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The last couple of weeks in the Oregon cannabis industry have been filled with confusion, accusations, and pain over announcements made by Phylos Bioscience. Last night, news broke that in relation to the still-developing situation, the Open Cannabis Project (OCP) is shutting down on May 31. The Open Cannabis Project was dedicated to charting the chemical and genetic characteristics of different strains, in the hopes of creating an open-source archival record of strains, which could benefit science and prevent corporations from patenting strains that have already been in existence.

So... what happened?

In a statement posted yesterday, OCP Director Beth Schechter announced that the organization will be shuttering in light of the blowback they have received since it came to light that Phylos announced last month that they are starting a cannabis breeding program. As Schechter writes, "OCP started as a project of Phylos to 'protect' heirloom varieties from overbroad patents as cannabis transitions into a legal market. In late 2017 we became our own organization, with a new board and new leadership, built with the intent to carry out the same mission — to prevent people who did not invent new cannabis breeds ('patent trolls') from receiving monopoly-granting patents."

Schechter goes on to say their work was hamstrung by a serious lack of funding, and a staff that never exceeded one paid member and numerous volunteers. That would be enough to sink any undertaking, but those weren't the only challenges OCP faced. She writes:

"Through it all, and despite our best efforts, we’ve been called a fraud, a scam and a cover for some kind of secret plot. At first, we thought it was simply a technical misunderstanding of the subject matter. Now we know that there is truth to some of these fears. For those of us who were brought into OCP as it separated from Phylos, we came on board because we sincerely believe in protecting small growers and breeders during this crucial transition to a legal market. We also feel we have been deceived. As a result, no matter what we do as an organization going forward, Open Cannabis Project will never escape this deception."

The "deception" is something she attributes to a recently released video of Phylos CEO Mowgli Holmes speaking at an investor conference in February in Florida (because of course it would be Florida). As Schechter writes,

"According to Dr. Holmes, Phylos now considers itself a 'legacy data company' and the genetic sequencing and sex test services they provide growers and breeders only exist to support the breeding project. Some of the statements Dr. Holmes made dismiss the work of the very breeders who contributed to their research and suggest that their breeding project will create 'outrageous new strains' to replace them. Dr. Holmes’s presentation to investors confirms many of the fears the community has had about Phylos’ intentions for years."

Much like returning from a three-month trip, there is a great deal to unpack here, and none of it smells very good. Phylos released a statement saying that there is a widespread misperception about their work, and many of the accusations being hurled at them via social media are not true and/or even scientifically possible. I've reached out to Phylos to get their side of the story, and hope to report on why they vigorously disagree with the assessments being made by Schechter and others.

Regardless, the loss of OCP is a blow to an increasingly fractured cannabis community, which already faces railcar-sized challenges and setbacks. OCP was positioned to be an evolving document of cannabis properties and genetics, and could have taught us much about a plant we still know very little about due to decades of prohibition. "A house divided cannot stand," and it remains to be seen what the continuing fall out will be.