You can’t patent an illegal product. So what is more important than legalization is how to move cannabis from being an illicit pleasure to being a licit business. Forbes estimates that the global cannabis industry is worth $7.7 billion. It is projected to hit $31.4 billion by 2021. But central to commercialization is deciphering the cannabis genome. Sequencing the maize genome took 33 labs, 157 researchers, US$32 Million, and four years. One of the oldest mentions of cannabis use dates back to 2300 BCE in a classic Chinese book known as the Shu King. The text documents how the Chinese used hemp and cannabis fibre to make clothes and rope and the whole plant for a broad spectrum of afflictions.

Cannabis breeders now use marker-assisted selection to grow plants with specific traits. But not all seeds that are sold under the same name are genetically identical, or even necessarily related. Strain identification products is one way that commercialization efforts combat counterfeiting the effects of Blueberry Haze, Purple Kush, Blue Dream, Sour Diesel, Acapulco Gold, Blue Cheese, and Afghan Kush.

Many plants impound highly volatile compounds including terpenoids in their tissue. Some species use these terpenes as insecticides. These molecules are volatile aromatic secondary metabolites.  Different strains of cannabis produce these compounds and they give different strains their distinct aromas. The most common terpenoids that are found in the cannabis plant are: limonene which has a citrus scent; alpha-pinene smells like pine; myrcene like cloves; caryophyllene like pepper; linalool has a floral bouquet; humulene is earthy and ocimene is sweet. These terpenes are also found in other plants. For example, linalool is produced by lavender. In terms of cannabis, these terpenes are a big part of what gives different strains their distinctive perfumes.

This has led producers to create a strain name essentially as a branding exercise, or to identify their product with an existing name because they believe the product matches characteristics the market expects from products sold under that name. But every person reacts differently to cannabis and researching the potential adverse and entourage effects of any strain is critical.

A 1996 study published in Nature of three different samples of cocoa powder found that cocoa might produce effects similar to some cannabinoids. Hence, combining cannabis with chocolate to make Cannabis Chocolate Truffles is a contemporary trend to commercialize cannabis and cocoa products. In a recent Dutch case, the defendant’s lawyer sought to clear the accused of smoking and dealing in marijuana by arguing that the accused had eaten a massive amount of chocolate which contained anandamide-related lipids. The claim was scientifically invalidated and the accused was convicted.

The cannabis industry now seems to be heading towards abstract scientific equations or sci-fi type cannabis formulations for oils, edibles, pills, and tinctures, designed by scientists to target specific consumer needs. Research and development labs are now experimenting with plant genetics and chromatography to see how different cannabinoids and terpenes uniquely interact with the human body. Beyond constructing novel cannabinoid/terpene combination, some laboratories are genetically editing plants to produce greater or lesser volumes of specific compounds. These designer varieties create larger amounts of specific compounds that make them more commercially viable.

Labs involved in cannabis R&D may retain their IP as a trade secret, or may choose to partner with a “Single Estate” grower to share their proprietary cannabinoid/terpene ratios or technologies which they use to co-create cannabis designer products. Under patent law, there’s no prohibition on patenting cannabis-related technology. Hence, there is no problem with patenting formulations of compounds so long as they meet other requirements for patentability. A method patent is another pathway. This makes proprietary the way something is made using a new method. The frontier is therefore in patenting strains and formulations, as well as the new methods of designing formulations. The option of patenting sellable technology gestures pharmaceutical companies to enter the cannabis industry but it also offers protection to boutique companies perfecting plant varieties or crafting exclusive products that explore combining flavourful Cocoa selections like Trinitario with aroma rich Cannabis strains.

Cannabis cafes in the Netherlands are to be supplied legally with cannabis from regulated producers as part of a trial aimed at dismantling the black market. During the “Cannabis Trials”, the plant will be cultivated by nationally approved growers. The coffee shops in these towns will no longer be allowed to procure cannabis from growers operating under the legal radar. Cities in which the drug’s cultivation will remain unregulated will be monitored and the results compared.

The Dutch recognise that all drug abuse can have an adverse effect on users and on public health. If people nonetheless become addicted, addiction care is available. Existing Dutch drug policy aims to prevent drug use, limit harm to users, and the nuisance caused to society. Outpatient addiction care involves intervention for acute problems, improving the quality of people’s lives, helping people regulate their consumption, and assertive outreach intervention to engage those who do not search for help. Inpatient care involves crisis care, detoxification programmes, treatment in clinics, and therapeutic communities that aim to prepare people for their return to society.