The legal cannabis supply chain is complicated and nearly opaque to consumers. The supply chain officially consists of two tiers, cannabis growers and retail. Sometimes the growers are also the retailers, but usually they are separate and depend on the state regulations. There’s also a regulatory structure that should be the third tier. While you don’t need to know how cannabis growers operate, it can help you make your choices about what strains to buy and who they were grown by. There are a myriad of factors that go into growing great cannabis and by great cannabis we refer you to Canniseur’s four-twenty scoring method.
Here are five important questions canniseurs should be asking:
1. How do growers select cannabis strains?
2. What growing methods do cannabis growers use?
3. How do their growing practices effect our cannabis experiences?
4. What is the impact of scale on grow operations and cannabis quality?
5. Are smaller “craft” growers better able to produce cannabis that delivers consistent high-quality experiences?
How do Growers Select Cannabis Strains?
Growing cannabis isn’t easy. Whether cannabis is grown outside, in a greenhouse or indoors in a grow facility, it’s a process that takes a lot of knowledge and patience. Different cannabis strains work better in different growing environments. There’s a long chain of people and companies involved in its creation along with nature, which has a whole lot to do with it too! For us though, the chain starts with the grower. Breeders play a large part in the selection, but it really starts for us with the grower. The grower has a large measure of control over the ultimate quality of the flower we love.
It’s not easy. There are a huge number of ‘strains’ across the cannabis spectrum; maybe too many. Some are easy to grow and some are notoriously difficult to grow. The first question I think of is why would a grower consciously choose a difficult strain? Are the difficult strains better? Blue Dream is one of my favorite strains and it’s also very easy to grow. There’s a lot at work for the grower’s decision-making process. Is it indica or is it hybrid or is it sativa. Reality check; It’s ALL sativa. In taxonomy (how plants and animals are classified), a species is considered to be the same if it can pollinate another plant that seems to be a different species and since “sativa” and “indica” can cross pollinate, both are technically cannabis sativa. Perhaps a grower wants to grow some plants that are ‘uplifting’ and another strain that’s ‘relaxing’. That would seem to be a large part of the strain selection process. But we just don’t know. Every grower has different goals.
Isn’t is just genetics? A grower should always be trying to grow the best expression of genes that the plant will allow. Isn’t it all genetics? There are so many factors that affect a plants growth and ultimate quality. Growers make decisions about how to fertilize, when to water, how much light the plants receive, when to stop watering, when to harvest. All these things make a difference when the plant is harvested. About 2 years ago, I wrote a multi-review of Blue Dream flower I purchased in four different states (obviously, different growers). Each flower was different. Same strain, different growers. Two of the four were markedly more aromatic (terpenes). While the effect was also sort of the same, one of the flowers at a lower THC level had a markedly ‘stronger’ effect than the other three flowers. The differences were like drinking a Cabernet Sauvignon from the central valley in California and one from the Napa Valley. I also note that all four were very close in price.
What growing methods do cannabis growers use?
There are three ways to grow cannabis; All the methods have plusses and minuses.
- First, there’s the old fashioned way — the way cannabis was grown for millennia either wild or through cultivation. That would be outdoors. The plus is it doesn’t need to be minded, no electricity to keep the photosynthesis going and the soil is already thee. If properly managed, the soil provides all the nutrients the plant needs.
- It can be grown in a greenhouse. A greenhouse is a hybrid. For the most part, nature controls the light, but a greenhouse can be covered when the plant needs to be denied light in order to flower. Greenhouse plants can grow in natural soil or hydroponic media like coir (coconut husks) or other medium, but the plants need to be ‘fed’ all their nutrients.
- The third way is in a controlled closed environment. The grower controls all the lights, the nutrients (almost all indoor grows are hydroponic) and the entire environment around the plant. This is the best and most lucrative way if the outdoor growing season is limited or can only support one crop per year.
In addition to the where of growing cannabis, many growers prefer all hydroponic growing where the nutrients the plants need are added to the water circulating around their roots. (Note: there are several hydroponic methods and this article is too short to dive into all of them.) There’s also the natural soil method (sometimes called ‘living soil’) of growing, just like plants have grown for the last billion or more years.
How do growers practices affect our cannabis experiences?
