cannabis breeding expert advice

Question authority

Cannabis seeds are legal in Colorado. Big news and a new development?  Yes and no. Turns out they always were. Few people bothered to ask, and it wasn’t advertised. There’s a great lesson here.

Liberation time

In the spirit of Cannabis coming out of the shadows, I would like to do so myself. I have been writing under a pseudonym, because the stigma and fear that has surrounded Cannabis my entire adult life was inhibiting me from putting myself out there authentically. Similarly, the humble Cannabis seed is undergoing its coming-out in Colorado.

Quiet revolution

In the midst of the media feeding frenzy surrounding the first sales of legal, for adult-use, recreational Cannabis in Colorado that began on the first day of 2014, I registered as a Farmer Seed Labeler in Colorado. It’s an easy process and not that expensive. I intend to develop hemp strains and sell hemp seeds; and to be able to inquire about the feasibility of selling the other variety of Cannabis seeds. In the process, I discovered that there is no distinction, in an agricultural seed regulation sense at least, between different varieties of Cannabis seeds. It can be Carmagnola hemp or OG Kush — a seed is a seed.

How can that be?

Seed regulations are concerned with seeds, obviously. They have to do with sorting and labeling issues. Are there noxious weed seeds in your bags of seed? That’s a big no-no and a very serious concern. Is the weight amount you claim accurate? Nobody likes to be shorted. Will they germinate, and at what percentage? A definite consideration for your customers. Finally, are they what is claimed on the label? If you buy tomato seeds, you don’t want to end up with tomatillo seeds instead. It’s important to regulate these aspects of agriculture, and there are enforceable rules in place to keep it all on a level playing field. How can it be legal to label OG Kush seeds and sell them outside of the dispensaries and recreational stores? No THC, that’s how. Cannabis seeds don’t contain THC. They contain genetic instructions that, depending on the variety of Cannabis, are for the synthesis of either THC and/or CBD from the precursor cannabinoid CBG. If Cannabis seeds are cleaned correctly, they are devoid of THC, therefore they do not contain any illegal controlled substance.

Action versus intention

In many states you can possess opium poppy seeds. That’s right — opium poppies. You can grow them too. They produce beautiful, if not ephemeral, flowers. Harvesting the pods for tasty poppy seeds is a treat for a gardener, and the dried pods are great for decorative arrangements. All perfectly legal. But, collecting the raw opium latex or boiling the seed pods and leaves to extract and concentrate the opium plant’s alkaloids is heavily frowned upon from a law enforcement perspective. It’s the intention around the use of the plants that matters.

Dividing line

In Colorado, there is a distinct regulatory line ‘drawn in the sand’, so to speak, regarding Cannabis. That line has hemp, which on one side is defined as Cannabis having a total THC content of 0.3 percent by weight or less; and on the other side there is Marijuana, defined as anything having a THC content greater than 0.3 percent by weight. Hemp is regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Marijuana is regulated by the Marijuana Enforcement Division, or MED. Both entities have rules about cultivating Cannabis commercially. The Agriculture Department is concerned with making sure hemp farmers register with them and follow their rules involving acreage limits, GPS coordinates, crop inspections, THC levels and the testing requirements associated with those levels in the plants. The MED is concerned with everything surrounding the commercial growing, processing, extracting, and sale of Cannabis and Cannabis-containing products that have THC in them, medicinal or recreational, except for hemp. In the middle ground are rules pertaining to adult citizens of Colorado being granted the ability to grow up to six plants, three mature and flowering and three immature, for their own use.


This is the lesson: Don’t automatically assume that because government agencies don’t tell you can do something means that you can’t. When Colorado citizens voted for legalization, they voted for the right to grow their own Cannabis as part of that deal. However, there was a seemingly catch-22 aspect to that; if you were not a medical Cannabis patient with a state-issued ‘red card’ you could not get seeds or clones from MMJ dispensaries. What to do if you wanted to grow your own? You could try to order seeds from Canada or Europe, but that is definitely illegal and closely watched by the USPS and U.S. Customs, so don’t do it. I made the basic assumption that I was unable to purchase seeds legally in Colorado unless I was an MMJ patient. Turns out I was wrong about that. Even if I had wanted to sell seeds as a registered seed labeler operating according to the rules, I could have done so years ago, in theory at least.

That’s true, but…

Back to the intention part again. Possessing THC-free seeds would have been acceptable years ago, technically. Germinating them before I was allowed to grow them as an ordinary non-MMJ-patient resident would have been a very different and illegal scenario. People in Colorado can’t go to a farmer’s market and buy Cannabis plants because they contain THC and fall under the purvey of the MED, but in theory they could buy seeds at one.


Ask questions and vote

Unless you live in the two states that already have legalized Cannabis, this is a moot point. Or is it? Ask your state’s agriculture department about the legality of possessing Cannabis seeds. You might be surprised at the answer, just don’t get them wet — yet. For that day to come sooner in your state consider becoming an activist, or at the very minimum, exercise your precious right to vote.


By Paul Lembeck (aka Paul Josephs)


Paul Lembeck operates Sativa Labs LLC which tests for THC and CBD levels in hemp crops and fatty acids content in hemp seed oil for hemp farmers in Colorado and offers consulting services for hemp farmers.

Paul also owns Global Heritage Seeds, a Hemp and Cannabis seed labeler exclusively for Colorado growers.