Colorado Cannabis Industry Experiences First-Ever Decline

Ever since cannabis became recreationally legal in Colorado, the industry has been on an upturn. Now, for the first time ever, the Colorado industry is trending down

This became most obvious when looking at tax revenue, but there are other signs as well. Dispensaries are closing down, and delivery services and social clubs are still working to find their footing. This is helping bring tax revenues down, and as more states legalize, folks are beginning to worry that the Colorado cannabis boom is finally drawing to a close.

“More people are going to get laid off. We are probably going to see more small shops close down and a lot of brands are going to go away,” says Spencer Ward, salesman for Bronnor Corp., a company that manufactures edibles and infused products for brands across Colorado stores.

As of July, taxes and fees collected from retail cannabis reached $198.3 million, which is down $53.7 million, 21% from 2021. Colorado saw record sales in 2021, as dispensaries reached $2.2 billion and brought in $423.5 million in taxes, but this year is significantly lower.

Now, the fear is that if this decline continues throughout the year, state taxes that go to things like the Public School Fund will fall. It’s possible that the industry could bring in closer to $24.9 million for the Fund versus the $31.5 million brought in last year. The retail sales tax distribution to local governments could also drop from $27.8 million to $22 million.

This also goes hand in hand with the 44% drop that has been seen in medical cannabis sales, which Truman Bardley, head of the Marijuana Industry Group trade organization, calls “a big, big deal.”

“All the programs that rely on marijuana taxes are going to take a big cut,” Bradley claims.

Additionally, prices have dropped. In 2021, cannabis flower was selling for $1,300 a pound, and the trim used for tinctures and oils was $425 a pound. Now, the latest market rates from the Colorado Department of Revenue claim that flower is selling at closer to $700 a pound, and trim is down to $225 a pound. These are the lowest prices have been since 2014.

As prices are falling and less tax money is being brought in, supplies begin to outweigh demand, and though new licenses are still being given to cannabis businesses, some businesses are closing.

“We’ve seen time and time again that communities end up legalizing because they see the value in the regulated market and they see the cannabis industry as a potential solution to help bring more revenue into the community,” says Bradley. “But there is a point where taxation becomes predatory or unsustainable or both. And that’s what we are approaching…”

John Bailey, the founder of the Black Cannabis Equity Initiative, sees this as an inevitable change, since the industry is no longer new.

“What you are seeing is not a decline, but a leveling off of a saturated industry,” says Bailey. “Even in the midst of a decline, folks are still buying weed. They may not be buying as much. This is the marketing leveling off and it’s leveling off for a lot of reasons, it could be that we saturated the market with so many businesses.”

Others believe that states are taking advantage of their local industry with overtaxation. While this may have been necessary to shake the stigma and get cannabis legalized in the first place, now that most states have an industry and the novelty has worn off, these taxes are taking away from growers and small businesses.

“Ultimately, I think federal legalization is the only way where we can start to grow a stronger industry,” Chaz Faille, a Denver-based sourcing manager for the Willie’s Reserve brand, says. “Just being able to source product from other states and have distribution warehouses where that product is actually grown would go a long way. Instead of having a bunch of states that are running things differently.”

While it is not yet clear how much cannabis sales will dip in Colorado, and whether this is a sustained step for a developed industry or something that spells bad news, it is clear that the industry, and the state at large, can feel the decline.

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Denver Weed Delivery Services Face Mile-High Challenges

When city officials in Denver, Colorado authorized home delivery of cannabis products in April of last year, licenses for cannabis delivery services were reserved for social equity businesses for a period of three years. Under the plan, delivery services owned by entrepreneurs who have been negatively impacted by the War on Drugs would partner with the city’s licensed marijuana dispensaries to complete customer deliveries.

The goal of the plan was to help create a diverse cannabis industry in the city while giving people who had been harmed by marijuana prohibition policies a path to business ownership in the regulated market. To qualify, owners or a family member had to have an arrest or conviction for a marijuana offense, or applicants had to meet certain residency requirements. But more than a year into the program, the social equity cannabis delivery service business owners in Denver are facing challenges that threaten the viability of their enterprises.

The business owners and regulators cite high licensing costs, a saturated cannabis market and a lack of support from retailers as some of the barriers to success in the industry. Of the 206 licensed cannabis dispensaries in Denver, only nine have opted to partner with a social equity business to provide delivery service for their customers. Molly Duplechian, the executive director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, said that many dispensaries might be waiting for the three-year exclusivity period for social equity delivery services to expire before launching their own home delivery programs.

“What we’ve heard is that some of the existing industry may have been waiting the exclusivity period out, or they could have been investing in a social equity transporter and then planning to move to do their own delivery in two years,” Duplechian told local media.

The High Cost of Getting People High

Some retailers cite the high permitting fees associated with launching home delivery services while others note steep delivery fees and difficulties updating existing software for placing orders to integrate with the delivery partners’ operations. Others say with so many weed shops in town, most customers would rather shop in person than pay extra to have it delivered. Whatever the reason, the challenges have become unsurmountable for some delivery business owners.

In August 2021, the marijuana delivery service Dooba made news when it became the first company to deliver cannabis in Denver legally. Ari Cohen, the owner of the business, qualified as a social equity applicant because of a past marijuana conviction. But less than a year after the initial headline-grabbing delivery, Cohen’s business is faltering and he is shutting Dooba down.

“About a month before licenses were due for renewal, we decided not to go forward,” Cohen told Westword. “There were significant costs associated with it, and we’ve had limited and stagnant growth.”

“The more regulations we have to follow and fees that pile up, the harder it is for businesses, and the more resources it takes to meet those requirements,” explained Cohen. “Cannabis is one of Colorado’s most highly regulated industries, and that comes with a lot of high costs. Businesses are closing down because they can’t make ends meet. You’re seeing it with store groups and cultivations out here already.”

At least one additional business, Mile High Cargo, is also declining to renew its license, according to Eric Escudero, a spokesperson for the Excise and Licenses Department. Michael Diaz-Rivera, a social equity owner who operates the Denver-based Better Days Delivery, said that the fact that Dooba is ceasing operations does not bode well for other cannabis delivery services in Denver.

“[Cohen] had the business chops. … He had more dispensary partners than me,” Diaz-Rivera told Politico. “Am I just throwing money into a bottomless pit because I’ve been sold this dream of generational wealth that might already be gone?”

Noting how few cannabis dispensaries in Denver have partnered with social equity delivery services, Diaz-Rivera believes that many retailers are waiting for the three-year exclusivity period to end before they launch their own cannabis home delivery services.

“A year and a half has already gone up [with] this exclusivity. And the dispensaries are just waiting it out,” Diaz-Rivera said. “What good does it do for us if they know that they can just wait?”

Denver Proposes Extending Social Equity Exclusivity for Cannabis Delivery

To help support the city’s social equity cannabis delivery services, Denver officials have proposed making licenses for cannabis delivery services exclusive to social equity businesses on a permanent basis.

“We’re one year into one adopting delivery, but also adopting our social equity program. And based on feedback we’ve heard from our transporters and the industry, there’s just not a high level of industry participation,” said Molly Duplechian, Denver Department of Excise and Licenses executive director. “So what we want to do is we want to provide certainty to our social equity transporters that they have a path going forward beyond just the next two years.”

The proposal also includes a reduction in licensing fees for social equity delivery services and the retail dispensaries that partner with them to provide home delivery.

