I’m just finishing a stay in Ann Arbor and stopped at two of my favorite cannabis vendors to see what the state of this State is. There are some really disturbing trends that I saw.
COVID Buying Procedures
Buying cannabis has changed during our COVID experience. I used to be able to go into a dispensary, look at the different cultivars, and even smell them. No longer. In one place, Om of Medicine, you can order online or go into their ‘lobby’ and place an order on a tablet. Then what I’ve selected magically appears from downstairs. The other dispensary is Exclusive Provisioners. Their COVID procedure has mandatory ordering online. Then you pick up your order in your car. For both dispensaries, delivery is available … for a fee. I get it. We all need to stay away from places where we might get exposed to the virus. That’s good. The bad part is what’s happened to quality. It has deteriorated significantly. What’s going on? I believe I do have a partial answer.
The Quality Factor
Both dispensaries and I admit this is only an “n” of 2 in a city that has 20 or so shops, have seriously gone down in quality. The quality of cannabis and the product they deliver are not up to the standards they had previously. Why? I believe there are several reasons for this.
First, both shops were independently owned and operated before COVID. Now they’re both part of larger chains. I get that. These are businesses. In business profits are important. Profits are what keep a business going. But…it can get carried too far, and apparently that is what’s happening in Ann Arbor. In Colorado, I can still walk into a dispensary and at least look at the bud and decide from there. But not in Ann Arbor. The quality in Colorado has, if nothing else, improved. Quality in Ann Arbor (and most of Michigan too, I’d guess) it seems to have deteriorated.
Om of Medicine
I got two varieties of cannabis from Om; Heavy Trichome and Hash Haze. Heavy Trichome was not. Heavy in trichomes that is. I tried it and it’s not even worth a review. It had no flavor to speak of and definitely not heavy in trichomes. Trichomes have much of the good in a cannabis flower. Terpenes, THCs, CBDs, and other compounds are found there. A bud heavy in trichomes should look like it’s frosted all over. Heavy Trichome had no heavy frost and in fact, had fewer trichomes then I’ve seen in a long time.
Hash Haze seems like it might have promise. Decent aroma, but I have yet to try it. My problem is that it’s prepackaged. I got two ‘jars’ of the product to make an eighth but was delivered in 2-1.75 gram jars. Who buys 1.75 grams of anything? If it’s good, I’ll write a review. If not, you’ll never hear about it again.
Exclusive Provisioners – Ann Arbor
Exclusive had been the source of many happy buds I’ve consumed in the past. While I get the COVID ordering system. what I don’t get is the conga line of cars backed up into the street driving in to pick up orders. OK, their order and pickup system isn’t the most sophisticated. I get that. Pickup is not their primary business. When I got to the store, there was a traffic jam that was backed up into the street. Not only is this not a way to show appreciation to customers, but it’s also dangerous. But to sell bud that looks like shake leaves me feeling ripped off. And I do!
An eighth of Professor Chaos was mostly shake.
My online order was for an eighth of Professor Chaos, mostly because I liked the name and I’d never had it before. Really. I couldn’t see the flower. I couldn’t smell it or see it until I got it. What I received was a vial that was mostly shake. Or almost so. Not only was the little plastic jar filled with mostly shake, but Professor Chaos wasn’t very good. Very frustrating experience. While I loved the name of the cultivar; “Professor Chaos” but I sure didn’t like the result. If a dispensary is going to offer flower, they should deliver flower, not shake. Sell shake as shake and sell flower as flower. This was reminiscenet of 30 or 40 years ago when cannabis was purchased by the ounce (for $40!) and you actually got about a quarter of an ounce after the seeds and stems were taken out.
I cannot call this was not a good experience. Why purchase cannabis that’s substandard, especially in 2020.
Next week, I’m on my way to Taos, NM via Colorado where I’ll check out Colorado’s dispensary activity. Let’s see if those dispensaries are still as good as they were in the past. Check back.
All the states where cannabis is legal report monthly sales. All the states, except one, have had rising sales all year, even during, or especially during, the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. The one state reporting downward sales at the same time; California. Why? California is the outlier in the states with legal adult-use markets and there appear to be a lot of reasons for this. First the other states.
In Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, and Massetussets are all reporting increased sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not California though. They’re reporting a downward trend in sales. Why? For starters, California has some of the highest prices for cannabis in the U.S. This is because the state has some of the highest taxes for cannabis. California counties and communities all have different regulations. Many counties and cities don’t even allow adult-use cannabis stores. Additionally, in about half of California, cannabis just isn’t allowed to be sold because of an opt-out provision in the state law.
