Six Things We Learned From the Mowgli Holmes Keynote at Seed to Sale

Mowgli Holmes gave the keynote at the Seed to Sale Show in Denver on January 31, and he taught the crowd a thing or two — or six — about cannabis. Holmes is the co-founder and chief scientific officer at Phylos Bioscience, which has created a web of over a thousand cannabis strains. The web links strains that are in the same family and provide growers and consumers with scientific knowledge about the plant that has never been documented in one place before.

Here are those six things we learned from the keynote:

1. Cannabis will leap beyond other industries.

Right now, Holmes says, marijuana is still behind other businesses — but it's quickly gaining ground. Not only is marijuana one of the fastest-growing industries in the country, it's also learning from the mistakes that other industries made early on and are now too established to fix. "There is so much energy and technology and just raw numbers of innovators flooding into this industry; instead of copying those industries, we're going to leap-frog over them," Holmes says.

2. There are more kinds of cannabis than of any other domesticated plant.

Whether it's indica, sativa or the multitude of hybrids, Holmes notes that cannabis has more variations than any other domesticated plant. He also says cannabis was the first plant to be domesticated by humans.

3. Data is king, and we all need more of it.

"Data wants to be free," Holmes says. The industry has multiple tech companies compiling data on everything from the most popular strains to dispensary sales to demographic trends. The problem is that none of the data is centralized. Holmes suggests more sharing, because data is one of the strongest ways to propel cannabis forward.

4. It's hard for the FDA to understand marijuana because marijuana is hard to understand.

Typically, the FDA regulates single-molecule compounds, Holmes says. Marijuana has 107 compounds and it's difficult to explain what each of them do — much less explain the entourage effect to a federal regulatory agency. Holmes stresses that a huge part of the fight at the national level is education.

5. We have the seed-to-sale system because of the Cole Memo.

The Cole Memo allowed cannabis, but not the diversion of cannabis, Holmes says. Each individual state could set up a regulated industry, but the product that results from that industry cannot leave the state. State regulators took things a step further and instituted the tracking method known as seed to sale, to avoid diversion and "build a wall around the regulated system," Holmes says. "And so they did that. They built an incredibly rigorous wall."

6. The seed-to-sale regulations make it harder for new businesses to join the industry.

"That wall is a barrier to entry. It is incredibly expensive for growers to get licenses and meet all the requirements, and as a result, instead of keeping product in, it's keeping product out," Holmes says. The regulations that keep consumers safe also prohibit innovation and new blood in the industry because it's so expensive to get started, he explains.

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Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.