“Some fees are going from $2,000 all the way down to $25. So we’re really trying to reduce and remove any barrier that stands in the way,” Duplechian said.

The Excise and Licenses Department expects to finalize its proposed changes to the social equity program before presenting them to the Denver City Council. If the proposal is adopted by the council, it would go into effect within a few weeks, according to media reports.

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Cannabis’ Big Impact on Border Towns

Since its founding in 1862, the town of Trinidad, CO has regularly cycled through identities, and economic raisons d’etre. The discovery of rich coal deposits in the rugged mountains along the Santa Fe trail between Denver and New Mexico meant the frontier village started as a mining town (and the way mining conglomerates worked meant Trinidad was also a company town). After the mines slowed and closed, between the 1960s and 2010, a single surgeon’s successful (and controversial) practice earned Trinidad the unofficial title of “sex-change capital of the US.” In the cannabis legalization era, another boom-and-bust cycle has come and gone in Trinidad: a cannabis “border town” that is no longer.

Boom…

Home to about 8300 people, Trinidad saw dozens of cannabis shops open for business after adult-use cannabis sales began in Colorado in 2014. Along with businesses on the town’s main street, an entrepreneur from Denver sold local authorities on permitting the world’s first “marijuana mini mall.” There was so much weed for sale in Trinidad that the community boasted “one pot shop for every 300 people,” according to Amanda Korth, the board president of the Trinidad-Las Animas County Chamber of Commerce. 

This had nothing to do with Trinidad itself—they don’t smoke more weed there than they do in Pueblo—but everything to do with geography. About three hours’ drive from Santa Fe, Trinidad is the closest city in Colorado to New Mexico along Interstate-25. That meant Trinidad was an obvious destination for anyone in New Mexico wanting to buy legal weed—and anyone heading south wanting to make a final pit stop before entering dry country.

In Trinidad, the cannabis border-town boom lasted more than eight years. On April 1, legal cannabis sales began in New Mexico, with the full backing of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who encouraged New Mexico cannabis entrepreneurs to “knock the socks off of this industry” and—somehow—sell more cannabis per year than even Colorado, a more populous state. Cannabis isn’t as heavily taxed in New Mexico as it is in Colorado, and customers can purchase up to two ounces per day—twice Colorado’s one-ounce limit. And unlike California and Colorado, localities can’t opt-out of sales.

…And Bust

As NPR reported, from the beginning, cannabis dispensaries sprung up throughout the southern and eastern parts of the state, in small towns such as Clovis, in classic truck-stop cities such as Las Cruces—anywhere within driving distance of Texas, where cannabis is still illegal. 

The Las Cruces location of R. Greenleaf, a dispensary chain owned by Colorado-based Schwazze, is now the company’s “highest grossing store,” with visitors from Texas comprising about half of the customer base, said Justin Dye, Schwazze’s CEO, in a recent telephone interview. 

“We’re not there just for the border,” he added, but as data from the first half of the year published by BDS Analytics showed, sales have slowed and plateaued in Colorado overall as they boom in New Mexico. This spells trouble for border towns along the Colorado-New Mexico line—and the beginning of the end for Trinidad’s latest boom.

“You wouldn’t want to buy a store in Trinidad right now,” Dye said. “You wouldn’t want to be an operator there. It’s contracted substantially.” For now, Schwazze and Dye don’t have to worry: Most of their Colorado dispensaries are located in the Denver metro area. Sales are slowing there, too, but at least there’s no concern about out-of-state competition—or a tectonic shift in geography that, such as a factory closing or oil-well going dry, threatens a settlements’ economic vitality. 

This isn’t to say that there’s now nothing doing well in Trinidad—just that the “marijuana mini-mall” and the concentration of dispensaries may have outlived their moment.

Life in the New American West

For Korth, the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce president, this is just another cycle, along with mining, sex changes, and now cannabis. 

“Those industries left, and so it was boom or bust, feast or famine,” she said. “When the marijuana shops came in, it was a great big boom.” But, she added, offering a counterpoint to the boosterism from New Mexico’s Gov. Lujan Grisham, “they said a lot about the taxes and what the taxes would do for schools and roads, etc. And I haven’t really seen a lot of that.”

As for how long the border bet will last elsewhere, it’s a matter of time and politics—and the bizarre situation of rooting against the march of legalization in red states including Texas and Utah, the latter of which is within a short drive from Dinosaur, CO, on that state’s western edge. There are 183 people in Dinosaur, according to Census figures—and there are three dispensaries, an even higher ratio than Trinidad’s.

Dye thinks Texas will remain dry for a while. “I don’t see Texas having a major program for some time,” he said, a situation owing to the Lone Star State’s deep-red conservatism. “I think this is going to be something for a long time around border towns.” 

But there are rumblings to the contrary. Sid Miller, Texas’s ten-gallon-hat-wearing, Trump-supporting agriculture commissioner, recently became the state’s highest-ranking Republican to call for medical-cannabis legalization. If Texas moves even half as quickly as New Mexico, border towns in that state could find their time in the sun shorter even than Trinidad’s — but still part of the same predictable rhythm in the new American west.

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Best Buds: How the Brewing Industry is Tapping into the Cannabis Market

BUY THE BOOK HERE.

Ross Koenigs’s journey into cannabis happened somewhat by chance. Hemp researchers connected to Colorado State University visited the New Belgium taproom on an unremarkable afternoon in April 2015 and asked to speak to Koenigs’s boss, Peter Bouckaert. The U.S. Congress had just legalized hemp cultivation for research purposes under the 2014 Agricultural Act, and many in Colorado jumped at the opportunity to study this newly legalized plant.

The researchers wanted to show Peter some of their plants, saying that they had many distinct aromas that might be of interest to brewers. Bouckaert, famous for his curiosity and penchant for novel brewing ingredients, got excited. He grabbed a few staff members, piled them into his car, and drove to the south end of Fort Collins to visit the greenhouses of a company now known as New West Genetics.

When Koenigs first smelled the different plants, he didn’t really get it. He didn’t really understand much about hemp at the time, but he did know one critical thing: It’s related to marijuana but doesn’t get you high. The plants looked similar to marijuana and most of them had nice aromas, though some smelled quite awful. It wasn’t until Koenigs dug a bit deeper that the light really clicked on for him. Koenigs had too many preconceived thoughts about cannabis. He figured it would be a cold day in hell before the government allowed brewers to put THC in beer, so exploring options in hemp would be a wasted effort—there was nothing interesting in cannabis if it didn’t have THC.

Koenigs fell prey to what a lot of people think about cannabis: It’s a plant that can get you high and nothing more. He’s pretty sure he remembers saying something to the effect of, “Why would he put fake weed in my beer?” It seemed boring at the time and, to be fair, he thinks he may have been suffering from the bad information generally available. This poor-quality information comes from both proponents and opponents of cannabis; it reflects what happens when something is demonized and criminalized something for so long. The end result is typically colloquialisms that have little semblance to the truth.

From a legal perspective, the only difference between the two plants is the content of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. If a cannabis plant is at or below 0.3% THC by weight, it is hemp. If it’s above 0.3% THC by weight, it is marijuana. Both are cannabis. Both plants are varieties of Cannabis sativa L. under the Linnaean classification system; therefore, despite common misconceptions, both hemp and marijuana are regarded by botanists as the same species. Over the course of a couple of generations in the wild, marijuana plants can become hemp and hemp plants can become marijuana.