Rising sales in some states might be just because of the newness of the adult-use program. Illinois, for instance, has only had legal cannabis sales since the start of 2020. In a situation like that, sales are bound to be rising. The other west coast states, meaning Oregon and Washington, sales have been rising especially during the pandemic. In Colorado, sales have been setting new records every month. In California, they’re going the opposite way. Why?
There seem to be several reasons for this. Much of the bureaucratic turf wars are just plain infighting. Coupled with blind regulatory opaqueness and what appears to be plain old ordinary regulatory incompetence is the fault. Too many regulators want to control the market in greater ways than the alcoholic beverage market is regulated. While it can’t just be pinned on the regulators, regulation and implementation is something that needs to be addressed and addressed quickly.
Oregon and Washington Issues
Oregon and Washington have had their own issues. Oregon let the market open up for everyone who wanted to be a grower or retailer. So there were too many retailers and too many growers. There was a huge oversupply of cannabis products because of this. But…in hindsight…always 20/20…it wasn’t that bad a move and now the cannabis is. The best growers and the best retailers prevailed.
Other California Problems
In California, there is a hodge-podge of cities and counties that allow cannabis cultivation and/or retail sales. It’s quite a mess and about 1/2 the population of California doesn’t have ready access to legal weed. Guess where they’re getting their weed? The black market, that’s where. Black market cannabis collects no taxes, is not regulated in any way. It is what it is and the people who buy from black market merchants really have no way to know what they’re getting. The whole situation in California is a hot mess. All the above points to why sales during this COVID-19 crisis are going down in the state.
If you do some simple math, California has about 39 1/2 million total people living in the state and (usually) many visitors. Of the total population, 23 million are over 21. If only 10% of that population consumed cannabis, that would be 2,300,000 people who consume cannabis. We know that the actual number is at least twice or possibly three times that. Let’s stay with twice. So if 5 million people consume cannabis and spend $10 a week for their product, it would annualize at just over $1 billion. That’s billion with a “B”. Compared to Colorado, with 1/5 the population of California has $1.6 Billion in sales last year. Sales in Colorado should pale in comparison to California and obviously they don’t.
What Can California Do?
Obviously. California really needs to get its act together. Regulatory environments need to be open, fair and honest. Tax structures should be modified to face the reality that other states have less expensive cannabis. California also needs to open it’s market to the people who have been exploited when cannabis was illegal; Minorities and economically disadvantaged peoples need to have opportunities to be included in the market. Then California will move to the forefront of legal cannabis. After all, there is no other state with Humboldt County.
If you’re following the media during these quarantine days of COVID-19, it’s obvious the search for a vaccine is the #1 priority. Why? The resources to develop a vaccine should have come after the hospitals, PPP, and everything else. The president wants a vaccine first, so that’s getting the pixels on our screens…a vaccine. And indeed most of the media coverage is about finding a vaccine. Is this what we should be spending most of our scientific time developing? Or are we missing another perhaps more important target? Treatment.
Vaccines don’t treat disease. They prevent disease. Even when there’s a vaccine, there are people who will need effective treatment. Treatments that work for COVID-19 are few and far between. Treatments don’t prevent, but how are we as a society going to deal with all the people who need help getting through and then past the disease?
Like most of us, I’ve been tracking the news about how many pharmaceutical companies are searching for a vaccine, I’ve also been reading how in many other places around the world, research is developing treatments. Vaccine research is hugely important. So is research to find effective treatments.
There are many very good reasons for this; First, it will take time to get the population vaccinated. Second, not all the population will want to be vaccinated. (Think anti-vaxxers and others who are fearful.) Because of this, there will still be people getting sick with COVID-19 and they will need treatment.
There are several promising treatments and many more duds. Think hydroxychloroquine. Voodoo witch doctors tout it, science, evidence-based science, debunks it. One truly promising treatment is remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that is undergoing clinical trials to see if it’s a good treatment for MERS, SARS and COVID-19, all coronaviruses.
What Else is There?
Then there’s THC, CBD, and terpenes. Yes, you read correctly; Cannabis might be a treatment. Specifically, CBD might be a link to the endocannabinoid system that alleviates symptoms, especially the pulmonary issues caused by the cytokine storm that COVID-19 seems to trigger. That “storm” is caused by an overreaction by our own immune system to what it thinks is invading our bodies. THC might be a treatment in other ways as it works with the endocannabinoid system in a different way than CBD. Cannabis terpenes also are part of this system. We’re slowly finding out that we have a whole system in our bodies that we know little about, but our ancestors probably understood on their level. It might not have been scientific, but they certainly knew something was there.
