I’m not here to talk about any specific brand or any specific strain, but in my capacity as a journalist, I have been tasked with truth-telling and to tell you the truth: I have been extremely disappointed with the lack of quality in the California rec cannabis market as of late.
We’ve all heard the news stories and the insufferable bitching from corporate cannabis CEOs about how the legal market just can’t compete with the traditional market, but past the press releases and the buck-passing, anyone in the cannabis space should be asking themselves: what exactly is standing in the way of truly good weed being widely available on legal shelves?
To find the answer to that question, I enlisted the help of some California and Emerald Triangle cannabis staples who have been around long enough to know what good weed is and/or have all managed to put fire onto dispensary shelves. Sourwaves is a long-time grower and meme maker who has lived in infamy for years for his unwillingness to take his foot off the industry’s neck when it comes to growing practices and quality.
John Casali of Huckleberry Hill Farms has been growing and living in the same valley of the Emerald Triangle for his entire life and has multiple awards under his belt including a 1st place Ego Clash win for the Riddlez rosin processed by Heritage Hash Co. Finally, Robert Gale of Humboldt Terp Council produces some of the finest concentrates I have ever had the pleasure of dabbing and is a vocal member of the Humboldt County community on the state of the industry and of cannabis in general.
After extensive conversations with the aforementioned, I have boiled down the most likely causes of mass boof to the following three explanations:
- Excessive Government red tape/taxes
- Corporate margin slimming/market manipulation
- General lack of growing experience
Uncle Boof-Smoking Sam
Almost every state has objectively bungled the way they set up their cannabis laws either to the tune of a “pay-to-play” market or a lack of foresight when it comes to issues of license caps or lack of maximums on canopy space or both.
“Basically overproduction and over-taxation have caused a race to the bottom and everybody is losing,” Gale said. “The other issues are, especially with flower, it has only a certain window where it’s good and it takes so long to get through processing, packaging and testing that unless you’re vertically integrated the weed’s already getting old by the time it hits a shelf.”
Testing is its own beast of burden. Every legal state requires some form of THC testing but with little to no guidance on exactly how that process needs to be performed, it has opened the door for manipulation and consumer confusion when they buy a 31% THC eighth that doesn’t get them high at all.
“There’s no set calibration for testing, one. Two, you can buy test results,” Sourwaves said, referring to the lack of regulations surrounding the methodology in which California labs perform tests. “You’re gonna pay more than the next lab but that’s what makes the lab popular. ‘Oh, my, THC is over 30%,’ that makes things fly off the shelf. There’s little tricks people do to make a test hot, like drying it super, super dry and stuff like that.”
In addition to overproduction and over-taxation, many cannabis industry business owners have lamented that excessive regulations on how cannabis businesses have to operate have caused industry gridlock and a slough of unnecessary money hang-ups.
“One of our biggest hurdles is having to go give [our cannabis] to a distributor who takes 17%, who doesn’t pay us up front. Then they give it to a retailer who doesn’t pay that distributor who doesn’t pay us. And then, if the customer doesn’t buy that product, or it takes them a year to pay the retailer, it takes a year to pay the distributor, who then in return takes a year to pay the farmer,” Casali said. “More [often] than not most of us farmers don’t get paid a lot of times.”
Revenge of the Chads in Rec Markets
The jury is out: big money is growing too much weed for their own good. Of all the people I’ve talked to in cannabis throughout the duration of my lifetime, scale is the number one cited culprit of boof production. However, extreme scale is also an extremely effective tool if you’re a really rich dude who wants to get into cannabis but would prefer if all the traditional market cultivators got conveniently arrested or set on fire.
This mentality has led to market manipulation and pushing out of legacy operators by massive grow companies, some of whom have been accused (if not informally) of shmoozing and lobbying politicians for economically unsound favors like removing a one-acre cap on cultivation licenses, for instance, or generally making it easier for people to buy their way into the industry and weed people out who have less capital.
