In this epic issue of High Times devoted to one of the biggest questions facing the cannabis industry today, legacy vs. legal, is legalization working? I feel like I’m in a unique position to tackle this query. Having been in the industry for almost 30 years I’ve had the chance to observe it through its many incarnations.
The cannabis plant, or Miss Mary Jane, has held a special place in my heart since she first blessed my lungs back in the early ’90s. Where we really bonded was in Amsterdam almost 25 years ago. There I had the good fortune of meeting two fellow plant lovers who both forever changed my life and opened up the proverbial doors of perception leading me into the land of the counterculture. Those two people were Soma and Ed Borg. Both taught me about breeding and growing, which expanded my love and passion for this amazing plant. They showed me that the love and care one puts into the cultivation process will be translated into a finished bud that will have an intense smell and flavor and smoke smoothly down to the end.
Growers initially cultivated cannabis out of their love for the plant and their desire to smoke flower that was either comprised of genetics that they preferred to consume or grown in a particular way, favoring an outcome that gave them the desired effect or taste. In the case of my two mentors, this process involved using soil as a medium and the secret sauce, which is… shit. Literally the use of bat guano and other soil amendments gives cannabis flower a deep and rich taste that is unforgettable.
This type of cultivator was largely found in the majority of grows and, of course, some profited and benefited from a robust market, making good money. In some circles, pounds of cannabis sold for almost as much as $6,000 at the height of the legacy market boom. Certainly there was big money at stake but moreover having seen the effects of the American drug war through the eyes of cannabis refugees living in Amsterdam, there were also consequences. In the U.S., those consequences amounted to lengthy sentences in a federal penitentiary.
What made these consequences so valuable was that it weeded out (pun intended) most of the Chads. I use the word “Chad” loosely to describe someone that has entered the cannabis industry with the sole goal of profiting off the backs of others, ensuring that their hands or suits never get dirty. The Chads avoid choosing a career that would involve possible jail time for cultivating an illegal crop.
It would be the acceptance and freedom that Amsterdam offered that initially led me to the Netherlands. This was, after all, just a plant and we as humans should have the freedom to grow what nature intended us to. This was especially the case once cannabis became widely accepted again as a medicinal plant and more medical patients gravitated towards its use. In fact, it would be this angle that activists would use to get medical cannabis legalized, and eventually recreational sales followed. People like Dennis Peron in the Bay Area were some of the earliest pioneers of pushing through the acceptance that this plant offered an abundance of medical healing for the AIDS-ravaged gay community in San Francisco.
As the perception towards cannabis evolved and medical marijuana gave way to recreational sales, the Chads started infiltrating. At first it was through the nascent trade shows that started popping up and over time this spread to large companies being traded publicly on the penny stock markets in Canada. The Canadian Stock Exchange (CSE) went from being a haven for mining and oil speculation companies to cannabis almost overnight. These institutional investors brought the bankers, accountants, and penny stock manipulators with them.
And thus began the era of the Chad.
As these non-legacy usurpers swept through the industry, they brought their pitch decks, trade conferences, and a massive influx of investment dollars. This would forever change the mom-and-pop aspect of the legacy cannabis industry. This would come to push many outdoor growers that were second-, third-, and even sometimes fourth-generation cultivators out of the industry that they pioneered.
With this Chad invasion came such a huge amount of capital that the cannabis stock bubble formed. As this bubble popped, investors in the Canadian cannabis industry would lose roughly $131 billion dollars in November 2022.
This leads us to the initial query: Between legacy and legalization, what went wrong?
The biggest issue facing the industry today (which is largely due to the infiltration of the Chads) are the emergence of spreadsheets and accountants making decisions regarding growing or cultivation. This has led to a massive influx of mids, or not-so-great cannabis if you’re not privy to the industry jargon. To really examine why the industry has taken such a turn we must examine the origins of the words “growing” and “cultivating.” Why is it that the legacy cultivator had such success whereas the legal grower did not?
