Business

Inside the Business of Cannabis Cloning

Clones represent the beginning of a commercial cannabis plant's lifecycle.
Clones represent the beginning of a commercial cannabis plant's lifecycle. Scott Lentz
John Paul strives to create uniformity in his work, but his trio of businesses is unique. After working in the hydroponics supply industry for the better part of a decade, Paul discovered a need for good plants in Colorado's cannabis trade. Instead of focusing on the end result, though, he operates in the foundational aspects.

"They needed labor and they need genetics, and still do," he explains.

Paul is the founder of Klone, a cannabis clone and seed provider for Colorado growers, as well as cannabis staffing agency Hemp Temps and Vulcan Construction Group, a cannabis construction firm and equipment provider. He works with professional growers on all paths of their journeys, from rookies in search of compliant plants to veterans who need an extra employee, fast, during harvest time.

There are a lot of challenges that come with growing and selling clones, including genetic maintenance, constant research and battles against the hop latent plant virus, a cannabis pathogen that can kill off genetic lines. We caught up with Paul to see how he juggles it all.

Westword: How do you view legal status of clones right now? Now that hemp is legal, isn't it hard for the DEA to do much from a federal prosecution standpoint?

John Paul: It's interesting. Technically a clone doesn't have THC in it. If you look on social media, like Instagram, there are a lot more of these quasi-, non-licensed clone providers popping up. They're playing in that gray area of selling and shipping what they are calling hemp clones across the country. Now, what the clone ends up being after the person receives and grows it is sort of the gray area they work in. I'm not an attorney, nor do I know the real legal effect of that, but there seem to be a lot of people doing that right now.

Do you see that as competition?

I don't see it as competition for our business, because we have to operate within METRC [Colorado's seed-to-sale tracking system for retail cannabis]. So we're not targeting the same audience. All of our clients need to stay compliant within the Colorado regulations.

How fragile are clones?

We really care about the success of our clients and their clones, so we'll give them free IPM [integrated pest management] regimens and ask them a lot of questions at first to make sure their vapor-pressure deficit and operations are suitable for where the clones are stored. A lot of our clients are outdoors and don't have propagation facilities, so they're taking clones to a holding area before actually planting them outside. We make sure our clones are hardened off and burly. They're rooted for several weeks and hardened off for at least a week, which puts them into a position to take on pretty hostile environments. But if the temperature and humidity aren't right and the environment is that bad, they will die.

In the world of genetics, plants can change sex. This is debatable, but if you're starting with feminized genetics, you can see a higher chance of hermaphroditic tendencies. You'll see that drift in some of the more popular lineages. Let's say twenty different people have the same genetics, and all of them are great except for one. One person had bad environmental stressors — big swings on temperature, humidity and nutrients — and the plants stress out. There are a lot of reasons why this can happen, and a seasoned grower understands this about plants. We've put a lot of work into sex testing and hop latent viroid testing to make sure clients are dealing with this down the road.

How do you monitor the health of your genetics lines to make sure they don't deteriorate over time?

You have to have eyes on plants, monitor the stats and make sure the way plants are transpiring is looking good. Taking a look at growth patterns and stretching those internodals is important, too. We're also running these plants in flower rooms — even though growing flower isn't really what we do — to make sure they'll perform well. Genetics can change the second or third time we run it; it's not as vigorous as it was when it first popped as a seed, so we also grow seeds we find if they look like keepers.

With all of these new commercial and breeding situations cannabis has been exposed to since legalization, have we seen anything unforeseen pop up, like new diseases or viruses?

The biggest conversation we're seeing right now in diseases is the hop latent virus. That is probably one of the most detrimental things facilities can get. It spreads easily. We've partnered with Kaycha Labs for HLV testing, and nothing has come up positive so far. HLV can transfer through seeds, too, so it's become a situation for people who try to mitigate, because seeds used to be a pretty foolproof way to start fresh without pathogens or disease. If it's still coming through seeds, you're in trouble.

You have a unique pulse on this given your work providing clones and temporary staffing to cannabis businesses. How are growers doing it right in this down market?

I think we had a lot of money coming from stimulus checks, and we saw great sales and high prices for wholesale pounds. We saw wholesale pounds going for $1,800, $2,000, and some growers with loyal followings were able to charge $3,500. Then a lot of players doubled down on wholesale production and increased builds while thinking those sales would continue. But then, I think, the stimulus money went away, and consumers stopped buying that much cannabis. We had overproduction, so I see the smart operators are investing in genetics and maybe shutting down some production in order to focus on higher-quality products. You need hype, nose and bag appeal, because people want to buy good weed. That all starts with genetics.

Wages are also starting to even out and get better, though. Will they ever be perfect? Probably not, but they have increased substantially in the industry as of late.

The businesses that are vertically integrated, well located and have a good following, they're doing fine right now. Some of them are even able to buy pounds below the cost of product while still selling at good prices. We're also hearing doom and gloom, but you're always going to hear that. 
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for westword.com.
Contact: Thomas Mitchell