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Biotech Firm Opensources MJ Genome

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NPR ran a story this morning about a new biotech company that has recently completed sequencing the DNA of cannabis sativa, but here’s the catch: the company in question is doing this because it wants to breed marijuana plants with an extremely low THC content, while also boosting other compounds in the plant that they believe have therapeutic traits.

The company, Medicinal Genomics, is run by CEO Kevin McKernan who is also its founder. McKernan says that there are eighty-four other compounds within cannabis sativa that work to fight pain and even shrink cancer tumors. Since anti-pot laws prevent researchers in most countries to engage in hands-on study of the plant, McKernan has decided to embrace the concept of opencourcing: he’s published his research results on Amazon’s EC2 public data cloud…for free.

McKernan has an office in Massachusetts, but he does his labwork in the Netherlands, where he has legal access to marijuana plants for DNA extraction. He’s spent the bulk of his professional life studying tumors in human beings, but he told reporters that several of his friends with cancer have asked him whether they could benefit from the use of medical marijuana. It was their plight which piqued his interest in the emerging medical research on the healing properties of the plant.

Later, McKernan learned about Sativex, a German-made cannabis-derived drug used to treat the muscle stiffness associated with MS. Sativex contains THC but it also has a high concentrate of CBD, which – according to research – minimizes the psychoactive effects of THC. Sativex is available in Germany, Span, and the United Kingdom, and is also in trials to see if it has a positive effect on cancer pain.

Sativex, McKernan believes, might be the first of a line of future pharmaceuticals using cannabis to treat illnesses without the social stigma of smoking weed.

In his interview with NPR, McKernan said, “We know which genes govern CBD and THC, but not the other 83 compounds. Now that we’ve sequenced this genome, we can sequence other strains, and then we can tie the differences in DNA to different traits.”

A key part of cannabis research, McKernan emphasizes, is making the research data easily available, especially since many scientists around the world want to study it, but can’t because they cannot obtain grow-licenses.

He elaborated, “A lot of people who want to contribute to this field can’t, but now that this information is available, a lot of research can get done without growing any plants.”

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Brief: Legal MMJ Moves Forward in Delaware

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Great news for the people of Delaware: the state Senate there has approved a bill allowing the medical use of cannabis in The First State, with 18 yea votes and only 3 nays. That vote was on Thursday, March 31st.

Senator Robert Venables (representing Laurel) told the press that using marijuana for medicinal reasons will help ease the unncessary suffering of cancer patients and others.

This bill would give authorized users of medical marijuana legal permission to possess up to six ounces of the drug, which would be obtainable from “compassion centers” which much be registered with the state.

The bill now moves to the Delaware House of Representatives for their review or approval, and then, if it’s approved, to the governor for signature or veto.

Here’s hoping the other half of the Delaware legislature does the right thing, and gives this bill resounding support.

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MMJ in Hawaii

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Chronic patients in Hawaii may have cause for new hope

While medical marijuana has been legal in Hawaii for eleven years now, the state lacks any kind of dispensary system, which leaves patients there to acquire their weed either by buying it on the black market, or by growing their own.

Last month, however, state Senator Kalani English, of Maui, introduced SB1458, a bill designed to create what was he described as a “… comprehensive five-year medical marijuana distribution pilot program in an unspecified county.”

English explained, at the time, that he proposed the program because he was seeing too many suffering patients asking where they could get their medicine. He added that he had to make the bill “drip with money” in order to appeal to money-conscious legislative colleagues.

Under the terms of the bill dispensaries (which English referred to as “compassion centers” would be taxed, but they’d also allow patients visiting from other MMJ-friendly states to buy temporary permits for the duration of their visit to Hawaii, at a cost of $100, which may make Hawaii the first American marijuana tourist destination.

The bill passed the Senate at the end of March, and passed two House committees (Health and Safety) as well, with a hearing scheduled for the House Judiciary Committee today.

Last week, a call went out asking people for pro-MMJ testimony. If the bill passes today’s hearing, it will then go before the full House of Representatives, and then on to a joint hearing with both the Hawaii Senate and the House.

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Vermont Considers Dispensaries

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Like Hawaii, the state of Vermont has had medical marijuana laws on the books for several years, but has left patients to either grow their own cannabis or buy it from illegal sources.

Also like Hawaii, Vermont is considering the creation of dispensary system this year. In fact a bill allowing the creation of such businesses has already been introduced into the state legislature and has passed the state Senate Government Operations Committee and is scheduled for a full Senate hearing sometime this week.

The bill, which was sponsored (in part) by Senator Richard Sears (D-Bennington) includes restrictions that make it fairly conservative, especially when compared to the systems in place in states like California. Among them is a requirement that patients have appointments in order to buy cannabis from dispensaries.

There would also be a limit on the number of dispensaries allowed in Vermont. While the current language in the bill calls for a maximum of two dispensaries, it will be raised to four on the recommendation of Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.

The change would increase revenue to the state as well as make it easier for patients.

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