNA bases with no biochemical function or pharmaceutical activity, is chemically identical to the DNA found naturally in food, and is applied at very low levels (up to 100 ng/label or up to 100 ng/tablet dose), it presents no health risk to humans who may either accidentally or intentionally ingest it. 

Applied DNA also asserts that molecular tagging doesn’t make the cannabis GMO, in that it does not stay long enough to be inserted into a gene, is not derived from living organisms, and is not able to modify another living organism. 

The safety information provided looked only at oral ingestion, however, not smoking or vaporizing.

Compliance, brand protection, and safety

According to Shearman the platform will help the cannabis industry safeguard three main components of the business — regulation and compliance, brand protection, and safety. 

He uses the example of current regulations that don’t allow cannabis to cross borders between states. 

“In New York they only have 10 licensed medical producers and if they want to go recreational they can’t leave the state. So if all the legal cannabis suppliers in New York, if they’re using this system then anything we test coming in, we’ll know it’s not coming from New Jersey or anywhere else.”

Shearman also envisions a future when cannabis exports from the US are legal, and tracking could be used to apply the same sort of industry standards people expect for exports such as champagne or tequila, where the classification of the product is directly linked to being able to confirm its origin.

A scientist examines cannabis plants
A scientist examines cannabis plants being grown outdoors. (Kristijan Aranjos/123rf)

“Think about the international borders because when people are trying to buy from Colorado and it’s going down to South Africa in oils and other stuff, they want to be able to check that it’s actually from Colorado. So you could tag it in Colorado and then have a machine down in South Africa that would receive it, test it to see if it was tagged properly, and they would know what country, state, province, and individual entity it came from.” 

Safety comes into play regarding the ability of retailers and processors to know that the cannabis material they are using is confirmed to have originated in areas with compliance and safety standards that they trust, Shearman added. 

Protecting intellectual property. One day

But the importance of the platform goes far beyond simply regulation or the comfort of knowing the origin of cannabis products. According to Shearman, it could also be applied by companies large and small to protect proprietary cannabis strains. 

“Now, in the federal government, the United States, the IP, the intellectual property laws do not apply because it’s [cannabis] not recognized by the federal government.” 

As Shearman put it, “let’s say I had some great strain and no one else has it. Now I can use that as an artifact that I’ve been tagging up to two years now to prove I was the first one [with that strain] in the marketplace.” 

When asked if the platform could be used by major cannabis industry firms to copyright strains, further monopolizing their hold on the industry, Shearman said “I’d hate to see that happen,” but argued that like the leviathans in the beverage industry have not managed to erase craft brewers, the same could be the case with cannabis. 

“You have to look at cotton. Monsanto kind of runs the industry and supplies everyone, the seeds of the agriculture. Hopefully that doesn’t happen here,” he added. 

He also stated that even small scale “craft cannabis consumers” could use the technology to copyright strains and other cannabis products, thus keeping them out of the hands of the industry giants and giving them an ability to stay viable despite their small size. 

Zoom out a few years, and Shearman said what he hopes to see is a sort of assurance emblem for cannabis, much like the Good Housekeeping seal, which would serve as a symbol to consumers and suppliers that a certain cannabis product has been verified and tracked from beginning to end.

“It’s going to take time to get there,” Shearman said, adding “it’s an interesting way to help the industry mature and get mainstream.”


In the 02/26/2020 edition:

New Study Shows More Seniors Using Marijuana
By Joe Klare on Feb 26, 2020 11:31 am

A new study published this week takes a look at data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health regarding cannabis use among those aged 65 years and older. The study seems to confirm something we have known for several years – namely, that more seniors are using marijuana. 

While only 0.4% of seniors admitted to using cannabis in 2006, 2.4% said they were cannabis users in 2015, and in 2018 that number had climbed to 4.2%. Of course, some of this increase can be attributed to seniors being more open about cannabis use now that legal consequences are lessening, but there is little doubt that more seniors are using cannabis than ever before.

The combination of lessening consequences and stigma combined with the wealth of information available about the medicinal properties of cannabis has led many seniors to question what they thought they knew about this amazing plant.

Naturally, some are sounding the alarm about this trend of more seniors using cannabis. Apparently the use of cannabis with alcohol is up among seniors, and there are reasonable worries about how cannabis might interact with the mountain of prescription medications many seniors take.

