By Charles Roques
The cannabis sector seems to change from one week to the next. A noticeable theme at the National Cannabis Summit in Denver this past week was adaptation and change. It was heard not only in the keynote speeches but also in many of the presentations. Changes in the industry could happen in a matter of days or a matter of months. Trying to establish a model that will work for the next few years may be too rigid considering the current pace of change.
NCS also seemed to support the idea that information brought in from other industries should be repurposed for the cannabis industry, and not just from the standpoint of time-honored financial strategies that have succeeded, but seemingly unrelated practices as well. Sometimes the lessons are not the expected ones.
While cannabis’ connection to certain sin industries may seem obvious, it’s only a surface-level connection. Outsiders prematurely associated the alcohol industry with cannabis due to perceived yet erroneous similarities and legal classification, but that perception is changing as many do not consider cannabis to have the same effects or to be deleterious to one’s health. Within that sector, however, an interesting connection is being made to wine.
Wine grapes, like pinot noir or sauvignon, are known for having certain recognizable tastes and characteristics; however, each grape can also vary based upon a vineyard’s location, soil conditions and weather. Once wine is bottled, those characteristics become even more distinguished in the aging process.
When all of the factors merge into a remarkable wine, it can be detected by the wine master at the vineyard who may declare a vintage year. In a sense, the vintage year is the historical marker that verifies all of the factors were in harmony. It may take years for that vintage to reach maturity, but it will be known from then on not only by the grape or vineyard but by that year.
A big challenge for the cannabis industry is consistency among strains. People often comment about how a popular strain can vary depending upon the dispensary where it was purchased, which usually also means where it was grown. Some dispensaries have their own grows but others purchase from established distributors. The Lemon Diesel strain that you bought from one dispensary may not taste like the one you bought from another dispensary, and its effects may vary slightly. The two samples of Lemon Diesel may be inherently the same, but their noticeable distinctions are comparable to a chardonnay produced by two different vintners.
Nevertheless, an interesting concept has grown out of strain inconsistency. Perhaps the individual cultivation factors—light, water, temperature and location—that produce a strain also work together to make a distinct contribution to the plant’s final composition. So maybe that Lemon Diesel raised on the west slope of the mountain is different from the one grown on the east slope. If so, could this lead to place names? In the future, perhaps strains will include place of origin as wines often do. Boulder’s Lemon Diesel was great last year, but the 2015 is even better.
Cannabis classified by place of origin will certainly redefine Canna-tourism, which is already a fast growing sector. While it’s still popular to toke up on a tour bus visiting local dispensaries, a more sophisticated approach is emerging based on the concept of vineyard tours. As more growers refine their harvest and create individual strains, comparisons and nuances between them are becoming part of the new “cannabis gourmet” experience.
In addition to the plant’s cannabinoid profile, maybe cannabis will start to be classified like wine, with good and bad years. It certainly seems inevitable, especially with lab testing proving its insight into the chemical components of cannabis. Like a pinot or chardonnay, cannabis strains are recognizable for their overall characteristics, but the more subtle and refined elements of their growing environment may also become part of their evaluation.
Meanwhile, growers are actively experimenting as the debate over cultivation methods continues. The outdoor advocates tout the benefits of the natural environment for giving quality and individual characteristics to the plant, while the indoor advocates promote the ability to create consistent strains in controlled environments. Not only does this promote innovation, it bodes well for new jobs. Perhaps the budtender may evolve into an occupation more closely related to the sommelier.
This year is a very good year for cannabis. The next few may be even better.