What Koenigs came to discover was that hemp has a lot of interesting qualities and should be of great interest to brewers. When describing what hops are to their brewery tour guests, most brewers cite as a piece of trivia that hops and cannabis are botanical cousins. The vast amount of research that has gone into understanding hops in the last 100 years gives us the perfect lens through which to study cannabis.

Brewers are uniquely suited to understanding and promoting this newly legalized plant. Many of the processing technologies used for hop products are applicable to hemp; brewers have expertise in analyzing related biochemical constituents commonly found in hops and hemp; brewers have a shared expertise turning agricultural products into useful consumer products, and they understand and respect the power of intoxicants and can communicate the responsibility required to consume them in a safe and legal manner.

Since that chance encounter where Ross was introduced to the world of hemp, he’s developed quite a bit of knowledge and expertise around how to brew with it. Since he focused most of his time at New Belgium researching and developing hoppy beers, his role put him in a unique position to translate that knowledge and skill base into a useful resource.

Cannabis is a tricky subject. Some aspects of cannabis will feel very familiar to brewers, while others will feel foreign. It took Ross and a group of brewers about three years from that first moment in the greenhouse to introduce America’s first nationally available hemp-flavored beer, The Hemperor.

During that time, they were forced to navigate various legal pitfalls and a regulatory environment that didn’t know what to do with such a product. At the end of it all, they were barely scratching the surface of the possibilities that marrying cannabis and beer held, so Koenigs and the team proceeded to do further research and learn more from people in the cannabis industry, to fully understand the possibilities of hemp. Brewing with Hemp is a continuation of that work and, it is hoped, will make the subject a bit more accessible.

The title of the book, Brewing with Hemp: The Essential Guide, indicates that most of the book covers hemp and only periodically talks about marijuana. The first reason for that should be obvious: This is a book for a brewing and beverage industry audience; some hemp ingredients can be added to beer, but marijuana ingredients cannot be legally added. The government may permit marijuana in [alcohol-containing] beer one day, but considering it is prohibited to add caffeine to alcohol it seems unlikely the government will allow brewers to add a powerful psycho-active to their products.

Cannabis Aroma Compounds

Generally, there is a complex mixture of cannabinoids and terpenes in any given cannabis plant. All cannabis plants are Cannabis sativa, this is true, but there are multiple varieties, cultivars, and “strains” within the species that have arisen over centuries and millennia thanks to humans breeding cannabis for specific uses.

Given the confusing taxonomic nomenclature that exists around hemp and marijuana types, especially the naming of strains in the marijuana market, academic researchers have increasingly turned to analyzing the biochemical profile of cannabis plants to better identify them unambiguously. These “chemical varieties” are usually referred to as chemotypes or chemovars.

The primary terpenes of C. sativa derive from a combination of inherited genetic traits and environmental factors. Provided growing conditions are consistent, terpene synthase enzymes will produce terpenes characteristic of a particular cannabis chemovar, and then environmental factors do the rest to produce further derivative compounds.

Brewing with Hemp will focus on some of the primary terpenes created by C. sativa to help give better language to the distinctive, yet often hard to describe, cannabis aroma. When developing The Hemperor at New Belgium, this was a very helpful exercise to know how to target specific aromas to make sure we were getting a “true-to-type” cannabis aroma. They honed in on a key term to help them standardize it: dank. 

When someone is asked to define the term dank, they often respond that it’s something that smells like cannabis flower; in turn, cannabis is described as smelling dank. This catch-22 situation can be maddening when trying to accurately describe the differences between strains of cannabis, or even just to provide more extensive descriptive language. Koenigs does his best to describe the primary “aroma buckets” that best make up his definition of the term dank: woody, herbal, floral, stinky, and fruity. In Koenigs’s opinion, every strain of cannabis has these five aroma buckets in varying amounts.

Woody

The woody aroma bucket is composed of some of the most dominant olfactory monoterpenes in cannabis: myrcene and pinene. Typically, myrcene and pinene make up the majority of essential oil from cannabis, so it makes sense most cannabis smells somewhat woody to people who have been trained in this lexicon. To Koenigs, woody aromas can range from pine sap to stripped tree bark to pencil shavings. Of course, the interplay with the herbal and floral components also generates descriptions like peppery spice, dried leaves, hay, cedar, eucalyptus, and soil.

Herbal

The herbal bucket is composed of many of the dominant olfactory sesquiterpenes in cannabis, such as ᵝ-caryophyllene and humulene. This group of compounds are the second-most abundant constituents of cannabis essential oil (behind myrcene and pinene). Sesquiterpenes in the herbal bucket produce a diverse array of dried and fresh herb characteristics, which include notes of ginger, sage, basil, rosemary, oregano, hops, and fresh-cut grass. The interplay of the herbal bucket with the woody, floral, and fruity buckets helps drive the aforementioned woody aromas, plus it contributes to heavily spice-driven aromas like clove, cardamom, patchouli, and caraway seed.

Floral

The floral bucket is composed of a smattering of terpenes and terpenoids, including linalool, geraniol, and α-terpinol. While these compounds make up a small percentage of the essential oil of cannabis, they are highly aroma active and contribute significantly to the perceived aroma profile. The floral bucket contributes notes of lavender, lilac, rose, bergamot, and a general perfume-like aroma. Floral aromas interact with fruity and herbal aromas, adding additional notes of peach, apricot, vanilla, citrus fruit, and grape/wine.

Stinky

There are many types of compounds that comprise the stinky bucket, but the most important are the volatile sulfur compounds.  Sulfur-based volatiles run the gamut of aroma compounds (sulfides, thiols, thioesters, thioketones, and others) and are important to cannabis aroma. These compounds make up tiny fractions of a percent of the overall essential oil of the plant yet are so odor active that people can easily detect them at parts-per-trillion levels. The most common stinky odor is skunky aroma, which is mostly made up of the thiols 2-butene-1-thiol and 3-methyl-1-butanethiol.

Some people describe the dank cannabis aroma almost exclusively as “skunky.” Other stinky cannabis odorant descriptors include onion and garlic, cheesy (isovaleric acid), and diesel fuel or exhaust. While these aromas may sound unpleasant, in the right concentrations they accentuate floral and fruity aromas, often creating tropical fruit aromas such as passion fruit, pineapple, guava, grapefruit, and gooseberry.

Fruity

Finally, the fruity bucket captures many of the oddball terpenes and terpenoids. These exist at varying concentrations in the essential oil of different Cannabis chemovars and are arguably what defines a particular strain or chemovar’s signature scent. Compounds in the fruity bucket can include monoterpenes like limonene, which smells like orange and lime peel, and ᵝ-ocimene, which smells like under-ripe mango and plant-derived aldehydes, esters, and ketones that smell like vanilla, berries, bananas, and coconuts. There are many strains that explicitly call out specific fruits in their names, such as Strawberry Diesel and Pineapple Express. The fruity bucket is typically the dominant driver of these aromas.

Koenigs posits that every Cannabis chemovar can produce at least one characteristic from each aroma bucket, though some tend to over-express the characteristics of one or two. It is best to understand that it is extremely difficult to fully deconstruct the aroma of any whole plant, let alone one as complex as cannabis. Plenty try, and yet, when you smell an attempt to replicate the aroma in isolation, it is frequently missing that je ne sais quoi—dare we say, its dankness? We can understand the main components that make up the cannabis aroma, but what truly defines it are the small quantities of barely measurable, or even identifiable, components. The synergistic relationship between all these components is what defines cannabis’s “dank.”