Some also seem to be worried about seniors who have been away from the weed game for too long. “Weed has been getting stronger over the past few decades,” said study co-author Joseph Palamar, an associate professor of population health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, “and a lot of these seniors don’t take dosing seriously, especially edibles. They think ‘What’s the big deal? I used to do this when I was a kid.’”

While we certainly need to be worried about how cannabis may interact with certain other meds, we must also remember that seniors take a lot of other meds. They have many ailments, ailments from which cannabis could bring them great relief. Maybe marijuana use could help them leave behind more dangerous drugs; at the very least, it is much more benign that many of the prescriptions seniors currently take.

In the end, if someone finds relief from cannabis, it’s no one else’s business. But for seniors – who generally have more ailments and less time left than younger folks – the need can be more imperative. If someone over 65 discovers that cannabis improves their quality of life, good for them. We need to do all we can to make their access to cannabis as easy as possible.

In the 02/24/2020 edition:

The Elizabeth Warren Plan to Legalize Marijuana
By Joe Klare on Feb 24, 2020 12:27 pm

Senator Elizabeth Warren is the latest Democratic Presidential hopeful to release a plan to legalize cannabis if they are elected. It’s similar in many ways to the plan released by Senator Bernie Sanders a few months ago, although it brings about legalization on a less aggressive timeline.

Warren plans on filling her administration with pro-legalization officials in key positions, as well as pushing for legalization on a federal level with expungements, repairing the harm done by the War on Drugs, allowing veterans access to medical marijuana and allowing banking access for cannabis companies.

Another similarity between the Warren and Sanders plans is the singling out of “Big Tobacco” for censure and banishment from the legal cannabis industry. Here’s what I said at the time about Sanders singling out “Big Tobacco”:

I’m not sure what the point of these stipulations is beyond pandering and punishing a specific industry for past transgressions. If there is a real worry about companies that make dangerous products entering the cannabis industry, why do the alcohol and pharmaceutical industries get a pass, for example?

This seems like a silly point to address a non-existent fear. Are you really worried about tobacco companies selling marijuana products? If you don’t want to buy cannabis products from tobacco companies, then simply don’t. In the age of the Internet, it’s not that hard to find out who makes and sells what.

The people who will get to choose who sells marijuana products are the people buying them. If the same company that makes Marlboro makes a great cannabis product and I want to buy it, so what? Why is that the business of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or anyone else who is not me?

Some people will give you various answers to those questions, but they all boil down to adults being too stupid to decide on what to buy so the geniuses in the government need to narrow down the choices and make sure they are all safe enough for you dummies to pick from.

To be frank, I’ve been buying cannabis for over 20 years with zero input from the government, and I think I’ll be able to manage the intricacies of buying legal marijuana when that day comes. If I have a question about anything, I’ll just find the answer.

I appreciate the effort to legalize marijuana on the part of all the candidates that favor that, I really do. But we just need you to rectify the screwups of your predecessors, not tell us how and where to buy marijuana and who to buy it from.

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Click here to read the report or download the presentation PDF.As the State Policies Coordinator for NORML, it’s my job to make sure that you know what marijuana reform efforts are being considered in your state and to ensure that you have the ability to contact your lawmakers in support of these efforts in real-time.As each state begins its legislative session, we have new opportunities to advance the cause of freedom and privacy for marijuana consumers. (By contrast, the 116th Congress remains in session, and we are continuing to build on our 2019 victories there, such as pushing for the MORE Act to receive a House floor vote.)

Thailand: Clinics Begin Dispensing Medical Cannabis Extracts

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Bangkok, Thailand: Licensed clinics and pharmacies have begun dispensing cannabis extracts to qualified patients under a newly enacted policy coordinated by the Ministry of Health.

The plants used to create the extracts are produced at six distinct locations throughout the country; production is overseen by the Health Ministry, the Associated Press reports.

Despite Thailand's new medical marijuana laws, the possession and cultivation of marijuana for non-medical purposes remains strictly criminalized.

Thailand is one of a number of nations, including Brazil and Peru, to recently establish a regulated system for the dispensing of medical cannabis products.

Veterans in the U.S. and Canada are becoming increasingly open to trying cannabis when first-line drugs aren’t working. But their governments aren’t making it easy.