Yes, one or several vaccines are needed to prevent COVID-19 in a large part of the population. But vaccines won’t help everyone. We also need treatments. Probably lots of treatments because COVID-19 has shown itself to be a bit of a chimera. It changes in every person who is infected and shows symptoms. Some of those afflicted only have a fever and very low energy…a fever and low energy that can last for weeks or months, it seems. At the far end, and it’s not that uncommon, our bodies produce a cytokine storm that moves to our lungs and can kill us. That’s when ventilators come in. But ventilators aren’t treatment, they are palliative. They ease the pulmonary issue, but they don’t alleviate it.
Maybe we need to get cannabis removed from Schedule 1. If it’s removed, medical science can work on a lot of treatments that would involve parts of cannabis.
A recent discovery at an ancient Jewish temple showed early Jewish culture used cannabis in their religious practice.
An ancient temple with two altars was discovered at what is now called the Judahite Fortress at Tel Arad in the Negev desert. Inside the fortress, archeologists found a structure that was used for religious practices. There were 2 altars in the temple. Discovered in the 1960s, Tel Arad the archeologists noted at the time both altars had residue on them. The residue wasn’t analyzed at the time of discovery because instruments were not sensitive enough. Now we have mass spectrometers to identify the residue compounds. These new devices allowed archeologists to determine the residue on the altars included THC.
New Finding from an Old Dig
Saying there’s cannabis residue on a “Jewish” altar from 2500 years ago might sound cool, but that statement misses something important. The Jewish rituals of 2500 years ago were certainly different from today’s practice of Judaism. We don’t know what those practices exactly were, but we do know they were different from today’s, except for one thing; monotheism. The Jewish religion differed from most other religions in a belief in one god. Not one major god with other minor gods, but one god. Only one.
Was Cannabis Really Used to Get High During Rituals?
We don’t really know whether the attendees at the rites in this temple or generally in Jewish practice of the time got high. Judaic practice 2500 years ago has little to do with Judaic practice today. The Torah, the central book in the practice of Judaism was written about 3300 years ago, probably was part of the ritual somehow. It was handed down to Moses, supposedly at Mount Sinai. It was probably written while the Jewish people were in exile in Babylonia, about 3800 years ago. That would make authorship of the first five books of the bible in around 1300 BCE. Cannabis is mentioned in the bible as well. So we truly don’t know if the plant was used to get high during the rituals of the time.
Surprisingly, the modern Hebrew word for cannabis is pronounced ca-na-bos and that comes from an even older word, KaNeH BoSeM, which means fragrant reed. It’s mentioned in Exodus it’s mentioned as an ingredient in an anointing oil where the ingredients are spelled out. From this, we can gather that cannabis was a salve used by the ancient Jews.
Is Cannabis Kosher?
Through all of this you might wonder, is cannabis kosher? It’s a plant, so yes it is. Kosher food can be a little intimidating to folks. But it’s actually quite simple at the basic level. There are three classes of food in kosher cooking; meat, dairy and pareve. Meat and dairy are never mixed together. All plants fall into a category of pareve foods. So do eggs and fish. Pareve can be mixed with meat or dairy. So yes, cannabis is kosher. It’s a plant. To my way of thinking, in order for plants to be kosher, they should be organic and they should be non-GMO. And if you need an official blessing to know that cannabis is really kosher, here’s a short video of the chief rabbi in Israel blessing a marijuana plant for Passover, so not only is cannabis kosher it’s also kosher for Passover! Amazing.
Some organizations like Chabad have an official position that cannabis is not good for you. Their views go back to the 1970s and are outdated and misinformed. The views in our society have changed considerably, both socially and scientifically, since the 1970s, so I’d take the view with a grain of salt. Not to say it’s 100% uninformed, as their views on the ‘kosher-ness’ of cannabis have a great deal of validity.
It does get complicated though. If you smoke your marijuana, there is no kosher about it. Kosher is about the foods you consume. Smoking, while consuming, doesn’t go into your stomach and that’s what Kosher is about. But if you take cannabis for medical reasons, and we all have ‘medical’ reasons for consuming cannabis, and it’s in pill form, then you should be concerned about how the cannabis is packaged. If it’s packaged with pork products or shellfish products, then it can’t be Kosher. But if you’re taking the pill for a true medical condition, then you can get a pass on the Kosher-ness of the pill. Like most Jewish law, it’s complicated.
