What is “quality cannabis”? Consider food.

farmers market produce compared to quality cannabis

During prohibition, “quality cannabis” was usually defined as large, well trimmed buds with a strong odor and potent high. This definition has largely remained in the world of cannabis regulation. When consumers are asked what they consider when deciding to purchase a cannabis product, potency and price top the list. And while other factors like terpene profile and minor cannabinoids are gaining ground, the question of what defines “quality” still remains.

For the past two years, the California State Fair has hosted a cannabis competition. The awards are based on cannabinoid and terpene content. And while the winners absolutely deserved their medals, they were also small farmers who took a lot of care in crafting their flower. The fair also doles out awards for other food and agricultural products, again, mostly produced by small, local artisans. The winning pie did not come from Costco, and the top wine was not Two Buck Chuck. 

So, maybe we already know what quality cannabis is, because we know what quality food is? We know that industrialized agriculture is tied to environmental, animal and human welfare harm. We know that highly processed foods are linked to heart disease and other chronic conditions. We know that we would rather support the small, locally owned coffee shop down the street than Starbucks.

We know that nothing tastes quite as good as the tomato you grow yourself. We know that we want to avoid artificial flavors and colors and that organically grown food has health and environmental benefits. It’s time we start applying this knowledge to cannabis. Here’s how.

The next time you walk into a dispensary, act like you are walking into a grocery store. Read the labels the same way you would if you were buying produce, or crackers, or fish. Ask yourself:

  1. Who made this and who will benefit from me buying it? If you would rather buy your fruit from the farmer’s market because the money goes directly back to a local farmer, why buy cannabis from some large corporation? Now, I get it, some people don’t have access to small farm cannabis due to a lack of interstate commerce, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take notice and make the best choice possible. Not everyone has access to farmer’s markets, but everyone can take notice of the source of their food.
  2. What’s in this? These days, many manufactured products contain artificial flavors and colors designed to beef up the terpene profiles or provide a kitschy consumption experience. But ask yourself, how do I feel about food that contains artificial colors and flavors and other preservatives? If you avoid certain foods because of what is in them, take a closer look at the cannabis products in your basket.
  3. What impact does this have on the environment? From energy intensive indoor grows to excessive plastic packaging, cannabis, although a bioremediator, can have a negative impact on the environment depending on how it is grown and packaged. And while testing supposedly weeds out (no pun intended) cannabis with high levels of pesticides or mold, it doesn’t mean that all flower is grown with compost tea and integrated pest management. And although child proof packaging is required in all legal states, some companies have extraneous and often plastic components that are more about marketing and branding than child safety. Look for biodegradable or recycled packaging and minimal plastic. 

For a long time, these were questions we did not get to ask. Someone showed up with our cannabis in a baggie and told us how much it cost. If we got really high and it smelled and looked decent, we were satisfied. But those days are gone.

If we want to see a future cannabis industry made up of small businesses who care about the quality of their products and work to ensure that what they create is healthy and environmentally conscious, we have to make the decision now to support those businesses. So, the next time you walk into a dispensary, ask yourself, if this was food I was buying, how would I make that decision? In this way, we can truly be the change we wish to see in the world. 

*This blog first appeared on Personal Plants and not was edited or altered by GreenState. The statements within do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GreenState, Hearst, or its subsidiaries. The author is solely responsible for the content.

amanda reiman

Dr. Reiman is a social worker who has been studying the relationships between people and psychoactive plants for 20+ years. Dubbed the “Dr. Ruth of cannabis”, Amanda’s superpower is taking complicated and stigmatized information and making it accessible to the masses. Quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Playboy and elsewhere, she is the trusted voice and conscience of the cannabis space. Her research focuses on the use of psychoactive plants in a harm reduction context and through her company, Personal Plants, she educates others around developing and maintaining healthy relationships with psychoactive plants. Amanda resides in Mendocino County, CA, in the famed Emerald Triangle and is a dedicated teacher, gardener, partner and dog and cat mom.