Soldiers not only used cannabis to cope with wartime stress. They brought seeds home with them, too.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still refuses to prescribe it, even though many veterans report finding relief from chronic pain and PTSD by using medical cannabis. In Canada, the federal government continues to move the goalposts for veteran access to medical cannabis—most recently reducing the amount of cannabis that Veterans Affairs Canada will help subsidize.One of the many ironies inherent in this situation: Today’s plethora of cannabis strains, legal cannabis industry, and the tax dollars they generate, were created in part by veterans of past generations.The most influential generation of veterans may be those who served in the Vietnam War. Soldiers not only used locally-grown cannabis to cope with the stresses of war while in country; they also brought seeds home to North America, where they would become the progenitors of some of today’s most popular strains.

‘It prepared us for battle’

During the Vietnam War about two-thirds of American troops volunteered for service. The rest were drafted. At 18, Bob Luciano entered his local draft office in The Bronx, and at 19 he found himself in Vietnam serving the first of two tours of duty. “That’s where I found out that cannabis is better than drugs,” Luciano, now 69, told Leafly in a recent interview.The possession, sale and use of cannabis wasn’t legal in Vietnam. But that didn’t stop American troops from developing a taste for southeast Asia’s indigenous varieties.Bob Luciano recalled the tenor of the times. “In the naval base, when I went to Vietnam, we started smoking weed—pot, at that time we smoked pot,” he said. “The reality was that it was able to prepare us for battle and all the unknown things. We were 18 and 19-year-old kids. The things that you’d see, you’ve never even seen before. It wasn’t like watching the news.”

It helped after service, too

Veterans often face one or many of several conditions that persist well after they have served. Chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are two of the most common. Typically, when a veteran displays signs of PTSD, anxiety, depression, and pain, government doctors put them on a combination of prescription medicines that some veterans ruefully call a combat cocktail.“Pot, or weed, or cannabis, we found out, enables you to go through what you were going to go through,” said Luciano. It also, he said, helps veterans survive the aftermath of war: “It enables you to deal with what has happened.”

While others drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, Bob Luciano discovered the soothing effects of cannabis.

Prescription drugs provided by veteran health care providers, Luciano said, tend to dull the senses for a short period of time—but the mental trauma and pain would only return, amplified, later on.“Beyond the horrors of Vietnam, I learned a lot of medicinal benefits of cannabis” during his two tours, said Luciano. “It enabled you to go into battle, complete your mission, talk about it, and then go back in to complete another mission.”When he could, he found some escape. “During battle, we watched what [farmers] did with the soil because we just wanted an escape. You’d smoke weed, and you’d watch the monkeys play in the trees, and watch the farmers grow.”While others around him drank or used heroin to dull the sensations of war, he was discovering the soothing effects of the local cannabis crop. “Even God and religion wasn’t enough,” Luciano said. “I could never understand why they were allowing me to kill people.”


Medicating in Wartime: The Cannabis Legacy of Vietnam Veterans

Long-term psychological harm

Between 1961 and 1975, the ongoing war claimed the lives of an estimated 10 percent of the population of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In the same period, 56,869 American troops were killed. 153,329 were seriously wounded, and three million soldiers continue to experience long-term psychological damage, the social effects of which are still unravelling.“Because of the huge trauma they’ve gone through, it’s something unique; it’s almost like the PTSD brain is different because of what they’ve been exposed to,” explained Dr. Mandeep Singh. A psychiatrist with Apollo Applied Research and the Be Well Health Clinic in Toronto, Singh specializes in post traumatic stress. “Because of that, [the brain] actually reacts to both cannabis and traditional medications differently” from a brain that hasn’t experienced similar trauma.

PTSD: Brain and body affected

Singh trained in the United States, but when he started practicing in Canada he noticed that many veterans were enduring rounds of medications that negatively affected their quality of life, or just didn’t work.With PTSD, he explained, “it’s not just the brain that’s affected.” The rest of the body remains on high fight-of-flight alert. These patients “have high cortisol levels,” Singh said, “and their whole body is out of balance.”

In the course of his work with veterans, Singh has observed that most civilian patients will use one or two grams of cannabis per day, while a typical veteran will need up to ten.“Ten grams: You’re talking about almost twenty joints worth a day,” said Singh. “But they’re functioning well. They’re not looking euphoric, or high, or out of it. I think that’s something to do with the PTSD brain being different in how it reacts to CBD and THC and so forth.”