While we don’t know exactly what the fragrant reed was used for back in those days of antiquity, I’m going to make a WAG (wild ass guess) that if it was known, some people used it to get high. This is pure conjecture, but give me a break. If you have a plant and you know it does something good to you, some people are going to avail themselves to the use of the plant.
What Does it Mean to be a Canniseur of Cannabis?
Is it the same as being a wine connoisseur?
During the 25 or so years I worked in the wine business, I discovered a lot of people like wine but about 90% weren’t particular about what they drank. They were, however, extremely sensitive about the price. It had to taste good enough. If a $5 bottle tasted like $5, that was OK. If that same $5 bottle tasted like $7 or $8, they were consumers for life. Why should cannabis and the people who consume cannabis be any different?
The Canniseur of Cannabis
As with wine, about 90% of cannabis consumers aren’t fussy about the quality of their weed, but they are particular about the cost. If it gets them high and it’s cheap, they’re happy. Personally, both taste and quality of both my wine and my weed are where it’s at. Selling a bottle of wine for $6 isn’t hard. It’s the same for cannabis flower. At $6 per gram, it’ll fly out the door. I’ve watched many people walk into a dispensary and ask which strain is the cheapest, or which strain has the highest THC content.
I didn’t understand this in the beginning. After spending enough time in dispensaries, I began to understand the analog between wine and cannabis consumers is real. Asking how much THC is in the flower is like going into a wine shop or liquor store and asking for the Chardonnay with the highest alcohol content. Overly alcoholic wine, and I’m not talking about Port that has 20% alcohol content but a table wine, with that much alcohol tastes terrible. For me, 30% THC flower is overpowering. But many people want exactly that.
What I Look for in a Wine
Wine is a love of mine and no two wines taste alike. What I’m looking for when I drink wine can be described in four words; Color, aroma, taste and finish.
Color / appearance; Is the wine completely clear? If it’s a red wine, what color red is it? Deep and dark or light and clear? For a white wine, is it golden, clear or straw-colored?
Aroma (or nose in the wine biz) is how the wine smells. Does the aroma only have one or two discrete smells? That’s a simple wine which is not bad in and of itself. Is it complex (as good and great wines are)? Are there a lot of aromas in the wine you can pick out clearly?
Taste in your wine should be well defined. Are there just a few flavors or a lot of flavors (complexity)?
Finish or aftertaste. How long do you taste the wine after you’ve swallowed your sip (or gulp!). In most wines, there is no lingering finish. Some wines have an aftertaste that goes on and on and on and that’s one of the definitions of great wine.
I have tasting notes for about 5,000 wines and have tasted several times that without taking notes and can unequivocally state that I’ve had only five or ten truly great wines in my life. Really. They’re that rare and they’re that memorable. I’ve had hundreds of incredibly good wines in my life, but they weren’t like that handful at the top. I can say the same for great cannabis.
What I Look for in Cannabis
I like the effect of cannabis more than I like the effect of alcohol. Like wine, cannabis quality consists of four areas; appearance, aroma, taste, and the finish (the effect). The first three can be evaluated pretty much the same as wine, but the last (the effect) is more difficult to describe and is developing a language of its own.
Look at the bud and ask; Is it pretty? Is it well trimmed or is it over trimmed? Does it appear tight and compact or is it loose? Too tight and it might have been grown with Plant Growth Regulators (PRGs, which are bad) Is it dry and crumbly (bad) or is it pliant and has some moisture left in the buds. What are the colors in the flower? Are there some bright orange pistils or is it covered with them (a sign of possible PGR use) or is it tight or loose?
Does the cannabis cultivar have a bright fresh aroma? What does it smell like? Fruit, muskiness, lemony or whatever? The aroma, which should be readily distinguishable in cannabis should be different from cultivar to cultivar and in great cannabis has a lot of different elements. I love the differences in terpenes from strain to strain. Just like a great wine, some cannabis flowers have wonderful aromas that are very distinguishable, but most cannabis strains, while being pleasant to smell, aren’t that complex.
Does it taste like it smells? In the cannabis world I inhabit, the taste is as important as the smell. If it smells lemony, is there a lemony taste? Is it harsh or is it smooth? Here is where you’ll taste how well it’s been cured. Well-cured cannabis is smooth while poorly cured cannabis flower is harsh and will probably make you cough.
Then there’s the effect. Some flower gives me a buzz that, for lack of a better word, is generic. “Yep, it’s a buzz alright, but it’s not a distinguishable buzz.” It’s either a bit energizing or a bit sleepy and then it just locks me to the couch after about an hour. The cannabis effect that I look for has a super energizing feel with a mental feeling of openness. It’s what I like. You may like something different. It’s all good.