Table 1: Common Cannabis Terpenes and Derivatives

NameTerpenoid ClassificationAroma DescriptorsPlants Common InWater Solubility
β-MyrceneMonoterpeneWoody, celery, anise, pine resinBlack pepper, mango, hops, thyme, basilVery low
LimoneneMonoterpeneOrange, lime, pine treesSpruce and fir trees, orangesLow
α-Pinene, β-PineneMonoterpeneWoody, turpentine, pine trees, spicyPine, sage, eucalyptus, frankincenseVery low
CampheneMonoterpenePine needles, earthy, minty, woodyDouglas fir, holy basil, nutmeg, rosemaryVery low
β-OcimeneMonoterpeneFloral, underripe citrus, mango skinMint, tarragon, kumquats, mango, bergamotVery low
TerpineneMonoterpeneWoody, lemon, mint, medicinalCumin, cardamom, marjoram, cilantroLow  
GeraniolMonoterpene alcoholRoses, citrus, floralRoses, coriander, grapefruit, blueberriesMedium-low
LinaloolMonoterpene alcoholCitrus, blueberry, lavenderLavender, rose, basil, lemon, neroli, cilantroMedium-high
α-TerpinolMonoterpene alcoholLilac, slight lemon and limeCardamom, lemon, grapes, dill, celeryMedium-high
β-CaryophylleneSesquiterpeneSpicy, woody, pepper, cloveHops, caraway, oregano, basil, cinnamonVery low
β-FarseneneSesquiterpeneWoody, citrus, herbaceousApple, orange, pummelo, noble hopsExtremely low
HumuleneSesquiterpeneClove, woody, peppercornHops, ginseng, black pepperExtremely low
BisabololSesquiterpene alcoholChamomile, citrus, generic spiceChamomileLow
EucalyptolSesquiterpene alcoholEucalyptus, camphor, basil, mintEucalyptus, bay leaf, sageHigh
β-EudesmolSesquiterpene alcoholClove, turpentineAtractylodesLow
GuaiolSesquiterpene alcoholTea tree, rosewood, cypressNutmeg, tea tree, cumin, lilac, pineLow
NerolidolSesquiterpene alcoholFresh tree bark, citrus, a pple, roseGinger, jasmine, lavenderMedium-low
Caryophyllene oxideSesquiterpene oxideCedar, carrot, earthyHops, basil, pepper, rosemaryLow

Note: No attempt has been made to differentiate between enantiomers for compounds with chiral centers. Be aware that differences in perceived odors and differential effects of fragrances in terms of mood and behavior have been found to be a function of chirality.

Table 1 explores a few abundant terpenes and terpenoids that are frequently encountered in cannabis. The solubility in water is important to review. As a quick rule of thumb, the lower the water solubility of any given terpene, the later in the brewing process you should add your cannabis material to better extract it with ethanol.

About the author of Brewing with Hemp: Ross Koenigs is the owner of Second Dawn Brewing Company in Aurora, Colorado. Previously, he was the brewing innovations manager for New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO, where he spearheaded the research and development of using hemp in beer when New Belgium introduced The Hemperor HPA.

Brewing with Hemp: The Essential Guide by Ross Koenigs is the companion book to Brewing with Cannabis: Using THC and CBD in Beer by Keith Villa Ph.D. from Brewers Publications. Brewers Publications supports the mission of the Brewers Association by publishing books of enduring value for amateur and professional brewers, as well as titles that promote understanding and appreciation of American craft beer. With more than 65 titles to choose from, Brewers Publications is the leading publisher of contemporary and relevant brewing literature for today’s craft brewers, homebrewers, and beer enthusiasts.

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Colorado Springs Recreational Cannabis Initiative Qualifies for November Ballot

Activists intent on legalizing recreational pot sales in Colorado Springs, Colorado cleared a significant hurdle this week with the announcement that two related adult-use cannabis sales voter initiatives have qualified for the November ballot.

The first ballot measure advanced by the group Your Choice Colorado Springs would legalize recreational weed sales in Colorado Springs, while the second would impose a 5% tax on purchases of adult-use cannabis. If passed by the voters, tax revenue from recreational sales would fund public safety improvements, expand mental health services, and support PTSD programs for veterans.

“Voters in the city stepped up and demanded their voice be heard with respect to ending the prohibition of recreational cannabis sales in Colorado Springs,” Your Choice campaign manager Anthony Carlson said on Monday after announcing the measures had qualified for the ballot. “Especially in these tough economic times, it is critical to ensure every tax dollar that rightfully belongs to Colorado Springs taxpayers stays in our community working to improve our quality of life.”

Colorado voters legalized sales of recreational cannabis with the passage of Amendment 64 in 2012, and regulated sales began in the state two years later. However, the Colorado Springs local government banned recreational cannabis sales in 2013, although the city is home to more than 100 medical dispensaries.

Your Choice Colorado Springs announced its plan for the ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis sales in January and began circulating petitions to qualify the measures for the ballot in March. Activists had until June 20 to collect 19,245 signatures from Colorado Springs residents. The group far exceeded the requirement, turning in more than 98,000 signatures last month.

Pot Taxes Go to Other Cities

Your Choice Colorado Springs maintains that city residents who purchase adult-use cannabis legally must travel to other communities, which reap the tax benefits of recreational cannabis sales. If the initiatives succeed in this November’s election, a portion of the tax proceeds will help fund mental health services and support PTSD programs for military veterans. Colorado Springs has one of the highest veteran populations in the country, with 17% of adult residents identifying as veterans compared to the national average of 7.1%, according to a recent report from The Center Square.

“Our region led the state in suicides last year,” Carlson said, noting that 30% of those who took their own lives were veterans. “This initiative will provide significant funding to ensure we finally have the resources to take control of this crisis.”

Under the legalization initiative, no additional cannabis retail stores would be permitted in the city, but existing medical cannabis retailers would be able to add recreational cannabis on the same premise as their medical location. Karlie Van Arnam, a small business owner and lead elector sponsoring the initiatives, said the campaign “is about practicality.”

“It makes zero sense to continue the prohibition of a product that is 100% legal to possess and consume in our city,” said Arnam. “This campaign isn’t just about revenue. It’s about personal freedom and choice for our residents. It’s about supporting our small businesses and the thousands of people they employ. It’s about expanding mental health access for citizens and ensuring our veterans have access to world-class PTSD programs right here in Colorado Springs. It’s about time this decision is taken out of the hands of a few politicians and given to the people.”

Colorado Springs Mayor Opposes Legalization

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who has opposed approving recreational cannabis sales in the city for years, issued a statement warning voters about potentially negative aspects of legalizing.

“I remain vehemently opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado Springs. There are no regulations in Colorado limiting THC levels which continue to rise and adversely impact young marijuana users,” said Suthers. “In cities with recreational marijuana, it’s not paying for the full cost of the damage it’s doing. Denver, in particular, offers a cautionary tale. In three years, it has dropped from No. 2 to No. 55 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings for best city to live. The pervasive influence of marijuana is a significant factor.”

Carlson said that despite the opposition from city leaders, voters are likely to approve the ballot measure in this November’s general election.