“If a guy has a one-acre grow, it’s just basic economics of why the bigger guys cost less to produce a pound of weed,” Sourwaves said. “So, these goons over at Glass House got their costs probably between $30 and $60 a pound so if they need to go crash the market selling packs for $150-$250 It’s because and they know that these smaller farms cannot keep up with these low prices.”
For someone like Casali who grows only 5,000 sq ft of canopy, which he hand waters with his girlfriend/partner, it’s virtually impossible to compete with the margins set by some of the larger operators, so even if the product is vastly better in quality, it creates a situation in which the consumer is faced with a dirt cheap option decent enough to defend saving the $20-$40 extra per eighth they would have spent on something worth smoking.
“Growing in the Emerald triangle, it costs a lot more to produce a pound and in the country up in the hills, being environmentally friendly it costs us between $300 and $400 to produce a pound,” Casali said.
“You have people who are solely in this to make money and this is America I’m not against making money it’s not that. The problem is that the weed sucks, right? So how do we make that better?” Sourwaves said.
While no one I’ve ever talked to had a hard line for a plant or light count considered “too big to be dank” almost everyone could attest that once you pass a certain threshold, it’s basically impossible to produce quality bud and at the scale some of the California producers are producing at, it has created a perfect storm of dogshit.
“There’s a few people doing it, but they’re few and far between. I think a place like Fig Farms has managed to keep their quality up and slowly get bigger,” Gale said. “Man, it’s hard to scale quality. Most of the stuff that we view as quality doesn’t stand a chance to what the people are still producing on the traditional market.”
No Love for the Plant, No Knowledge About the Plant
I have never met a single grower worth their salt in my time as a weed nerd who didn’t love the plant and/or sacrifice an immense amount of time and hard work for the plant. Maybe that’s some hippie mumbo-jumbo I picked up whilst on acid in the Arcata plaza, but if every good grower on Earth says the same thing, there’s a pretty good chance they know what they’re talking about and they all stress that while it may be easier than ever to learn how to grow, you still gotta put in your 10,000 hours to be able to consistently produce the best representation of the plant.
One thing Sourwaves stressed to me in terms of growing techniques he believes lead to poor quality are high intensity, full synthetic nutrient cycles for big indoor grows which he thinks could be made incrementally better by the introduction of organic nutrients in addition to the synthetics.
“When you’re feeding super high EC several times a day, and you’re forcing that plant to uptake all these nutrients because you’re using sensors to measure your dry backs, and it’s telling you how and what you need to feed that crap. Access to that information is so dope, don’t get me wrong, but the way that is being manipulated to push the crop to a higher yield, It does not result in a pleasurable smoke to the end user,” Sourwaves said.
The lack of experience and lack of love for the plant seems to extend to every part of the industry beyond just the cultivators.
“Even in 2018-2019 if you worked at a dispensary it’s because you loved weed and because you wanted to be closer to it, Gale said. “And now that we’re like five years into legalization, and the truth is you’ve got a lot of staff at dispensaries that applied to 10 different places, and the dispensary happened to call them instead of Subway or the shoe store or Orange Julius.”
Could it be that Mother Nature simply has a fail-safe from allowing herself to be taken advantage of by people who do not show her the love she deserves or is this more mumbo and more jumbo? Many growers I’ve spoken to firmly believe that when you put in the work, it comes back.
“Most of us, our parents, were part of the back to the land movement. They taught us that it’s just as important to take care of the environment and take care of the land and the more time and the more energy and the more love that you put into any kind of plants, whether it’s fruit trees, whether it’s grapes, or vegetables, or cannabis plants, the more time, the more energy and the more love you give them, the better they turn out in the end,” Casali said.
So what do we do about all this, asked the obnoxious journalist who was taught never to ask rhetorical questions. In a nutshell:
- We get rid of the excise taxes and any/all red tape standing in between the grower and the consumer so small growers can make a living.
- We put a reasonable cap on license size and/or the number of active licenses so the Chads can still play but don’t ruin it for everyone else.
- People growing cannabis for a living need to learn how to f***ing grow.
- Show respect for the plant and the plant will respect you.