What is a Canniseur?
Being a cannabis canniseur doesn’t mean you’re a cannabis snob, although it does mean you’re aware of all the things about cannabis that matter (see above). Like wine, I’ve only had what I consider great bud four or five times. I’ve had some really good weed and I’ve had a lot of mediocre weed. When weed was illegal everywhere, I didn’t have much choice. But now, as the legal cannabis world opens up, I find myself looking for that holy grail of great weed in a dispensary. I’ve found some pretty good strains legally and I’ve found some dispensary weed to be almost great. At dispensaries I’ve never found any awesome weed. This may be the difference between black market and dispensary cannabis, not that black market cannabis has given me anything truly great in a while.
A canniseur takes care of their flowers. I store mine in the jars with a 62% Boveda humidifier packet. This keeps the buds fresh. I also like to have a little bit of a lot of strains around. So I’ll buy a gram, or an eighth if I really like a strain. And then I’ll want more, which is a different story.
There is an answer to the low-quality weed found in most dispensaries. Growers supplying dispensaries need to step up their game. Too many people just accept what they get, especially if it’s cheap. There will always be that 10% or so of cannabis consumers who do care about the quality. They won’t win the day and the cannabis they buy won’t be exceptional. Maybe if we pay $40 or $50 per gram for flower that approaches greatness and $75 per gram for truly great weed cost, that’s OK. But only if it’s truly great!
Editor’s Note: The State of Michigan has completed another bone-headed regulatory move that will put more money in the black market. Michigan, which has possibly the most complicated regulations of all legal states, has ‘declared’ ‘caregivers’ can no longer move their product from the medical market to the adult-use market. Guess where this product and its associated dollars are going to go? One has to wonder about dispensary vs. black market cannabis, and why you might select one over the other.
We can obtain cannabis in a far different way than we did 10 or so years ago. Back then, my access to cannabis came through my dealer. My dealer sold one or two (if I was lucky) kinds of weed. I trusted him. I knew he had a high-quality product, even if I didn’t know its exact origin. There weren’t that many kinds of cannabis back in the 70s and early 80s. Mostly it was ‘Columbian’ or ‘Michoacan’ or if you were especially lucky, Panama Red. The dealer started to lose some business as more and more states legalized marijuana for either medical use or ‘recreational’ use. Now there are medical dispensaries (if you have a medical card), adult-use dispensaries (you have to be 21), or you can grow your own. That’s a time consuming and complex process, so most people are happy to go to a black market dealer or a dispensary.
Only having a few kinds of cannabis available at one time began to change in the late 1980s. Sinsemilla was introduced to the market as growers in California began cultivating the highest quality cannabis. Plant breeders started to introduce more cultivars (strains) to the market. Great cannabis became a domestic product in the U.S. Today there are multitudes of cultivars for purchase at most any dispensaries, let alone all the concentrates, oils, salves, balms, edibles, potions, lotions, etc. This product assortment makes dispensaries amazing marketplaces.
I’m a flower consumer. I like it and believe it’s the most natural way to consume cannabis.
Dispensary vs Black Market Cannabis
Today the question is this:
Is the bud you get from a legal dispensary as good or better as the bud you get from your favorite dealer?
Let’s dive into this subject.
How We Get our Cannabis
There are only three ways to get your weed; A legal dispensary, a black-market dealer, or growing it yourself. All States with medical and or adult-use cannabis use dispensaries. That’s how people get their weed legally.
At the dispensary, you’re probably talking to someone you’ve never met before. Only seldom do dispensaries offer real cannabis training and the ‘budtenders’ typically don’t have deep knowledge of cannabis. It’s not much different at a wine shop. If you have a question, you may or may not (probably not) talk to a person with real knowledge. Dispensary cannabis is a ‘known’ quantity and quality. ‘Known’ is because the weed has supposedly been tracked from seed to sale…I call it ‘seed to weed‘.
Your dealer is probably someone you’ve known and trusted for years.
The Legal Cannabis Industry
The legal cannabis industry has a problem. Actually two problems; Regulation and big business. Regulation is a HUGE problem in almost all the medical and adult-use legal states. Most regulatory agencies are acting as though they wish cannabis would just go away. It’s here to stay and regulatory agencies need to wake up to this. The regulatory environment has become a hodge-podge of rules and regulations that are frequently a boon for large grow operations while cutting out smaller growers with their onerous regulations and often crazy expensive costs to entry.