These Companies Want to Make CBD More Affordable for Veterans

Limiting doses, banning recommendations

In 2016, Veterans Affairs Canada reduced the amount of cannabis per day that it pledged to reimburse for veterans whose healthcare providers recommend the medicine. The government agency previously allowed up to ten grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in fresh marijuana or cannabis oil, per day. After 2016, that allowance topped out at just three grams.Meanwhile, in the US, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs still won’t allow VA doctors to recommend cannabis to the nation’s military veterans. Up until a few years ago, VA doctors weren’t even allowed to discuss it with their patients. That’s a hard policy to square with many veterans who’ve seen the help cannabis can offer.

The healing element

“Weed was like the healing of everything,” Bob Luciano told Leafly. “The war happened in the sixties, we weren’t even over segregation yet, we weren’t over equal rights. We had a lot of issues that were happening, like the demonstrations with the burning of the bras. It was a lot of different influences that were in Vietnam, sharing the same gulch or bunker, and whether you like the next person or not, it unified you. It allowed you to discuss why things were changing. It stopped the war, man. Pot stopped the war.”American soldiers were so moved by Vietnam’s potent sativa that some of them returned home with pockets full of seeds. Today’s “thank you for your service” culture didn’t exist back then. In fact, many soldiers received cold welcomes. Instead of returning to the US, Luciano took his seeds and headed for Jamaica. For five years he honed his skills as a cannabis grower, operated an organic restaurant with his wife, and developed his Mr. Natural brand of cannabis products, from dry flower to salves.His years in Jamaica allowed Luciano to experiment with cross-breeding, and learn how environmental factors like air quality and soil affected the plant. Local growers turned him on to the mighty cultivation powers of nutrient-rich Jamaican bat guano.“I knew Columbian Gold at that time period used to make you very relaxed, and a Kush strain that we had developed in California generated more energy and made you forget what you were thinking of; it made you happy when you were negative,” Luciano recalled, telling the origin story of his Cali Gold variety.

Hybrids and new varieties

Learning as he went, but always adhering to organic growing practices, Luciano began creating genetic variations that made the most sense for veterans like himself—strains that calm the mind, ease physical pain and stimulated the appetite.Today, Luciano medicates daily for chronic pain and PTSD. He reaches out to other veterans, helping them navigate the byzantine ways of the VA so that their cannabis use doesn’t negatively impact their treatment. In the past, testing positive for THC would have automatically ended a VA patient’s ability to receive pain medication prescriptions, but that’s no longer the case.Because of a change in VA policy, American veterans are no longer denied benefits if they are found to be consuming cannabis. VA medical officials now advise patients to disclose their cannabis use, as it may affect the course of action taken by doctors.Still, some veterans choose not to reveal details of cannabis use to their physicians. Luciano had the VA note his cannabis use on his medical records ten years ago, and he encourages others to do the same. His message is simple: “Notify the VA that you’re getting more medicinal benefits from it,” he said, to force the agency to recognize the value of cannabis and change its policy.

Growing BenefitsFrom coast to coast, hemp is being legalized and recognized in the U.S.

Hemp is no longer an undefined term. In fact, information about hemp has become widespread over the past decade. There is more education, more hemp-based products and a more accurate understanding of how the plant works and how it’s different from cannabis. The hemp industry has made many leaps in progress over the last few years alone, with thanks to many researchers and inventors who have crafted products worth investing in. And finally, multiple states have begun to take notice. Recently, a handful of hemp bills were approved. In honor of Hemp History Week (June 3-June 9) we take a look at a few states that have made recent progress on the hemp front.



The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries approved 216 licenses for those who applied to be industrial hemp cultivators in late-April. According to, 152 of those licenses belong to cultivators, 59 belong to processors and five were approved for local universities. These licenses were approved thanks to the foundation set by the Alabama Industrial Hemp Pilot Program that was originally established in 2016.



On May 9, Gov. Ned Lamont signed Senate Bill 893, also called “An Act Concerning A Pilot Program for Hemp Production,” which legalizes industrial hemp cultivation in the state of Connecticut. Through this legislation, an industrial hemp pilot program can now be established. Prior to this bill being signed into law, the only hemp cultivation that was allowed was through state universities and the state’s agriculture department.



House Bill 213 was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 10. Entitled the “Georgia Hemp Farming Act,” this bill authorizes hemp research and studies, provides licensing and permit requirements for potential hemp cultivators and processors and redefines the term “marijuana.” Currently the state does have a limited medical cannabis program, but all products are imported from other states.