“Colorado Springs residents overwhelmingly voted to approve Amendment 64 in 2012. Our City Council and Mayor have repeatedly defied the will of Colorado Springs voters by keeping recreational cannabis—and its tax revenues—out of Colorado Springs for the past decade, at a loss of $150 million,” Carlson said in an email to High Times. “Now our citizens have spoken again, submitting a record 98,000 signatures—more than 2.5 times more than required—to get these measures on the ballot. The will of Colorado Springs citizens is crystal clear: They want to keep tax revenues from recreational cannabis in Colorado Springs to support efforts including mental health and veteran services.”

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Simply Solventless

Nikka T has created a lasting legacy in the realm of hash. After learning the techniques to craft ice water hash from the Dutch master who perfected the form, he went on to open the first licensed hash company in the U.S. He’s won more than 15 Cannabis Cups, changed the vernacular of how we talk about hash with the term “solventless,” and is one of the most well-respected artists and teachers in the concentrate community.

Nicholas Tanem’s journey towards becoming the hash master known as Nikka T includes experience judging cannabis competitions worldwide. He’s a cannabis consultant and producer, and a reggae DJ. He founded his Colorado-based company, Essential Extracts, in 2009 and expanded to the California market in 2018. Alongside the Essential Extracts team, he has competed in numerous cannabis competitions, such as the country’s first rosin-specific competition at Chalice in 2015 (he credits the help of a cultivator called “The Mile High Man, AKA Kenny” for that win.) Nikka T’s numerous achievements are vast and serve as an extensive reference to the excellence of his product.

The 2018 High Times Visionary Award winner shared a wealth of information about his craft in a recent interview, including how he learned to collect trichomes with a hash legend, what it takes to know if a strain is cut out for concentrates, and what’s in store for the future. 

Nikka T inside Indico Colorado’s grow in Pueblo, Colorado / Photo: Nick Johnson @thedankone42

Learning From The Masters

Nikka T’s reputation is a testament to his drive to strive for the best and his constant work to improve his craft. 

He grew up in Northern California and was raised in a supportive and liberal family, which led to cannabis becoming a part of his life early on. When he was attending junior college, he realized that cannabis flower wasn’t quite enough for him and discovered a love for hash—ice water hash in particular.

The cannabis flower is covered in resinous trichomes. These trichomes are also on the trim (leaves left behind when the flower is manicured). Cannabis extractors can collect trichomes in several different ways, and one of the oldest forms is through making traditional hash. There are two basic ways to make hash, dry sieve and water hash. Dry sieved hash is when you run the flowers over a metal grate to dislodge the trichomes. Water hash is created by mixing cannabis trim or flower in water and ice and gently stirring the mixture to knock off the trichomes. Once the trichomes have washed away from the plant material, they are collected and dried. Also known as water hash, ice hash, ice wax, and bubble hash, when hash melts away entirely without leaving any residue, it’s considered the highest quality and called full melt.

In the late 1990s, Nikka T traveled to Northern California, specifically to Willits, California, where his uncle owned property and cultivated cannabis privately. His uncle and other neighboring farmers often discarded their trim in trash bags and left them on the side of the road—and he collected those trim-filled trash bags to make hash. Eventually, he even began to track when the trim bags were left out to try and gather them up when they were still fresh. Being a day or two late meant that the trim was likely moldy and unusable.

Nikka T’s interest in making hash continued to drive him forward. He traveled abroad and embraced the teachings of Mila Jansen, a famous hash master out of Amsterdam widely known as the “hash queen.” Seeking out Jansen was all about improving his skill set and knowledge about his craft. Jansen is a pioneer in perfecting the form of modern-day water hash.

“I needed to learn more techniques. I needed to hone in my skills. I needed to create a higher echelon for the products that I was producing. So Amsterdam was the place to travel to,” he said.

While there, he spent every day with Jansen, up to eight hours per day, constantly asking her questions.

“There wasn’t a lot that was written down,” he said. “A lot of this was oral tradition. So I bugged Mila for that oral tradition, and she obliged, and she was very patient and humble and willing. She taught me a lot. I had already been making hash for a little bit, but she taught me some key techniques such as the rinsing technique, where I was able to go from partially melty hash to almost full melt hash every single time.”

Coconut Cooler Live Rosin grown by @garrettduffey and processed by Nikka T / Photo: Mitchell Peterson @extractsdaily

From Solvent To Solventless

In the early 2000s, butane hash oil (BHO) extraction rose to widespread popularity. Initially, Nikka T planned to make this type of butane-extracted concentrate to share with his friends at his home in Boulder, Colorado, but he wasn’t content just making the BHO—he needed to know more about what was in the product, too.

At the time, it wasn’t easy to convince anyone to share their test results, but he found answers through an employee working at a coffeeshop in Amsterdam. It was the first place to share a certificate of analysis, and he was shocked by the results. He found isobutane, isopentane, various metals, and other things he’d never heard of within the BHO products.

“You know, I’ve been a naturally eating, health-conscious individual all my life. So first and foremost, when I heard the concentrates were being made with hydrocarbon, I didn’t think that it was the safest for consumption. I also didn’t think it was the safest for our environment. I didn’t think it was the safest for a production team to produce in a lab.”

Nikka T estimates that sometime between 2009 and 2010, he coined the term “solventless.” In the case of cannabis, solventless applies to concentrates where trichomes from plant material originate without the aid of solvents, such as butane.

A solvent is a substance that dissolves a solid (cannabis flowers or trim) into a liquid solution. When this is done to cannabis the residual solvent, often butane, a flammable hydrocarbon that easily transforms to liquified gas, must then be removed from the final product to be safe to dab. The temperature and speed at which this is done result in concentrates of different consistencies. Think of it like making candy. Boiling sugar at different temperatures can create crystalline rock candy or creamy caramel. Nikka T plays with the presentation of his solventless concentrates and makes them appear in various forms that are typically found on the solvent side of the street.

“So when the term earwax was popular, we made a solventless earwax. When shatter became popular, we made solventless shatter,” he said. “When this wet batter type consistency became popular, I took it upon myself to try and recreate that wet batter consistency [and] color without the use of any chemical solvents. And that’s kind of where it all erupted.”

At the time, these innovations in terms of the form that traditional hash could take were still new to the community, and the idea that concentrates could be “solventless” was questioned.

“Initially, people were like, ‘What is this? This isn’t water hash. This isn’t bubble hash. It doesn’t look like butane, and water is a solvent. So what are you doing, kid?’” he said. “I had a lot of backlash. It took a little bit for people to catch on. I started explaining to people like, ‘Listen, I’m using water merely as a vessel to carry or transport these mechanically separated trichome heads to their destination. I’m not using the water as a solvent.’”

The argument here is that traditional methods for separating the resin glands from the buds rely on physical agitation, while butane extraction dissolves the cannabinoids and terpenes within a puddle of liquid solvent that must still be removed.

Nikka T samples some product / Photo: @The_Ganjier

The Solventless Preference

For Nikka T, there are two main reasons why he continues to embrace ice water hash. Firstly, the concerns of safety enjoying cannabis concentrates have been on his mind ever since he learned about the more harmful substances that make their way into concentrates through other methods. Secondly is the fact that ice water hash is safer to produce than volatile methods of BHO extraction.

“On the lab side or the production side of things, the safety difference between solventless and hydrocarbon is vast, and I love that aspect of it,” he said. “Especially because I’m not only consulting for licensed facilities. I’m also consulting for the home producer, the home user that wants to learn how to make this themselves. So safety is a big issue and a big concern and kind of why I lean towards the solventless side of things.”

He also prefers the effects of a solventless product over one produced through butane extraction.

