Washington State continues to break ground when it comes to legal cannabis. There are several cannabis-related license types available in Washington, including those for producers, processors, retailers and transporters. Thanks to legislation that has passed over the last two years, now cannabis researchers are eligible for licenses as well.
Until now, no one has applied for a cannabis research license. Recently, research facility Verda Bio applied, and their facility has been approved for licensing. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) released a statement on Nov. 19, shortly following the license approval. “This is an important milestone for Washington’s marijuana industry,” LCB Director Rick Garza said about the occasion. “We’re hopeful that the research will assist policy makers as we grapple with this emerging industry.”
Jessica Tonani, CEO of Verda Bio, explained to CULTURE why the research company chose to make the foray into cannabis. “I have a medical condition, which led me to explore medical cannabis roughly a decade ago.” Tonani wrote via email. “I have a biotech background and quickly realized that cannabis had medical utility, but the medical cannabis system was not always easy for a medical patient or their physicians to navigate. I realized it was an area that could be improved upon with research and was able to convince my co-founders to jump on board.”
In addition to Tonani’s medical history, she and her colleagues see cannabis’ potential as a tool for various purposes. “Cannabis contains a treasure trove of molecules that deserve to be researched for medical, wellness and recreational uses,” Tonani said. Passion alone did not drive Verda Bio to successful licensing. Persistence has also paid off, as the journey to legally researching cannabis was an arduous one.
“When legalization of recreational marijuana occurred in Washington, we founded Verda Bio with the goal of performing research on cannabis,” Tonani stated. “Unfortunately, recreational legalization did not mean research in the state was legal. It took several years and three separate pieces of legislation to enable a legal research system in Washington post recreational legalization. Thankfully, lawmakers and regulators have been supportive of the effort to create the system.”
LCB Communications Director Brian Smith pointed to Senate Bill 6177 as an important piece of legislation allowing cannabis research. A summary of the bill explains, “With the loss of the Life Science Discovery Fund as the [LCB] partner in conducting the scientific reviews of potential marijuana research licensees, the law allows the LCB to partner with another third-party entity to conduct the scientific review of applicants.”
“The first year of research will focus on plant biology and establishing a breeding program to enable us to create rare cannabinoids that are not as common as THC.”
The Life Science Discovery Fund (LSDF) supported research in the life sciences improving competitiveness, improving health, improving economic vitality and more. The Washington State Legislature ended their funding for LSDF in 2015.
The timeline for the rollout is coming up, and Tonani thinks they’ll begin research by the end of 2018. The facility has been approved, and researchers are just waiting for a few minor details in order to get worked out to begin conducting research. Apparently one of those minor details is paying the licensing fee. According to Smith, “We have not yet licensed Verda Bio, because they haven’t yet paid their fee.”
Once fully licensed, Verda Bio has a clear plan on the types of cannabis research it will conduct. “The first year of research will focus on plant biology and establishing a breeding program to enable us to create rare cannabinoids that are not as common as THC,” Tonani explained. “For example, we are interested in cannabinoids such as THCV, CBDV and CBG, all of which are generally only found in low quantities in cannabis plants. Once we are able to breed plants that create high quantities of these cannabinoids we can carry them forward in future health and wellness research.”
Once the facility is in operation, it will be one-of-a-kind. Washington is once again paving the way for legal cannabis. As the final details are squared away and research begins, perhaps Seattle will be home to some exciting new cannabis discoveries.