The state is allowing one Sodo company to research pot.
The state is allowing one Sodo company to research pot. CasarsaGuru/ Getty Images

The state of Washington is about to hand out its very first cannabis research license. This new license allows companies to grow and process cannabis purely for research purposes.

Verda Bio, a Seattle-based pharmaceutical company, told me they successfully received their research license and will soon be growing cannabis in their SoDo facility. The LCB confirmed that after a fee was processed the research license would be issued.

Jessica Tonani, Verda Bio’s CEO, said the company’s first project is a breeding program looking to create plants that produce minor cannabinoids, those rarer and less studied pot compounds. “The first year of the project is going to focus on breeding plants that produce chemicals outside of THC. We’re interested in creating plants that produce chemicals that we can study further,” Tonani said. “We don’t believe that the plants that we want to do research on exist yet.”

Washington created the research license in 2016. Getting a permit requires going through a lengthy scientific review of your projects and the scope of the research must be approved every year. It’s taken Verd Bio two years to navigate through this process.

But by submitting to this rigorous process the company will now have the blessing of the state to breed new types of cannabis and create new products. Tonani said state laws don’t actually permit the breeding of cannabis with a traditional pot farm or processor license, but the research license does.

“Breeding plants under the producer license is against the law. If you breed and keep the seeds the plants need to either be destroyed or sold,” Tonani said. “The first year of our research license is going to be very similar to if we could breed under a producer license but we were told we couldn’t do that.”

There are well over a hundred minor cannabinoids in pot, which are in the same family of chemicals as THC but have different therapeutic potential. Once Tonani’s company has created plants that produce these rare chemicals, they will then extract the compounds and research how they affect humans and what kinds of products that can be used on.

Recreational pot producers are already selling products full of some of these compounds, but Tonani’s company isn’t planning on just creating a high THC dab or lemon drop vape pens.

“Our research is not focused on things like high ticket items from a sales perspective,” Tonani said. “We are not focused on high THC products or flavors or things that I think producers or processors have to create to stay alive.”

The license also allows Verda Bio to partner with research institutions like the University of Washington. Although Tonani said UW was still hesitant given federal prohibition on pot.

“I think universities are still pretty scared about federal repercussion about partnering with people in what is perceived to be a federally illegal system. But we are hoping that changes,” Tonani said.

A spokesperson for the LCB said VerdaBio is the only company to apply for the research permit.