“The biggest reason that I’m a proponent of solventless is I prefer the full-bodied high that multiple cannabinoids and terpenes give me,” he said. “When I’m running hydrocarbon or utilizing butane, it seems to pull higher THC levels, but maybe not as much of that broad spectrum. Because as far as the high goes, I get way more of [an] all-over body high. It’s hitting all the points that I’m looking for it to hit when I’m consuming solventless, compared to when I’m consuming butane.”

High-Quality Hash

One of the most common questions Nikka T is asked is what he looks for in a strain for making hash. For him, staying on top of the trends and newly emerging terpene profiles is one of the most important things to consider.

“One of the first things I look for is that terpene content, or the smell of the plant itself, the smell of that cultivar, and that’s really important right now to kind of watch the market and see which style ‘smells,’ if you will, which aromas are capturing the market because it fluctuates.”

Nikka T also has a few other key qualities that he looks for in a washer—a term used to describe an ideal strain for being washed in the ice water hash process. Strains with more area structure make it easier to remove trichomes during the washing process. Nikka T points to strains like GMO, Gorilla Glue #4, Kushman by JBeezy, or Key Lime Pie offering more viability in terms of yield and potency.

He also said three key points of a strain’s necessary tactile experience make it ideal for ice water hash. First, if a strain’s consistency is like sandpaper, sand between the fingers, or tacky, they have the right texture for washing (such as Gorilla Glue #4). On the other hand, a strain that feels greasy, such as motor oil, isn’t ideal for that purpose (such as OG Kush).

Nikka T looks for the right trichome structure that will provide an optimal yield.

“I’m looking for a structure in the trichome on that specific plant that has a very large, bulbous head and has a thinner stalk, but not too thin,” he said. “If it got too thin, maybe that trichome falls off the material a little too easy, and it breaks plant material with it. If it’s too thick, it wants to hold on to that plant material and that trichome doesn’t want to be released for us to collect it. So you want to find a nice balance.”

He also refers to cannabis plants with “weak neck traits,” a term drawn from the professional pot photographer known as Shwale.

“He found that certain cultivars have what we call ‘weak neck traits’ where the stock of that trichrome actually is pretty normally fixed, but then it gets real thin right before the head of the trichome, allowing us to mechanically remove that head without any of the stalk or plant material that much easier.”

The final deciding factor that seals the deal is trichome density.

“So if you have all those things we discussed—you’ve got a nice gritty feel, you’ve got that big head with the weak neck trait, but there’s only a few trichomes on that plant or in your peripheral view—it’s still not going to be viable and therefore not a washer. But if you have extreme trichome density with those other factors that I mentioned, I can almost guarantee that we’ll have something viable. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Han Solo Burger Live Rosin cultivated by @kindbill and processed solventlessly by Nikka T / Photo: Mitchell Peterson @extractsdaily

Hash To The Future

With the pandemic subsiding, Nikka T has plans to travel more abroad this year. Most recently, he judged the Masters of Rosin competition in Barcelona, Spain, in March 2022 (which also happened to be the first rosin-specific competition in Europe).

Essential Extracts is also on the path to expansion in the U.S., with plans to launch in Missouri sometime this year and a few projects in Canada.

“I like constantly evolving and constantly creating better products,” he said. “I’m not afraid to say that we’re constantly learning. So, you know, I’m never going to say my products [are] the best. I just won’t. Because I think that it’s still out there.”

This article appears in the July 2022 issue of High Times. Subscribe here.

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Colorado Gov. Announces 16 Recipients of Cannabis Business Grant

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis last week announced the first businesses to receive funding through the state’s Cannabis Business Pilot Grant.

A total of 16 aspiring cannabis retailers received the grants through a program that seeks “to save small businesses money, foster equity and diversity in the cannabis industry, and create good-paying jobs for Coloradans.”

“Our nation-leading work promoting equity and supporting innovation in Colorado’s thriving cannabis industry supports our economy, saves small businesses money, and ensures our state remains the best business-friendly destination in the country,” Polis, a Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday. “I’m proud to see this multi-year effort result in transformative grants to deserving applicants.”

The pilot grant program is part of a concerted effort to ensure that the state-regulated cannabis market benefits individuals from communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.

In addition to facilitating economic opportunities through its new marijuana law, Colorado, like other states, have also offered a pathway for previous pot-related offenders to clean their record.

In January, Polis rang in the new year with an executive order that granted pardons to more than 1,300 individuals who had been convicted of possession of two ounces or less of cannabis.

The executive order was a byproduct of a bill signed into law by Polis that “authorized the Governor to grant pardons to a class of defendants who were convicted of the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana,” according to Polis’s office.

“Adults can legally possess marijuana in Colorado, just as they can beer or wine. It’s unfair that 1,351 additional Coloradans had permanent blemishes on their record that interfered with employment, credit, and gun ownership, but today we have fixed that by pardoning their possession of small amounts of marijuana that occurred during the failed prohibition era,” Polis said in a statement at the time.

The grants awarded by the Polis administration last week are described as “a funding opportunity for social equity cannabis businesses who have been awarded, or are actively pursuing, a regulated business license from the Marijuana Enforcement Division,” according to the state, which said the program “was developed to support cannabis entrepreneurs through access to capital to promote social equity, innovation, and job creation across the industry.”

Recipients of the grants may receive a maximum of $25,000 or $50,000.

The program is administered by the state’s Cannabis Business Office, which “provided grant applicants with educational and professional development opportunities as a part of the grant-making process,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.

The press release said that applicants “were required to complete a business development curriculum and create business plans and project proposals,” which included online learning modules.

Under the terms of the program, if the applicant did not include the training by the time the application was submitted, they were then given “21 calendar days to complete the technical assistance or forfeit their grant application submission and potential grant award.”

“The grant process was designed to ultimately prepare applicants with the foundational knowledge and materials for future success, as well as equip those in Colorado’s Cannabis Industry with a robust skillset to continue our state’s leadership in the space,” the press release said.

The 16 businesses selected to receive the first round of grant funding are: Apollo Limited; Canna-Couriers; Colorado Kush; Cb1 Logistics; Delta-9; Different Strokes 2.0 Puff N Paint Sip Art Studio; Flora Cannabis; Go Harvest LLC; Grn Bus; IDY Packaging Distributors; Kaylx Brands; Meta-Zon CannClub; Mile High Lounge (Ganja Games); Paly; Pufflow.com; and Tetra Hospitality Group.

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Garcia Hand Picked Launches in Colorado

Garcia Hand Picked, the cannabis brand founded by the family of legendary Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, entered its fifth legal cannabis state today with an expansion into Colorado’s competitive recreational weed market. A collaboration between multistate operator Holistic Industries and Colorado craft cultivator Veritas Fine Cannabis, the Garcia Hand Picked line of cannabis products and merchandise was created in partnership with the family of the late Jerry Garcia.

“It’s an honor to finally have a presence in Colorado, one of our nation’s most discerning cannabis markets,” Trixie Garcia, one of Jerry’s daughters and spokesperson for the Garcia family, said in a statement. “Garcia Hand Picked works with an exclusive network [of] local growers in each market we’re in that have become part of the Garcia Hand Picked family, and we’re excited to bring only the highest quality, curated cannabis to our fans and friends in Colorado.”

