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The cannabis seed is an amazing thing—so small yet so full of potential. All of the amazing strains we enjoy today, even the clone-only strains, all started as a simple seed. Although clones are becoming increasingly mainstream in the cannabis space, they will never replace seed entirely. Cannabis seeds are absolutely imperative to the creation of new strains and the selection of prime phenotypes for cloning.
Back in the days prior to marijuana legalization, most people grew all of their cannabis from seed—often bag seed. Before seed banks became an attractive alternative for cannabis enthusiasts who like to grow their own, bag seed was the only option. In those days, imported cannabis ranged from really awful schwag from Mexico, to Colombian Gold, Thai Sticks, Juicy Fruit, and Chocolate Thai, as well as some other imports that would trickle in, like Panama Red and some of the better Mexican varieties like Oaxacan. Some Afghani indica would also make an appearance from time to time, as well as some very good hashish from a variety of Middle Eastern countries.
Often, this imported cannabis was cured and stored poorly. Much of it arrived as “brick weed,” that was pressed together into brick-like, dense packages for smuggling purposes. This manner of importing cannabis did nothing to maintain its terpenes and potency. This type of low-grade marijuana invariably smelled awful and was loaded with seeds. Other imported cannabis, however, was much better and also contained a lesser amount of seed. Some very good Thai and Afghani seed were well worth saving for later cultivation projects. The flower that resulted from sprouting and growing these seeds was well worth the effort and was some of the best cannabis around in those days. This eventually led to domestic breeding projects in areas of the country that had a warm enough climate during fall months. New crosses and domestic strains were the result, although many of them didn’t have catchy names back then like they do today.
Seed banks had their start in Amsterdam, an area that had much more progressive tolerance for cannabis than most other areas of the world. It’s not that cannabis is technically “legal” in The Netherlands, but Amsterdam’s local government has long turned a blind eye to its use in coffee shops around the city. For decades, Amsterdam was the mecca for cannabis enthusiasts who would travel there for the novelty of visiting coffee shops and ordering a tasty strain off of the house menu. It’s not that the cannabis laws were more progressive there, but rather the laws were not vigorously enforced.
With cannabis coffee shops and cannabis use so pervasive in Amsterdam, it’s easy to see how cannabis seed banks took root there (pun intended) first. Since so many of the world’s most classic cannabis strains are from the United States, an odd situation emerged, with the genetics of many iconic American strains going overseas where cannabis professionals had a better opportunity to put them to good use. Many Americans with a history and reputation for developing strains travelled to The Netherlands where they could engage in strain development and marketing in a less restrictive environment. Prior to marijuana legalization in the U.S., some of the Amsterdam seed companies would ship prime cannabis genetics in seed form worldwide, so American home growers were able to enjoy those strains and obtain American genetics in a very roundabout way. This was an ironic situation since the only readily available source for American genetics was in Europe.
American seed banks are in their infancy compared to their Dutch counterparts. While the North American seed market may have some catching up to do in order to compete with the European market, the increasingly legal status of the American market is bound to escalate seed sales in North America, now that Canada has fully embraced legal cannabis countrywide and 10 U.S. states now allow recreational marijuana and 33 have legalized medical use of the plant.
Since growing cannabis at home is now legal in a number of parts of the world, private growers drive the seed market. The marketing of marijuana strains in seed form is now widespread, and the marketing of clones is beginning to emerge on a much smaller scale. Clones pose more challenges for cannabis companies since there are usually size limitations, and only very small plants may be sold. Clones also take up much more store space than very compact packages of seed.
Buying elite strains in seed form allows home growers to cultivate outstanding cannabis strain. Although the certainty of exactly what they will harvest is less certain than when growing clones, seeds from some strains—Jack Herer being a classic example—have several outstanding phenotypes, so growing high-quality cannabis will still be the end result. Some home-growers will grow out a pack of seeds and select the best pheno to clone so they can continue to cultivate a good example of the strain well into the future. Although a prime pheno of a strain grown from seed may not be as outstanding as an elite cut of the same strain, seeds do provide some unique advantages over clones.
The Role of Seed with Cannabis Companies
When you walk into a dispensary or adult-use cannabis store in one of the legal marijuana states, you most likely will not see a section of the business where seed is sold. Properly creating high-quality seed that’s stable and produces potent plants is beyond the scope of what many companies can do—or want to do. Some companies may fear losing customers if they provide them the means to grow their own at home rather than regularly purchasing flower. But only a small percentage of cannabis consumers engage in growing, so any impact on dispensary or retail profits would be minimal or nonexistent.
Cannabis companies that serve the legal market still have a need for seed when it comes to research and development and the creation of proprietary stains. While some companies may only obtain good cuts of well-known strains to grow, an increasing number are gaining a competitive edge by creating their own strains, and the only way to do this, of course, involves cultivating seed. Breeding elite phenotypes of two different top-shelf strains to come up with something entirely new and different and putting anew name on it is a feather in the cap for any progressive cannabis company. Marketing these new strains adds yet another dimension to these companies, and eventually selling the seeds of these strains to their customer base just increases brand loyalty and value.
The seed market will definitely continue to grow. Many of today’s top cannabis genetics that are available in seed form are only available because of strategic breeding—which requires the utilization of seed. Feminized seed and auto flowering seed are two other examples of seed production that requires specialized breeding strategies that involve the utilization of seed.
The necessity of cannabis seed for the continued growth and development of the cannabis industry may be less obvious today than it once was—but it’s absolutely necessary and vital. Without it, all market growth will cease. It pays to remember that all cannabis products go back to the plant. All cannabis plants—regardless of whether or not they’re clones—began with seed. There’s no way around that fact. So, have respect for the simple cannabis seed. It ultimately drives the industry!