The Culling

A Regenerative Process
Culling
Photo by Ginja Club, cultivated by Snowtill

The Current Marketplace

For those unfamiliar with the current happenings within the cannabis industry, I’ll give you a brief overview. Overall, things are looking grim, with most recreational companies operating at massive losses and traditional elements struggling to hang on by a thread. On both sides of the market people are hanging up their hats left and right. It seems as if the “the green rush” (oh boy, did I hate that term) is finally over. 

So, what does this all mean for everyone involved in the industry? First, it means increased pressure on smaller operators. Whether traditional or recreational, small growers are feeling the squeeze of oversupply, a glut of subpar mediocrity produced by their larger counterparts. 

Second, it means a flagrant burning of investor money as conglomerates fall victim to their own sunk cost fallacy, attempting to justify the hundreds of millions—if not several billions—they’ve already spent on massive facilities that became their own worst enemy. With larger conglomerates squandering investor resources, it’s safe to say there isn’t much left for anyone else.

So, things look bleak for quite a lot of people. But are they really? 

To answer this question, one of the things I really want to assess is how much of what is being trimmed right now is just the fat. I’ll be drawing parallels to natural processes in my assessment—I am a living organic farmer after all—looking at how nature might be showing us this current reckoning could be the best thing to happen to our industry yet.

The Culling

Let’s start off by rewinding about ten years, right before Colorado went legal. Back then, someone working in cannabis was a rarity and most certainly not the norm. Once legalization began spreading like wildfire though, the amount of people who worked in cannabis, or were invested in cannabis, or were looking to sink their claws into the industry in any way they could, rose astronomically. 

According to all these hopeful green-diggers (term coined by me just now, lol) legalization was the new way to make massive amounts of easy cash. In their minds, “drug dealing” had just gone mainstream. With a new, more accessible market at their fingertips, how could it not be super lucrative? 

The funny thing about drug dealing, though, is its profitability is inflated by its inaccessibility. It’s a simple equation of supply and demand: by making an illegal product permissible, you introduce a whole new kind of competition that just wasn’t there before. Save for a handful of quality-focused brands that can demand a higher price point for the effort they put into making an impeccable product, most producers are motivated by the easiest, cheapest way to make a buck. You don’t have to look at the history of capitalism to know such a narrow focus usually results in dismally subpar products, cheap, nonetheless. 

Fast-forward ten years now into the present, what are these green-diggers to do as the promise of easy cash from an always on-demand product is in fact not easy cash, for a not so on-demand product? 

Well, this is where the culling begins. On the surface a brutal, scary process, it’s really meant to separate those who were in this for the money from those who were always in it for the love. I think it’s safe to say even among the “veteran” trappers and growers, many were just in the game for how incredibly lucrative selling units at $4K+ a pound once was. (It’s why when I hear someone lamenting past price points when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I just shake my head.)

When you take the money out of it, there’s only a select few who are willing to go through the struggle of keeping a cannabis business alive. Fierce competition, slim margins, a need for incredible customer service: it’s now just the same as running any other venture, if not made even more difficult due to stringent regulation and taxation. 

culling
Photo by Ginja Club, cultivated by Snowtill

The Seeds Will Sprout

At this point you may be saying to yourself, okay, so the industry is absolutely screwed, right? What’s going to happen? 

Well, here’s where nature can teach us a thing or two. Just as a fire scours a forest of dying trees or a flood ravages a parched valley, so too will the industry be renewed by its culling. Just like the fire clears the most vulnerable trees that have grown too old or too sick, and just as the flood washes away all the old decay in the sun-stricken valley. Left behind are the youngest, healthiest trees and seedlings with plenty of light to grow, able to take advantage of the abundant carbon released from the fire. Animals and plants in the once-parched valley rejoice in the vitality that the flood’s left-behind streams bring to the dried land. 

So too in our industry will the decay get swept away: the unhealthy hulking giants will be most susceptible to the fire and floods they themselves started. It’ll take time, but I assure you there’s only so much capital investors will put in before enough is enough. We see it happening with massive Canadian conglomerates, and it’s happening to a lot of major operators on the West Coast as well. 

Regrowth

What’s going to be left behind by the culling will be the individuals who were drawn to this for all the right reasons. People who believe this is their calling and are willing to fight for their spot in the sun. 

Once the seeds of change have begun to grow and the decay has fully dissipated, I hope for an industry filled with true stewards of this amazing plant. From the individuals working on the production side to the people involved with procurement, all will have truly earned it. The days of gimmicky marketing, knockoff brands, ridiculously shaped mylars, and more will start to fade away. In their place, cannabis as a cherished plant rather than cheap commodity will take center stage.

As passion takes over, we’ll see an increase in the quality of the plant at price points that are simply unseen. In one of my previous pieces, I wrote that craft is the future of the industry, which some readers took to mean I was saying expensive weed will win. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. What you’ll end up with is the best quality products at the most affordable prices as the competition, still fierce as ever, will push producers (large ones too) to create a superior product to maintain an edge.