Garcia Hand Picked debuted in California in 2020 and is now available in more than 300 dispensaries in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and Oregon, with plans to expand to Michigan soon. According to market analyst BDSA, the collaboration is the leading celebrity cannabis brand in the United States. The strains available for the Colorado launch, which are named after songs written by Jerry Garcia and are selected to be perfect for any time of day, include Morning in Marin (Sativa), Love in the Afternoon (Hybrid) and After Midnight (Indica), among others.

In California, Garcia Hand Picked recently launched a program called Hand Picked Farms to support independent and legacy farmers, offering flower that is “Sun and Earth Certified,” meaning that it is sungrown in the ground without chemicals by farmers who are paid fairly for their work. Consumers can look for the “Sun and Earth Certified” Hand Picked Farms sticker on packs of Garcia Hand Picked flower sold in California dispensaries.

The Garcia Hand Picked line also includes a curated selection of premium indoor cannabis flower in collectible and re-usable glass jars. Each product is paired with a specially selected playlist of Jerry Garcia’s music that corresponds with the strains to create a unique brand experience. Fans can go to the “Music Never Stopped” section of GarciaHandPicked.com to listen to the musical selections.

Holistic Industries notes in a statement from the company that Jerry Garcia rarely smoked weed by himself, instead preferring a shared joint, which “became a bridge between him and those around him.” To honor that spirit, the Hand Picked Garcia line has emphasized pre-rolled joints featuring a custom glass tip with Jerry’s handprint, offered in eco-friendly packaging made from recycled paper. Other products in the collection include Jerry’s Picks, cannabis gummies shaped like Jerry’s actual guitar picks, which will be coming to the Colorado market soon. Merchandise, including apparel and accessories with original artwork by Jerry Garcia, the Garcia Hand Picked logo, and other designs will be available.

Courtesy of Garcia Hand Picked

Jerry Garcia: Groundbreaking Artist and Weed Icon

Jerry Garcia was the co-founder, lead guitarist, vocalist, and lead songwriter for the counterculture rock band the Grateful Dead, which rose from the 1960s San Francisco Bay Area scene of drugs, music, and social change. A groundbreaking artist with a career that spanned more than 30 years, Garcia was inducted with the Grateful Dead into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, just a year before he died of a heart attack at a California drug rehab facility.

To celebrate the upcoming 80th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s birth on August 1, the Colorado launch of Hand Picked Garcia will feature Bertha, a custom Airstream trailer that tours the country filled with music and merchandise, at The Jerry Garcia Symphonic Experience at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado on June 29. Bertha will then tour select dispensaries across the state through the Fourth of July holiday weekend to mark the launch of Hand Picked Garcia to the Colorado market.

“Playing music in Colorado was always a high point for Jerry, he dug the closeness of the audience and the energy that flowed more freely in the mountain air,” said Jerry’s daughter Annabelle Garcia, a spokesperson for the Garcia family. “The hidden stories in the rocks were a source of cosmic speculation and inspiration on the long drives to and from the shows. For Jerry, every ridge held a secret treasure, or an alien spacecraft, or a Bigfoot listening to the shows.”

“Red Rocks is the perfect venue to celebrate our Father’s 80th birthday! Where the sky and mountains meet, we will make a joyful noise and spread some good lovin’,” added Trixie Garcia. “The symphonic interpretation of these cherished tunes elevates them to an otherworldly place, and when ‘Terrapin Station’ erupts, and the big instruments start to resonate, it’s going to be very powerful!”

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Seed & Smith Internships Offer Pathway to Cannabis Industry Jobs

With cannabis legalization efforts continuing to succeed across the United States, the need for skilled workers in the legal weed industry continues to grow. In a recent jobs report, Leafly and Whitney Economics projected that when weed is legalized nationwide, the regulated cannabis industry could support as many as 1.75 million jobs across the country.

The report reveals that the cannabis industry currently supports 428,059 full-time equivalent jobs in the United States. Last year marked the first year that job creation in the cannabis industry exceeded 100,000 new positions. After adding 32,700 jobs in 2019 and 77,300 more in 2020, the industry added another 107,059 new positions last year.

“To put that in perspective, America’s entire financial sector added 145,000 jobs last year,” wrote the authors of the report. “The construction industry, coast to coast, added 165,000 jobs.”

Getting a Foot in the Door

But landing a job in the cannabis industry, particularly in the sector’s highest-paying positions, can seem out of reach to a lot of people. The age-old Catch-22 of needing experience to get a job while needing a job to get experience has befuddled many a job-seeker. To address the issue, Colorado vertically integrated cannabis firm Seed & Smith launched a new paid internship program this year and saw the graduation of its first candidate last month. The company is currently recruiting candidates for the next cohort of interns, with classes beginning in autumn.

Robbie Wroblewski, the marketing director at Seed & Smith, says that the company’s internship program provides a way for candidates to earn an income while they gain knowledge and experience in one of the varied employment positions in the industry.

“The goal of the program is to help candidates from each involved department (Cultivation, Extraction, Sales, Logistics and Marketing) achieve a knowledge base that prepares them for roles that are beyond entry-level positions with having little to no previous experience in cannabis,” Wroblewski explained in an email to High Times.

Seed & Smith is currently recruiting for its next intern class, which will be getting to work in September or October. Wroblewski says that the company primarily recruits at college campuses, but all interested in a career in the cannabis industry are invited to apply. Interns who are students may have the option to enroll in work-study programs and continue their professional and academic careers at the same time.

“The program is three months long and each position is paid,” said Wroblewski. “Each candidate is different but we work with colleges to ensure that college credit can be obtained for the internship as well.”

He adds that each department at Seed & Smith has developed its own curriculum for the interns, who spend time learning many aspects of the job and how they fit into the department and the cannabis industry in general.

First Intern Celebrating Graduation

Talia Sanchez-Hernandez completed her internship with Seed & Smith last month, making her the first graduate of the program. After working a couple of entry-level positions in cannabis retail and cultivation, she was ready to gain new skills and learn about other aspects of the industry. When she came to Seed & Smith to apply for a job and was told about the new internship program, she jumped at the chance for her to advance her career.

“Getting hands-on experience was one of the main things that I try to strive for working in this industry,” Sanchez-Hernandez explains in a virtual interview.

“I found Seed & Smith and they had their internship, and it just kind of really screamed at me. I’ve always wanted to do an internship,” she continues. “I actually went to school for psychology, and one of my big things was holistic medicine. Those were two things that went hand-in-hand with me.”

Sanchez-Hernandez’s internship was in the extraction track. During her studies, she learned several different methods to manufacture cannabis concentrates, including hydrocarbon extraction and distillation. The program also covered other steps in the manufacturing process such as homogenization, decarboxylation, filtration and purging, as well as best practices for smooth and safe operation of the lab.

“It’s a lot when you first see it, but everybody I worked with was really, really helpful. Everybody’s always willing to go out of the way if you need something,” says Sanchez-Hernandez. “It’s really cool. And just being here, I learned so much more in the lab, science-wise, just being hands-on.”

She adds that she has been keen to pick up new knowledge and skills in all of the positions in the cannabis industry she has held in her short career. But the focus on her professional development during her internship with Seed & Smith has been an experience like no other.

Now that she has graduated from the program, Sanchez-Hernandez is ready for her next adventure in Colorado’s regulated cannabis industry. And her success in the internship program has made it so she doesn’t have to look far.

“Talia is our first graduate and we have decided to keep her on the Seed & Smith team,” Wroblewski reports. “Given her knowledge and capabilities, we were able to place her in a mid-level management position.”

More information on Seed & Smith’s cannabis internship program is available by emailing the company’s human resources department at cbowers@seedandsmith.com.

