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Study to trace cannabis lineage, preserve oral history of legacy cultivators

  • Sage Alexander

  • May 11, 2023 at 2:49 p.m.

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Corva said that he will continue until time runs out, because he will never run out of people to talk to. “A lot of legacy cannabis breeders in Humboldt County - one is sitting on my couch right now,” he said. (Cal Poly Humboldt)

Cal Poly Humboldt is part of a new study that will research cannabis across the state. The interdisciplinary study aims to preserve oral histories and the legacy genetics of cannabis farmers, including those in Humboldt County.

One of the principal investigators is Dominic Corva, a cannabis studies program director at Cal Poly Humboldt. The study will start this year, coinciding with the launch of the university’s cannabis studies program.

Corva said Humboldt is “the latest in the last 10,000 years of history, in terms of places that have become synonymous with the plant.”

Corva said the most central, important part of the study is the community-based, participatory research. Legacy cultivation communities will decide where herbariums —traditional plant libraries that store genetics and seeds — will be built, and communities will take part in how they will preserve their genetics.

“They get to own the process in so many ways — us researchers are servants in the process,” he said.

Corva said much of the work the researchers are studying is already being done, and this study will loop together a lot of things that people have been doing in the private sector or informally for a long time.

He said the study will also help cultivators establish a place in the market, something especially relevant for federal legalization, state-to-state commerce and global marketing.

“There’s a desperate need,” he said, when asked about the urgency of preservation of the information. “There are lines that have been around for a long time, and the people cultivating them need to stay in business,” he said.

He said legacy genetics is far-reaching, including intergenerational lines, strains from 10 years ago, and plants that sustained people through prohibition.

The study will also establish collective intellectual property protection for their genetics, through the herbariums. There will be genetic mapping that goes along with the study to identify characteristics of different plant lines.

He said his job as a political geographer is to synthesize a narrative about California, the legacy communities and their genetics, and how they were impacted by cannabis criminalization.

He said the Cannabis Equity Policy Council is involved, a nonprofit that will tie in narratives of Black and Brown communities in other parts of the state.

The oral history will be collected in video format.

The other principal investigators include Todd Holmes, a historian at the Oral History Center at UC Berkeley; Genine Coleman, executive director of the Origins Council; Rachel Giraudo, anthropology professor at CSU Northridge and Eleanor Kuntz of LeafWorks, a cannabis and hemp genetic testing company.

Corva said he is deeply humbled and grateful for his team members.

“The actual challenge is to really be of service to the people who you’re researching — especially because of how much pain they’ve been in the last few years,’ he said.

The study will last two years and is funded by the California Department of Cannabis Control for $2.7 million.

Corva noted that no other Department of Cannabis Control is undertaking what California’s is doing.

He said the CDCC is interested in creating a California product — the same way that France has special French wines, as part of a long-term approach to preserving history.

Students in the cannabis studies program, which launches this fall, will participate by looking through archives, taking notes, organizing data, reviewing transcripts and more.

A news release from the university said research outputs will include the herbariums, genomics data, a database of 90 oral history videos, and a series of educational webinars and publications. The press release also states that 15 other academic institutions received funding for cannabis-related research.


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