The US government grants cannabis patents even though weed is illegal

Ahead of the cannabis battles.
Ahead of the cannabis battles.
Image: Reuters
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If you look closely, the US government doesn’t seem as intent on thwarting marijuana development as the rhetoric espoused by some politicians would have you believe. In fact, cannabis seems to be slowly but surely gaining legitimacy, even in federal government circles, despite its Drug Enforcement Administration classification as a schedule 1 substance with no medical use.

Acceptance is signaled in small but significant ways. For example, the Patent and Trademark Office grants intellectual property rights to companies developing both marijuana plant strains and synthetic weed for industry.

On March 7, Teewinot Life Sciences, a Florida-based company that produces pharmaceutical grade cannabinoids—the chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant, namely tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive element of weed) and cannabidiol (CBD, which produces no high)—announced that US Patent No. 9,587,212 was granted for its “apparatus and methods for biosynthetic production of cannabinoids.” Basically, the company now owns its system for making large quantities of lab-engineered cannabinoids, sold worldwide. It is not Teewinot’s first patent. Nor are the company’s efforts to claim ownership over aspects of cannabis growth or production unusual.

Marijuana farmers are also clamoring for patents for plant strains. A patent office spokesperson—who asked not to be named—told Vice last year, “In general, the [patent] office issues both utility and plant patents to all types of plants, including cannabis…provided the applications meet and comply with the applicable patent statutes.”

Patent No. 9095554, granted in August 2015 to a group of California weed growers, was the first patent for a plant strain containing “significant amounts” of THC. But some industry insiders, like patent lawyer Erich Veitenheimer, who represented the holders of No. 9095554, believe this is just the beginning, and told Vice that intellectual property wars over marijuana are inevitable. Certainly, players appear to be preparing for these future cannabis battles, lining up ownership rights despite current federal law, as if widespread legalization is a pretty sure thing.