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Opening the Curtain on Cannabis in the Opera

Before getting started, I need to confess; my only exposure to the opera was back in the early 90s when I watched Bugs Bunny play maestro Leopold Stokowski.

Regardless of my lack of experience with and attendance at the opera, with cannabis’ popularity apparent in the theatre, I couldn’t imagine a world in which cannabis wouldn’t make opera better.

The opera house lights dim, the curtains open, and the music starts. A fluttering flute followed by a single, boisterous voice echoing Italian or German, neither of which I speak, but I can understand the emotion behind the words more intimately.

This is my romanticized vision of attending the opera, and I might not be that far off.

But does cannabis play a role in the lives of opera singers? And if so, what are the risks and benefits of consuming as it relates to their career?

Anonymous Opera Singers on Cannabis Consumption

Some opera singers prefer to go off the record when speaking about cannabis consumption. That being said, several anonymous opera singers on Reddit weighed in on the conversation.

One elusively elevated opera enthusiast on Reddit claimed that singers perform while high in top opera houses throughout the world.

A second nameless Redditor said, “Weed made long tech rehearsals bearable.”

According to another unknown Redditor, “From my experience, older generation of singers drink vodka and cognac, younger guys smoke, but not tenors.”

Another unnamed Redditor said, “Soprano here, just sang the Brahms Requiem stoned out of my f*cking mind on Sunday.”

And, my personal favorite anonymous statement on the increasingly apparent: “Only tenors and sopranos get high.”

Michael Mayes / Photo by Michael Yeshion

The Self-Proclaimed “Willie Nelson of Opera Singers”

Michael Mayes, a professional opera singer and the self-proclaimed “Willie Nelson of opera singers,” discussed his experience with cannabis in the opera.

“There’s a boatload of opera singers who use cannabis,” Mayes said. “I don’t think I’d have gotten to where I am in the industry without it.”

“Cannabis really helped me get through a traumatic time in my life and was much less devastating to my health than my old vices that just weren’t working anymore, and were in fact taking a real toll on my health,” he added. “It also provided me with much needed relief from my chronic pain, which had become a real barrier to my expression on stage, without the side effects that a lot of pain relievers have that can be detrimental to the voice.”

But like others performing in the opera houses, he and his wife, Megan Marino, a Mezzo-Soprano, didn’t advertise their cannabis use early on.

“It used to be such a taboo thing in our industry. People were really cagey about it, and it definitely had a real sort of insider stoner kind of vibe—like a weird fraternity of pot smokers who could sniff each other out,” Mayes reminisced. “We definitely didn’t advertise the fact that we used cannabis early on—but once legalization hit Colorado, that all changed.”

Edibles & The Opera

Edibles seemingly brought cannabis use into the mainstream of opera; performers then had an accessible way to consume without damaging their vocal folds.

“Singers could get the benefits of the plant without having to pull smoke across our vocal folds, which for a lot of singers is just too harsh a delivery system,” Mayes explained. “The demands that we make of our voices are so heavy (think elite athletes) that inhaling smoke was just a non-starter for a lot of singers.”

“I find edibles to be the best for me,” Marino added. “Though I do partake in flower when I’m on a long enough stretch between jobs. I barely notice the effects smoking has, but I don’t want to push my luck. I’ve been making my own edibles, butter in particular, since 2005.”

As a benefit of union membership, Megan has access to free online college courses and is pursuing a cannabis concentration as part of her degree. Cannabis justice reform is important to her, and she hopes that by continuing her education, she’ll play a role in changing it.

“‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda and Nixon’s drug war is no longer popular in American culture,” Marino explained. “We’ve seen the dangerous effects of alcoholism and the opioid epidemic. Let’s give folks, especially those dealing with chronic pain or stressful jobs, legal access to the safer option of cannabis.”

Megan is continuing with her education and shares her infused foods with her friends and colleagues.

“I used to make lots of confections (from the traditional brownie or cookie to pies & patisserie) to share with friends and colleagues in almost all corners of the biz—from my fellow singers to rehearsal pianists, stage managers, directors, administrators, artist managers—at ALL levels of the business and nationalities,” Marino said. “Now that it’s so readily available and legalized for medical, adult-use, or decriminalized in so many of the places I work, that part of my sharing is less frequent.”

“Anecdotally, I would say that I know more administrators now who use/have used cannabis that don’t, and they will often pick my brain about making their own edibles and extracts,” Mayes added. “This is something I would never have dreamed of contemplating 10 years ago.”

Marino as Rosina in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia with Opera Colorado / Photo by Matthew Staver

Other Consumption Methods in the Opera House

Those in the limelight of this genre are also familiar with other consumption methods, but the preferences among opera singers vary.

“Once the cartridges came out, a lot of folks found that they could use them without much stress on their cords, but the way inhalable cannabis affects the voice really varies by the individual; a lot of singers just won’t inhale smoke of any kind, while others don’t seem to suffer any fatigue or negative effect on their singing whatsoever,” Mayes explained.

Tinctures are popular, too. While living in Colorado, Mayes and Marino grew cannabis and made tinctures. After recreational cannabis became available in the Centennial State, there was a shift in the attitude surrounding it in the opera house.

“As more singers began to use cannabis—and spoke freely about using it—administrators’ attitudes began to shift toward acceptance, and now acceptance has become almost ubiquitous among admins—especially in legal states,” Mayes said. “They’re the ones who do the hiring and the firing, so this was a welcome development for those of us who partake.”

Mayes also cleared the air around his own consumption.

“I’m never high before or during a performance when I’m singing opera … just too many moving parts and things that could go wrong,” Mayes explained. “But when we’re playing with our bluegrass/Americana band, that’s a different story…”

Cannabis Smoke & the Voice: What Does Science Say?

So, we’ve heard how opera singers feel about cannabis consumption. But data-backed insights are essential to pair with anecdotal evidence, especially in the cannabis industry.

Research published in The Journal of Voice and reported on in PsyPost highlights how smoking cannabis affects the voice.

“Marijuana use has been common among rock and popular singers for decades, but it also occurs among other professional voice users including classical singers, teachers, politicians, clergy and many others,” study author Robert T. Sataloff, a professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University, explained.

“Until very recently, it was not possible to study the effects of marijuana on voice prospectively because the substance was illegal. It still is in many states. Nevertheless, anecdotally laryngologists have seen adverse effects from marijuana,” Sataloff added.

The researchers surveyed 42 adult patients from Sataloff’s clinical voice center. Around 77% of the study’s participants reported that they’d tried cannabis during their lifetime.

Those who’d tried it reported on their beliefs about perceived changes to their voices that resulted from cannabis consumption. Around 42% of the cannabis users believed that smoking cannabis immediately altered their voice, and 29% reported that they think their consumption had a long-term impact, including vocal weakness and hoarseness.

“Smoking marijuana can cause voice dysfunction. For high-level voice users such as opera singers, intoxication or alteration in cognitive function from any cause can alter fine motor control and result in voice injury. This is true of marijuana, as it is of alcohol,” Sataloff told PsyPost.

One other study published in 1980 showcased how cannabis use can affect the voice. This research offers some evidence highlighting the darkened vocal folds of cannabis smokers. However, researchers still must conduct other studies to learn how cannabis impacts the voice.

The opera community has spoken. And it makes sense that the opera house is becoming more cannabis-friendly, especially with legality budding in states throughout the country.

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