The regulators, for the most part, have created very high barriers to entry. They are not regulating for equality. They’re regulating for the easiest way to do things, which means impenetrable rules, insane regulations, and lots of red tape. These agencies also promote capricious regulations and very high taxes. High barriers to entry for both growers and dispensaries mean only people who can afford access into the market are people with very deep pockets or big business. The problem with big business and large grow operations is the ‘large’ part. Yes, they’re capable of producing large quantities of cannabis with high levels of THC or CBD. The problem is homogeneity.
Dispensary vs Black Market Cannabis. What are the Differences?
Dispensaries can be cool. They have a lot of different types of cannabis, edibles, concentrates, and extracts. That’s their job. A dispensary is a retailer, no mistake about it. What about the quality of their weed? Most of the weed I’ve tried from dispensaries are indoor grown (resource intensive) by big companies.
Big operations have different needs. I’m going to draw a line in the sand and call a big grow having at least 1,000 plants in flower with more being raised all the time. Large growers frequently have several installations. Big grow operations can take the harvested cannabis, trim it very tightly and sell fairly uniform size buds.
Smaller grows, which are mostly hand operations are frequently outdoor grows. They have the advantage of having a lot of handwork done on the plants. Handwork, in this case, means trimming and pruning the plants for bigger fuller flowers. Big grow operations also need to maximize the weight of the flower they harvest. That doesn’t necessarily make for the best product.
The Advantages of Dispensary Cannabis
when thinking about dispensary vs. black market cannabis, we need to recognize dispensary cannabis has several advantages. It’s legal. it’s also been tested for pesticides and other potential impurities. Other than this, dispensary weed is usually grown by large operations. The advantage of large operations vs. small growers is scale. A large operation can grow cannabis for as little as ~$200/pound to ~$500 per pound. Per gram, this works out to be between 4 cents and 10 cents. This is the cost before amortization, equipment like lights, irrigation systems, or labor after the plant is harvested.
When a plant is ready to harvest, it gets cut down. Then it’s dried and cured. This is a 5-6 week process. Then the flowers are separated into buds, trimmed of extra leaves, big stems, and other parts that aren’t going to the consumer. Big grow operations want consistency in their product. That makes for easier sales. It also makes for a “blander” product, for lack of any other way to say it.
Rarely is the effect of corporate weed unique. It is, in my experience, a pretty generic buzz. I believe, high THC percentages are partly to blame for this. When you smoke weed with a 25-30% or even higher THC percentage, the abundance of THC in the plant takes away from the overall quantity of terpenes and other substances that are naturally found in the plant. So it might be nice to get so high fast, but it certainly doesn’t produce a unique buzz. The stratospheric THC percentage takes over and you start to feel sleepy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s ‘sativa’ or indica.’ Corporate cannabis is a plain-jane experience. Yes, it gets you very high. But it generally does so with no finesse.
The Advantages of Black Market Cannabis
When you buy illegal cannabis from your dealer, you’re breaking the law. OK, so you’re breaking the law. Potheads have been a mostly independent group that didn’t care if it broke laws to enjoy their favorite plant. Don’t think it’s not a big deal and not right, but until dispensaries get their act together on quality and regulators get their heads out of some very dark places and allow for small businesses (much the same as the wine industry), the black market will remain and remain strong.
Black market cannabis is of somewhat unknown origin, but your dealer and grower want you to come back for more. That means, no moldy, dank, mildewy weed. No pesticides or herbicides. Black market growers have to be more careful with their growing techniques. They also tend to be smaller, operating more like boutique wineries.
Most legal states don’t accommodate small growers. The barriers to entry are too high: both regulatory and financial. It’s not right and until the States license growers the same way they license wineries, there will continue to be a black market with smaller, specialized growers. Black market growers are also prone to use techniques that take more care, but produce better flower at the end of the day.
A large, legal grower is not going to try dry farming outdoors or no-till farming outdoors, and there’s at least one grower working no-till indoors. These techniques can produce far better cannabis flower than large indoor commercial grow operations. So the bud you’re buying from your black market dealer is probably better than what you generally get at a dispensary.
You have a choice; Either buy your bud in a legal dispensary, go to your black market dealer, or grow your own. In a legal dispensary, you sort of know what you’re getting. Adult-use is legal in 10 states and the District of Columbia (although you can’t tell it when you’re there). Medical cannabis is legal in 33 states and several U.S. territories. Where medical cannabis is legal, there are many dispensaries. Medical cannabis is no different from adult-use cannabis. It’s an identical product. Cannabis is cannabis, whether it’s ‘medical’ or ‘recreational’ other than a made-up law.