Photo by Ginja Club, cultivated by Snowtill

Keeping Our Heads HIGH

In the end, the struggle will be worth it. We only need to look to nature to see that adversity serves to sharpen and focus. Just as plants develop stronger roots and more resilient stalks from strong winds, our industry will come back stronger than ever, renewed by its culling. Life shines brightest in the face of adversity.

The sea of change will take some time. The big guys are heavily funded, their business plans frighteningly simple. Lose more money than those who don’t have deep investor pockets and snuff them out, one by one.

But I urge all who empathize and resonate with these words to keep your chin up. The best of the cannabis world is yet to come, and by digging deep roots and holding your ground against the winds of change, you will emerge stronger than ever ready to take part in the brighter future to come.

Edited by Lori Arden

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10 comments
  1. Small farm will need to produce for less than $150/lb. They are doing this now and terpenes are the only weak point. What do you think happens when large scale can match 4% terpenes outdoor with a nutrient cost of $12/lb?

  2. Sounds pretty accurate, but the surviving craft industry will probably still not make a great living for those survivors. If you think about other crops, even for the best stuff, the margins are thin.

  3. Entirely too optimistic, and at points unrealistic. This opinion piece is written from the perspective of a stoner that fits in a very specific demographic. That demographic is the issue that causes the fallacies in the article.

    The author has many solid points, but only looks at it from their standpoint as a very specific type of consumer. The educated connoisseur. Sadly, that is not the majority of consumers, otherwise the author’s predictions may have been more accurate. The vast majority of patients, rec buyer’s, and even black market care only about one thing, bang for the buck. At the end of the day, weed is a luxury good for those with disposable incomes (other than a subset of patients). The vast majority of people simply want to spend the least and get the most. Price and convenience are the ultimate selling points.

    The average buyer doesn’t care if it’s indoor, outdoor, organic or anything else. They want something that will work for them, doesn’t have a bunch of seeds, and is cheap and convenient. That’s it. They think more THC= better, they don’t know about terps, they don’t know about other cannabinoids. They know they have twenty dollars in their pocket and they need to make it last a week. That’s why prerolls are such a hot commodity, even though most of them are made with trim, or larf at best. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and they get alot for very little.

    What we’re going to see is a total market collapse. Big people will fall out after killing off the small folks, much like the author mentioned. However, depending on the state, will determine what the market does. If licenses are cheap or available easily, more idiots will jump in and continue the cycle, of licenses aren’t… We’ll be left with whoever is still around, whether they’re a good company, or a crap company. I hate to say it, but most of the crap companies will make it. They cut corners, cut costs, cut labor, and treat people like crap. They’ll have the money to survive in greater numbers than the honest people whose goal was always to help others. Eventually, between the market and regulations, we’ll be stuck with a couple of huge nationwide brands that pay small farmers pennies for their harvests to market and sell them under the big names. Small farms will die out and cycle, while the big people will keep themselves open by taking advantage of others. Much like Walmart and Amazon. Craft growers will be around, but the demand for their products will be niche and they will be limited in number.

    Consumers won’t care, because they get cheap, semi-effective weed. Big companies will laugh because they made it, everyone else will only have broken dreams of a broken economic and social system. Dystopian? Yes. Harsh reality? Also yes.

  4. It’s over. I am ruined after 25 years growing cannabis. Sometimes you just need to realize that your dreams are just dreams and you are wasting your time chasing them if the market is crashing for good. It will never be profitable like it was. If you put a dollar into growing cannabis you will lose 2.

    1. The problem is that you thought you were growing a money tree and got greedy.

      The only people making money on this are the people who are growing it for themselves and are not spending money in a dispensary.
      Legalization was literally designed to put illegal grows and people like you out of business and it has worked, BRILLIANTLY.

  5. It’s all about diversifying your product. Don’t just grow cannabis. Grow beyond the “green rush”! Cannabis in today’s market is on par with tomatoes, cucumbers, and other produce. In the end it’s just an agricultural product, and farmers, if they are suited to be farmers, find their market. End of story.

  6. I’m so glad I grow my own and am not in a position to have to be greedy about it. I started off growing my own to get away from street dealers and street prices.

    Now I am watching all the greedy folks who jumped on the band wagon of a government regulated market and laughing my ass off as they go broke.
    I marvel at the idea of ever doing business with the same government who wanted to lock me up in prison for long periods of time just 4 years ago.
    I say we put the other nail in the coffin and start treating cannabis like corn and start selling it at a REASONABLE price instead of a price that props up the greedy folks who think they are entitled to a market and being millionaires, just because they grow cannabis.

  7. Corporate and government greed killed the golden goose! I said from the beginning that was what drove the legalization movement, money! $400 for an ounce of a product that should cast $50, which is in line with alcohol prices. And small farmers are raking a beating, not because of prices, but because of greedy middlemen. I visited a dispensay just once because it was novel. I bought a vape cart that was decent and an 1/8 of GDP. by the time I got home, 1/2 of the bud had disintegrated into powder, the bud was so old!
    But I’ve long had access to quality weed, I grow my own!

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