As of this writing, Hawaiian Gov. David Ige has Senate Bill 1353 on his desk. In late April, a conference committee provided last minute approval of the bill to be passed on to the governor for consideration. Gov. Ige received the bill on May 6, and it remains unsigned as of late-May. If it becomes law, it will become the state’s agriculture department’s job to establish an industrial hemp program. It will also remove any contradictory rules that exist under the current hemp pilot program that launched in 2018, and it will redefine the meaning of “marijuana” to specify that hemp is not the same.



Thanks to the signature of Gov. Kim Reynolds, the state of Iowa welcomed the Iowa Hemp Act (SF599) on May 13. This means that farmers are legally allowed to use up to 40 acres of land for hemp cultivation. The only caveat is that this change doesn’t immediately take effect. First, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will need to create a plan on how to regulate hemp cultivation, which will need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Senate Bill 868 on April 18, which will pave the way for industrial hemp to thrive in the state of Oklahoma. The bill allows the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to control the future of the industrial hemp program, which is expected to be in place by 2020.



On April 24, Texas legislators approved House Bill 1325, which aims to allow cultivators to legally grow industrial hemp in the state. The legislation was approved by the Texas Senate on May 15.



Legislators in Washington recently passed Senate Bill 5276 into law on April 26 with a signature by Gov. Jay Inslee. According to the new law, a regulatory program can now be established in order to regulate hemp production. Specifically, it will target licensing, inspection and testing of hemp under the USDA.

  • READ MORE  by Jenn Michelle Pedini, NORML Development Director

    Virginia Senator David Marsden's SB1719 has passed unanimously through both the House of Delegates and the Senate, and is headed to the governor’s desk for signature.

  • READ MORE  by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director

    The House Financial Services subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions held a hearing Wednesday to address the lack of access to basic banking services by state-legal marijuana businesses.


    Today, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation, The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, to expand and facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, and other serious medical conditions.

  • READ MORE  by Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director

    Currently, state-licensed marijuana businesses face a web of conflicting regulations. Specifically, federal prohibitions largely prohibit these businesses from partnering with financial institutions, processing credit cards, and taking standard business deductions.

  • READ MORE  by Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator

    Welcome to the latest edition of NORML's Weekly Legislative Roundup!

  • READ MORE  by Jax Finkel, Texas NORML Executive Director

    More than 400 Texans from across the Lone Star State rallied in Austin to lobby state lawmakers in support of marijuana law reforms. Attendees received a free advocacy training and additional resources to support their lobbying efforts.


    Senator Ron Wyden has introduced legislation in the Senate — The Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act — to permit states to establish their own marijuana regulatory policies free from federal interference.

  • READ MORE  by Justin See, Board Member, Indiana NORML

    The current state of cannabis reform in Indiana and the potential progress that could be made this session rests largely on the shoulders of a few committee chairs.

  • Veganic Weed


    By now, most growers have heard the term “veganic cannabis” circulating throughout the cultivation and consumption communities. The commonly accepted meaning of the term refers to cannabis that does not contain any animal-based soil or nutrient ingredients. To define the term from another angle, the soil and fertilizer used are generally plant- and rock-based, and the materials to be used are either OMRI Listed or OMRI listable.

    Calling a product organic carries legal accountability for the methods used while calling it veganic can be done without any consequences if used inaccurately. This is something to keep in mind as you become more conscious of the growing veganic trend.

    Growers can debate the question of whether veganic weed is truly superior to its organic equivalent, but to a commercial grower, the attraction to veganic growing has more to do with its superiority as an organic indoor method than it does about any parallel or superior virtues.

    Let me explain.

    Cultivation experts tend to fall into two groups — the organic group (mostly greenhouse and outdoor) whose followers love living soil, worms, compost, microbes, and even adding insects to the garden to manage other insects. Then there’s the conventional group (mostly indoor) whose adherents aim for the cleanest possible cultivation conditions at all times. The conventional group strives toward organic quality and methodology, but managing pests and microbial problems is, and must be, the higher priority if we hope to survive more than a year or two in a single location.

    Cleanliness is Godliness

    Cleanliness is the biggest key to indoor mold and pest control, but many organic amendments and additives are anything but clean. They are literally intended to encourage the kind of microbial activity and decay that indoor growers strive to control or eliminate.

