The Risks and Pitfalls of Sourcing Clones Through an Online Cannabis Nursery

Quality genetics can be make-or-break for many cannabis producers. But finding pedigree versions of the most exciting strains one crop cycle ahead of consumer demand is hard enough in established markets. How are cultivators in emerging markets and newly legalized states supposed to get the hookup? 

Online nurseries promise cannabis growers the chance to invest in premium clones. But like shopping online for any product, a buyer should know what they’re getting into before they buy—and before pinning the future on a mystery grow. Wasting time on sub-par genetics is a huge buzz kill and quickly kills the vibe in any cultivation facility.

Unlike acquiring a Labrador retriever or a French bulldog, there are no pedigree papers from the AKC to certify the authenticity of a cannabis clone sourced through an online nursery. After your clone is shipped, it will take at least 12 weeks for those clones to grow, flower and verify the quality of what you purchased. 

At best, you’ll have exactly what you ordered—a healthy, strong, profitable clone with all the flavor, terpene content, potency and resin you could ask for. At the worst, you could end up with a sick clone that’s down with a virus, infested with pests or covered in mold. You could spend a ton of time and money and end up with the wrong genetics or low-potency strains—you might even end up with plain hemp. Like a bad apple in a barrel, it often takes weeks for the skeletons to surface in strain library or clone room and start affecting your grow’s plant community.

Why you should quarantine new cannabis clones

Before buying a clone online, you should always try to find out what skeletons may be in that nursery’s closet. And after purchase, you should always quarantine your clones to determine whether you got what you paid for. Quarantine can reveal if you got a quality clone or not, but it can still take months to resolve the problems that arrived with an inferior plant.

You can’t always see pests with the naked eye, but you can wait and see how the leaves of a plant respond over time before putting it in the main grow room. If pests are present, or a new plant tests positive for a microbial issue like mold, good quarantine protocols can help to keep that issue from spreading to the rest of your crop, while you either remediate the issue safely in quarantine, or cut bait and find new, and hopefully cleaner clones. 

Some problems simply can’t be remediated, however. If you order a clone from an online nursery and it tests hot for banned pesticides, you’re simply out your time and investment. There’s nothing to do but put that plant in the trash and hope that your brand’s reputation isn’t tarnished if word gets out about chemical residue, dirty bugs, mold or other problematic hitchhikers. 

Testing hot for banned pesticides can put your brand at serious risk. The same is essentially true of plants infected with the hop latent viroid (HLV) ,a disease easily spread in nurseries and grows with poor sanitation and testing practices. While HLV disease can be remediated, it’s a time-consuming and costly process that delays yields and requires specific expertise. In most cases, if HLV is present, growers are forced to cull their crops (and mothers) and start over. There really is no coming back from HLV spread through a mother room—all you can do is buy new, clean genetics.

Vetting an online cannabis nursery

So how do you avoid duds and score trustworthy clones you can count on as the backbone of your business? There are a few ways to get closer to that AKC pedigree for your plants. 

For one, if you operate in an existing regulated market, seek out Metrc-compliant cannabis nurseries that use technology like advanced software, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and robust databases to follow cannabis clones from cutting to testing, transport, sale and rooting. It’s the closest the industry has to a complete verification system for cannabis plants, developed in tandem with growers and regulators to protect both public trust and public health. Cultivators should always ask for up-to-date HLV testing certification. If they don’t perform routine HLV testing for their mother and plant stock, look elsewhere.

For another, it’s crucial to develop relationships within the cannabis industry—especially for operators in emerging markets. Legitimate operators with top-shelf genetics in your existing market are a fantastic connection to have. Buying blind rarely works out as well as following the lead of your most reputable connections. Find out who in your community is trustworthy and has a guy (or gal!). If that person doesn’t exist in a new market, or if they aren’t willing to share their source, that’s where a genetics consultant can step in.

Cannabis genetics consultants and nursery shopping

Any genetics consultant with real expertise will only work with laboratory-tested nurseries to reduce the risk of bringing home plants with viruses or mold. They’ll also know how to differentiate between the finer points of choosing a cannabis clone nursery and how to avoid violating the 2018 Farm Bill, which introduced new rules regarding hemp and cannabis.

Is it legal to ship cannabis clones

The rules outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill present one pitfall of sourcing clones through an online nursery. Because of federal prohibition, shipping clones from legal state to legal state falls into a legal gray area. Mailing any cannabis product across state lines is potentially problematic. According to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp plants under 0.3% THC are not considered cannabis under the federal government’s Schedule 1 designation that renders the plant illegal. 

That ambiguity has spurred some online cannabis nurseries to ship so-called hemp clones and seeds widely on the basis that immature plants do not yet contain enough THC to violate government thresholds. But as with any business in the legal cannabis industry, flirtation with non-compliance begs the question of which other corners operators may be cutting.

Again, a good genetics consultant will be able to help you find the best possible source for clones in your area, and will be well-versed in the ins and outs of compliance. If you’re worried about staying under that 0.3% threshold or trusting an out-of-state supplier, talk to a consultant to pinpoint what the best possible choice might be for your operation.