Remember though, when you’re thinking about whether dispensary vs black market cannabis is best, if you buy from a black market dealer, even in an adult-use legal state, you’re still breaking the law.
Is the black market weed better than what you get at the pot shop? You have to decide that.
Smoking in the COVID-19 Era
Where does COVID-19 leave potheads if we want to smoke with friends?
Be Socially Responsible: Bogart the Joint
Be socially responsible and Bogart the joint. DO NOT SHARE JOINTS, PIPES, BONGS with anyone you’re not intimate with and living under the same roof. It’s as simple as that. A joint will have your ‘friends’ bodily fluids on it and if you stick that wet joint in your mouth, those nasty little DNA particles, called viruses will… well, let’s just say one of the few things we know about this nasty bug is that it thrives in bodily fluids when we’re contagious. Congratulations, you’ve just infected yourself. There is a ‘high’ chance you’ll get COVID-19. You don’t want that.
Many of us are living with a stay at home order, or something more draconian. Following social distance guidelines, you won’t be close enough to pass the joint. If we are that close to people we don’t live with or sleep with, you’re going to get sick.
So DO BOGART THAT JOINT, MY FRIEND. You’ll be happy you did.
A Brief Social History
Consuming cannabis is a shared experience. Those days are gone. In the now distant past, when passing a joint around and someone didn’t pass it, we’d get upset. Hogging a joint is called bogarting and that person became the ‘Bogart’. The term Bogart was taken from Humphrey Bogart and nobody really knows why. There was even a song; “Don’t Bogart That Joint My Friend” which was written and performed by Little Feat in the late 1960s.
While I’m familiar with the song, what I didn’t know was the song was written for “Easy Rider” a very popular film in 1969. The personal irony of this is the song’s place in the film. It was the soundtrack while Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper were passing a joint in a hot spring pool and that pool is about 700 feet below where my New Mexico house is located outside Taos, New Mexico. Strange.
Cannabis has been a shared experience ever since humans discovered its salubrious effects on our brains. That was perhaps more than 5,000 years ago. 5,000 years is a long time to establish ritual. We’ve been sharing cannabis in pipes, joints or other consumption methods of our favorite plant. This is now over at least for the near future, and maybe forever. Nobody knows how this pandemic will change future social behaviors.
The scientific community doesn’t yet have all the answers about how COVID19 is being spread. If we stay far enough apart and don’t touch each other, we’ll probably be fine. Just always remember, wash our hands thoroughly with soap or use hand sanitizer after being with someone.
Bogarting the joint is now the most socially responsible act you can perform.
Are You Confused about Vaping Cannabis?
Vaping cannabis has been all over the news over the last several months. Between vaping extracts, concentrates, and whole flower the terms can be confusing. Dispensaries typically list a long menu of “extracts” and “concentrates”. Many of these products need to be vaped. Did you know whole flower can be vaped as well? The most ubiquitous kind of vaping uses a vape pen with cartridges that contain an oil that’s been extracted from the plant. Other products don’t come in a handy dandy cartridge form. They are variously called butters, rosins, shatter, sugar, sauce, resin, live resin, rosin, etc. The list continues. If you don’t know what all of these are, it’s OK. (I don’t either!) These are concentrates.
If the vaping ‘crisis’ makes things even more complicated because we now have to add the question ‘what is safe?’ then it might be enough to just want to say “to hell with vaping” I’ll smoke flower. OK, that’s fine, but there are some things that you can vape safely and effectively. Here are four things you need to know before you decide to vape or you should know if you are vaping cannabis.
1. WTF is Vaping Anyway?
Vaping is the application of heat, but not flame, to an extract, concentrate or flower. Each form of cannabis is different, but the main event in vaping is heating, not burning. Vaping bud is a bit different. It’s as if you were to heat cannabis flower in an ‘oven’ to somewhere below the point where it burns. The natural components of the flower will vaporize and made available for you to inhale, getting their benefit. All the natural terpenes and THC vaporize in the flower below the burning point.
2. Concentrates vs. Extracts
Concentrates and extracts are not created equally. To make it even more confusing, the terms are often used interchangeably.
Concentrates are exactly what they sound like; The concentrated “essence” of the cannabis plant. In this case, we’re talking about hashish, butters, rosins, resins, etc. They use the natural THCs, CBDs and terpenes contained in the trichomes. Trichomes are mostly in the flowers and leaves and are a natural part of the plant. Some concentrates are made by hand…literally. These are traditional methods and are used to make hash. Some concentrates are made with cold water and ice or from freeze-dried flower. Concentrates that are not made by hand are made with water, but can also be made with butane, alcohol or CO2. If the solvent chemicals are completely removed, these are generally safe, but water wash or handmade is still the safest. Do not mistake them for extracts that are made with chemicals. Generally, because concentrates are made naturally using hand labor or water, they’re safe to consume.