A tough, if not impossible question to answer. I’ve had good cannabis from all three types of grows. Cannabis, like all plants has different needs during all the parts of its growth cycle. Growing practices can also include organic grows all the way to full chemical fertilizer. Does it matter? That’s up to you, the consumer, as in my experience, there can be good experiences from every kind of grow. I believe it’s the care the grower takes and how they grow their cannabis for terpene production. Growers can also grow for high THC, which does absolutely nothing for the quality of the effect, but does put more dollars in the grower’s pocket. Growing for high THC is just more lucrative mostly because retailers are willing to pay more for flower with 30% THC than they are for say, 20% THC. Everything a grower does affects the outcome of the plant and the quality of the effect.
Are smaller “craft” growers better able to produce cannabis that delivers consistent high-quality experiences?
What is quality? I’ve read a lot of articles in the last few months about the “quality” of cannabis. All of them have defined quality as the quantity of residual pesticides and herbicides, insects or fungus, etc., but not the quality of the effect. Or the quality of terpenes. Quantity is not quality. I’m more concerned about the quality of the effect. I have to assume that good growing practices will ensure the contaminant quality is there. The quality of good weed will have a desirable uplifting or relaxing effect. Great weed goes somewhere beyond that and moves into territory that is more like the qualities I find in wine. It’s more complex. It’s more focused. These are completely different qualities then various contaminants that may or may not be present in the product you buy…hopefully not present at all.
Taking some lessons learned from grape growing for wine and applying them to cannabis growing kind of makes sense.
Many of the rules are different, but the end result remains the same; you can grow for quantity or you can grow for quality. You rarely can have both. Today, most cannabis growers are growing for biomass and not for quality. In the wine grape game, it’s much the same. Great wines are made in small quantities…although the jury is out on that. In cannabis, the quality factor is untested and unsubstantiated, but why would it be different than making great wines.
What makes a Strain Attractive to a grower?
A grower has many choices. Do they want to grow a crop with maximal THC with as much biomass (weight) as they can grow? In the current state of the market, it makes economic sense. Most consumers walk into a dispensary and ask for the highest THC bud. Does it need to be highly resistant to diseases, molds and pests? Does it flower quickly? There are some strains that are quite easy to grow and some that are notoriously difficult. Will the grow be inside or outside? Or in a greenhouse. How attentive to the plants will the grower to be? When it’s ready for harvest, is it in time to meet their cash flow needs?
Some strains mature in 16 weeks while some take as long as 24 weeks. Other strains grow massive plants that can yield over a kilo per plant. If cannabis is like many other plants, the strains with longer maturation times may produce higher quality cannabis. Higher quality does not mean higher percentage of THC. THC is only one of the 300 or so chemical compounds that make up the plant and create the effect. Not all growers want maximal yield. Some growers want maximal terpenes. Some of them what maximal THC.
Are the HUGE Growers Better?
The big boys…the multi-state operations and multi-outlet growers aren’t growing for the best possible quality. They’re growing for maximum quantity. Biomass. Big plants. Lots of weight after drying. Maximal profits. Profit is not a bad thing, but there are limits. This is agribusiness, no mistake. The big growers are growing cannabis like corn. The ultimate quality of the effect is just not as important as the quantity of biomass they can create per square foot in their grow rooms. They are the jug wine of weed. So far, consumers aren’t making the choice between mass grown and craft cannabis. Since consumers don’t make the difference, then why should the big growers?
The Grower’s Enigma
Many growers want to grow the best cannabis they can based on the effect quality, without any taint of harmful chemicals or insects. And they need to be profitable, so they’re caught in the rock and hard place of the current state of the cannabis market. It need’s pretty much the state of the market in all the adult use legal states in the US. Too much cannabis is grown by the consortia of companies who want to be the Walmart of weed. And they are. Their product might (or might not) have the quality of purity, but it only rarely tastes good and have the effect we’re looking for. And this is because of the growing solutions the companies use to get maximum biomass.
There’s an old Latin phrase caveat emptor…let the buyer beware…and it applies in spades to knowing your grower. If you can. Growers are frequently opaque to the end user and many of them want to stay that way. Depending on what part of the country you live in, there may be a choice of different stores and growers, but check them out if you can. Our advice is to know as much as you can about both the retailer and grower…if it’s possible.