Defining quality: what makes a cannabis brand “good”
As a long-time weed writer, I’ve seen my fair share of brands come and go. With so many SKUs on dispensary shelves, one question I get asked frequently is, “How can you tell if a cannabis product is good?”
The word “good” is subjective, of course (just like many things in the cannabis world). There’s always room for debate. But after years on the beat, I have developed my own criteria for determining what I like—and deciding whether a brand is trustworthy enough to talk about in the public arena.
Curious about what I consider before giving a brand my stamp of approval? Here are five of my markers.
The people behind the brand stand for something
Those who are close to me know that I love to elevate voices that truly deserve it. Whether it’s a family-run company developing a product to help heal one of their own or a founder seeking to make a real difference in the world, I always seek out brands run by people with pure hearts.
If I come across someone in weed for what I deem the “wrong reasons” (i.e., just trying to make a buck), I am far less likely to engage. On the flip side, if I know a person’s intentions are pure, I will hype them as much as I can.
The source material is high-quality
The next step is learning more about a product—and actually trying it. Again, my opinions about what weed is dank are my own. But there are a few things I know I like when I take a look at a package or jar.
If the product is flower, I am always curious about how it was grown. I tend to be a fan of regenerative, sun-grown herb but there are plenty of nice indoor brands as well. I like to ask about the cultivation methods, what inputs were used, and whether sustainable practices were in play.
Smell is also an important factor. The nose knows, and if I get a naturally loud whiff of terps, I know the bud could be something special. Too much scent and I may question if the bud was sprayed with additional terpenes or scents (not a good sign).
For things like extracts or edibles, it’s all about the source material used to craft the final product. For example, I typically shy away from things made out of distillate. This oil is essentially all cannabinoids, and none of the other stuff that gives weed its unique experience and effects (such as terpenes and flavonoids).
One may believe that more THC means a better product, but it’s just not the case. Having as many parts of the plant present as possible helps to promote the entourage effect. This is the theory that all the compounds in cannabis work together to create a more potent experience.
The products are consistent
Consistency is another key component. Unfortunately, this has been a struggle for many in the cannabis space. It’s not always the brand’s fault—especially when it comes to multi-state expansion.
Since cannabis cannot travel over state lines, each market has to have its own production facility that follows individual guidelines per state regulations.
Even with these challenges, some brands have been able to knock consistency out of the park. I often recommend Kanha edibles thanks to their predictability, while Binske always seems to have stellar stuff no matter what state I am in.
I am guessing a lot of this has to do with solid standard operating procedures (SOPs) that set brands up for success regardless of location.
The packaging is cute but not cumbersome
Packaging is a complicated issue in cannabis thanks to child-safety regulations, but nothing is worse than not being able to access the eighth you just purchased. Most of the time, I’m thinking about people with hand mobility issues as I struggle to squeeze a package just right.
For example, I was stoked to try Seth Rogen’s flower brand, Houseplant, when it first debuted. The bud itself was pretty decent, which is more than I can say for the majority of celebrity brands.
However, the adorable metal tin the bud was inside was impossible to open—you had to push in two tiny plastic tabs at the same time and pull up on the lid. This made Houseplant an automatic “no” for me. If I couldn’t open it, how could someone with arthritis, tremors, or other conditions affecting fine motor control?
The COAs are on point
A certificate of analysis (COA) is a great way to learn more about the cannabis you’re consuming. While they often differ state to state, the COAs list the testing results for each individual SKU.
Typically, the COA shows that a product is free from pesticides and heavy metals. It should also show cannabinoid content and, in some states, terpenes.
There have been issues in the cannabis space of dishonesty in the testing arena, but companies like ACS Laboratory are setting the bar high by implementing strict standards and ethics.
Recently, I was with a friend who was convinced their traditional market vape cart was legit. A QR code on the package brought them to a website, which they assumed meant it was a real brand. A lack of a license number and COAs on the site told me otherwise. I also let people know that a website is easy to throw together—having legitimacy behind it takes work.
A movement toward quality
Cannabis is a matter of taste, there’s no doubt about it. But sophisticated consumers are able to develop their own checklists for determining quality. While programs like Ganjier are helping to teach the community about these factors, nearly everything comes down to personal preference.
I’ve developed my criteria, and I hope other cannabis fans will do the same. Perhaps then the market will follow suit by recognizing perceptive pot critics are growing in numbers. Right now, it’s a race to the bottom—but it doesn’t have to be that way.