Concentrates made with chemicals are more problematic but are generally safe. There is one major problem with chemically concentrated cannabis. All the forms use heat. Heat vaporizes many of the products in the plant. If we’re consuming, we want the vaporization to occur while we’re vaporizing the product ourselves. If there are parts of the plant lost when the concentration is done, so they have to be put back in. How? That’s a bigger question.
Extracts are different. Extracts are made from whole plants that are chemically stripped of all of their THC, terpenes and everything else in the plant. Since most extracts use heat to ‘extract’ the elements of the plant, a lot is lost. Extracts are like the oil you find in vape pen cartridges. They are made from the whole plant. If they taste at all like cannabis you’re used to it’s because the producer has added terpenes or other compounds to give it a familiar taste,
Frequently the additions are synthetic, but sometimes they’re advertised as ‘cannabis-derived’. It’s still not what was in the original plant. I don’t vape oil. Making extracts is very efficient. If you have the right equipment, the whole plant can be cut and in as little as 10-15 minutes later, it’s oil! A machine chops the whole plant into tiny pieces that are put in the “extractarator” (my word) and Voila! Magically the plant becomes extract.
All the health problems with vaping you’re been reading about are from extracts, not concentrates. This is important and it’s worth repeating: ALL THE HEALTH PROBLEMS WITH VAPING CANNABIS HAVE BEEN BECAUSE OF EXTRACTS. Concentrates are not the problem, extracts are the problem. Many extractors have been using oils, specifically vitamin E acetate, to make the oil more viscous or an appropriate texture for cartridges. Vitamin E acetate has been implicated in the recent lung illnesses and deaths.
Extracts are the diet soda of cannabis. Made to get you high, but not made for true enjoyment.
3. The Problems with Extracts
There is a major problem with the end product of extracts. Heat. Heat destroys about everything in the plant except for THC and similar compounds. But what makes cannabis cannabis isn’t just the THC. It’s all the THCs, the CBDs, CBGs, terpenes, and all the other 100s of other compounds in the plant. All you’re left with after applying mild heat are THC compounds.
In addition, you just don’t know what’s in that oil you’re vaping. The process is opaque. It’s a mystery surrounded by an enigma. There are many ways to make oil, or to make oil ‘oilier’, or to make it taste better, or whatever the producer thinks will make you buy his or her product. There is almost no transparency in vape cartridge oil production. That’s not a good thing. It’s not good because you don’t know what you’re inhaling. In the long term, it’s not good for business.
4. The Difference Between Flower vs. Concentrate
A cannabis flower has everything in it. There might be 100+ types of THC and who knows how many different terpenes (more are being discovered daily it seems), isomers of terpenes, isolates, and who knows how many other compounds contributing to the complete effect. We still don’t know enough.
Concentrates have the contents of natural flower if done correctly. This can mean rubbing through a screen to get the trichomes, freeze-drying and/or water extraction, or ice water extraction. There are several traditional ways of concentrating. These methods go back hundreds, if not thousands of years. That Labonese blond(e) hash you might love was made with a process that goes back at least to the 1500s. That tarry Nepalese black hash is also an ancient process. Wherever cannabis was found, there was a process to concentrate its goodness.
Newer processes use water technology to concentrate the flower. All these processes use ice water to concentrate the trichomes in a way that they can be extracted whole, then sifted out of the mash to create a concentrate that is essentially pure and whole. Nothing has been destroyed by heat. No chemicals other than H20 have been added to the flower. No terpenes. Nothing else other than flower. It’s a pure process and difficult to master, but the results can be incredible. There are a few companies in Colorado that are only using water extraction to create their products.
The Bottom Line about Vaping Cannabis
If you want to vape cannabis, it’s probably safe. It’s actually a good way to create an effect. Whole flower is wonderful when vaped with a good product. Concentrates are also wonderful when vaped. Different water extracted concentrates like water wash hash or hashish can be terrific. Personally, I do not consume the oils that come in cartridges mostly because I don’t know what’s in them. I also will only consume water washed concentrates. The other concentrates are made using methyl alcohol or butane or other solvents that supposedly are removed at the end of the process. But are they all removed? I don’t know. And neither do you. Vape away, but be aware of the caveats. Be happy.