Immaculate conception: a little-known secret about starting a legal cannabis industry

There’s a strange situation that occurs when a state legalizes adult-use cannabis.

Even though a state legalizes the plant, cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, which means it is illegal to get cannabis of any kind, including seeds and clones, outside of that state’s border. So on day one of legalization, where do all the plants come from that will produce the weed you buy in the store? Out of thin air? Well, sort of.

Behold: immaculate conception. 

To allow cannabis producers to bring genetics—seeds and clones—into a newly created market, a state will basically look the other way for a period of time and not bust growers for bringing seeds into the state illegally. It’s as if your genetics came from thin air, hence the term “immaculate conception.” 

So growers starting a new business can buy seeds from all over the country and world, bringing a diverse pool of cannabis genetics into a state. Want some White Widow straight from The Netherlands? How about some Granddaddy Purple from Northern California? 

As long as you can get it and tag it in your tracking system before the end of the immaculate conception period—usually 90 days after a producer gets a recreational license—your state will look the other way. 

The loophole explained

So why do states do this? Basically, those plants have to come from somewhere.

“Any product obtained within a newly legal state couldn’t be obtained legally, because the only source of products in a state would have to come from the illicit market,” said Kris Krane, President of cannabis company 4Front Ventures. “Because of this, states have no choice but to look the other way as to where the companies obtain their first batch of seeds or cuttings, even though from that point forward everything is tracked from seed to sale.” 

And without legal genetics already in your state, that means growers need to break the law to get that first batch of genetics into their state. 

Another route: Some growers start off in the medical market and simply switch to producing for the recreational market when that opens up and they get a license for it. Growers can use the plants they grew for medical, but the funny thing is, even those genetics were originally obtained illegally. 

The gray area of cannabis legalization

So what do the feds think?

“To my knowledge, there is no communication between the states and the federal government about how they allow businesses to bring in initial seeds and cuttings. All of these businesses are illegal under federal law so states typically do not share any information about their programs in general with the federal government,” said Krane.

Immaculate conception is a perfect example of the dance states do to get around the feds and the gray area of the plant’s legality (banking is another example). Cannabis can be legal in multiple states, but crossing a state line with cannabis is still a federal offense. Taking that Oregon-grown weed into California can get you locked up even though it’s legal for anyone over 21 to buy cannabis in both Oregon and California.

Until federal legalization comes around, states and growers will have to create loopholes like immaculate conception. In the meantime, mum’s the word when it comes where your genetics came from.

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