    But does this mean indoor growers can’t succeed at organic cultivation? Not at all, but the cleaner the better, which lands us on veganic methods.

    Of course, veganic growing is still messy in comparison to stonewool watered with sterile mineral salts, but it’s much cleaner than traditional organic growing because dirtier substances such as bone meal, blood meal, guano, fish emulsion, feather meal, compost, and worm castings aren’t in the picture. You are more likely to see ingredients in a vegan recipe such as rock dust mixed with various grain or seed meals, augmented by OMRI Listed mineral salts like magnesium sulfate. You still need, as with organic methods, microbes in the soil to break down insoluble substances, but the overall reduction in use of easy-to-rot ingredients is substantial, without any associated downside.

    The best veganic methods I’ve seen involve amending some of the slower reacting food sources into coco fiber before planting, then supplementing with faster acting liquid minerals as the crop is irrigated throughout its life. In concert with leaf tissue testing, adjustments can be made to keep the plants perfectly healthy throughout their lives and ensure they reach their genetic potential.

    Take note that several mineral salt nutrients are OMRI Listed, including almost all of the sulfates: potassium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, iron sulfate, copper sulfate, zinc sulfate, etc. I don’t shy away from using any of these just because they are soluble salts. The fact is they are organic and vegan, and, if used properly alongside vegan soil amendments, produce top-shelf herb. Yes, soil amendments alone do supply some amount of each of the essential minerals, but there will be times when you need to add more, and using an organic soluble salt is a very effective way to do it.


    Read: Minerals: An Essential Part of Cannabinoid Production


    Recipe for Veganic Success

    To pin down the ideal recipe and addition rates, you can either hire an expert to help with a custom recipe, or learn through trial and error, but most veganic recipes produce really frosty and tasty cannabis flowers if the soil isn’t too compact or overwatered, and if the pH of the root zone is kept tightly between 6.4-6.8 throughout the growth cycle (dropping it much lower will usually cause manganese toxicity which stunts flower formation). Start with coco fiber that naturally has the right pH. Many brands are either too acidic or too alkaline right out of the gate.

    Since all soil, organic or veganic, gets more acidic over time, some kind of liming material will be applied when the pH of the runoff drops below 6.4. For this, I usually use calcium carbonate granules, top dressed on the soil surface at a rate of about a half-cup per gallon of media. One application will last three to four weeks before pH starts dropping again. Calcium is one of the few minerals that cannabis can handle in larger quantities, and the carbonate is the component that has the alkalizing effect you’ll need. This is especially critical if you are using reverse osmosis water, which contains no natural pH buffers.

    As for soil porosity, you don’t want the water to pool up on the surface of the soil at all. If it’s pooling up at normal pouring rates, add rice hulls or perlite until it drains well. Media will always get more compact over time, so err on the side of too much porosity if you aren’t sure how much is the perfect amount. I use about 25 per cent rice hulls if I’m mixing with typical coco fiber, which usually comes in a powdery fine texture. High porosity serves the purpose of both increasing the oxygen available to the roots and reducing the risk of overwatering, which is a very common newbie error.

    Once you have the right pH and porosity for the starter media, you’ll want to either add a veganic pre-mix or take it upon yourself to mix in some rock phosphate (supplies calcium and phosphorus), neem or soybean meal (supplies some slow-release nitrogen), greensand (supplies iron and other micros), and maybe some other bells and whistles like seaweed (supplies growth hormones).

    The supplemental liquid nutrients that must get added with each watering, on top of the amended soil as the plants grow, include fast-release organic nitrogen (usually amino acid-based from grain sources), potassium and magnesium sulfate, and sometimes extra micronutrients.

    The critical additional step is to always use leaf tissue tests to monitor the status of the plant’s internal workings. A good lab will return results within a week, which allows growers to adjust the liquid feed in real-time so a crop won’t be damaged by deficiencies or toxicities. Take note that plants can look perfectly healthy but have an internal build-up occurring of any one of the essential minerals — a toxicity that is about to damage the crop, but just hasn’t quite hit the threshold. You’ll notice, for example, that getting plants about halfway into the flowering cycle in great condition is pretty easy but finishing them in perfect health is difficult. With the use of leaf tissue tests, you can avert problems before they manifest visually or cause any yield reductions.