Etymology is a very important tool in understanding how culture has developed over time. The study of where words come from shines an interesting light into the real meaning behind our communication practices and understanding the context behind cultural shifts. Using this as a starting point, let’s examine what the Chads lacked when they hijacked the cannabis industry from the veterans upon whose backs it grew.
Why is a legacy cultivator more successful than a corporate grower? Dictionary.com helped provide some insight to answer this question.
The word “cultivate” started being used sometime in the 1600s.
“It grew out of the Medieval Latin word cultīvātus, which ultimately derives from the Latin verb colere, meaning ‘to till,’ ‘to toil over,’ ‘to care for,’ or ‘to worship.’ Colere is also the basis of the words cult, culture, and agriculture, among many others.”
Furthermore, its actual description is more in-depth than simply the process of growing a plant.
“To cultivate isn’t just to grow something. It’s to prepare and work for its growth, and to tend to it as it grows. Cultivating the land for crops often first involves tilling (or plowing) it.”
Understanding what cultivate means provides a glimpse into how this shift to a world of mediocre cannabis occurred.
A legacy operator grows from a desire to consume the best possible cannabis flower they can produce. Yes, they might have a goal of making money, but first and foremost comes the care and worship of the plant they love. This respect focused style of cultivation means that they will scrutinize all aspects of their garden, constantly striving for improvements in their methods, from the medium used, to their nutrient regiment, to the drying and curing process. Even the genetics they use are specifically chosen with purpose.
These passion-driven cultivators tend to start with a medium that brings out the best of their genetics, allowing the plant to express its ideal smell and structure. For indoor growers, their rooms are built and designed around maximizing the potential of the space. From the smallest of home grows to large industrial facilities these cultivators always choose quality over cutting costs and will never save a dollar at the expense of the finished flower. In this style of cultivating, the chemical compounds found in the plant are nurtured and given the time they need in order to maximize cannabinoids and terpenes.
The love and care that a cultivator shows his girls can be seen and tasted in the finished flower. Through many years of cultivating and initial trial and error a cultivator hones his skill and nothing demonstrates this more than the nutrient program selected. Over the years this process is refined and ensures the finished bud will taste great and burn smooth.
Using a balance sheet to dictate how to grow so that costs are kept at a minimum will always affect the flavor and quality of flower. If a grower chooses to use the cheapest salt-based nutrients and rockwool, instead of favoring a living soil with organics then the finished bud will never have as rich and deep a flavor as it could.
This also holds true for harvest times as cutting the plants down early due to the accounting team deciding that a sixth crop could be produced per year if the plants were cut at week seven instead of week nine. In an ideal world the drying and curing process should take about a month. From hanging the whole fresh plants with their leaves intact, to ensuring that they are cycled through the drying space allowing them to evenly dry out. This is the only way to guarantee that they will be perfectly cured and dried, giving the end joint a perfect burn and flavor. Once the crop is hand trimmed, machines obviously damage the bud that you’ve meticulously grown and dried over 12-13 weeks, the final buds are jarred up in glass for their final cure.
All these steps, when combined, produce a product that stands above anything that is grown simply with the bottom line in mind. This plant is wise and wants its caregiver to show it love so that it can reflect it back in the finished flower it grows. When the plant feels the lack of cultivation, care or worship the buds will always end up mediocre.
Sure you can produce great flower on rockwool or other cheaper mediums but when smoked by a consumer desiring the best possible cannabis flower they can smoke, I can promise you the organic, soil-grown flower that spent two weeks drying and another two weeks curing will always win out over a rushed plant that’s grown to maximize savings.
Cannabis plants deserve love and respect.
This is why the Chads have failed and lost investor money. They forgot the one most important factor when it comes to growing cannabis, which is that this plant needs to be cultivated.
This article was originally published in the June 2023 issue of High Times Magazine.