May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; an opportunity to reflect on the connection between cannabis and Asian culture that spans thousands of years and different continents, from ancient times up to the present day. Asian Americans for Cannabis Education intends to remind you of this fact early and often.
Known as “ma” in Chinese, cannabis has been cultivated on the continent for centuries. Fossil records and genetic studies indicate that the cannabis plant has a long history on the continent. Ancient Chinese texts, such as the Pen Ts’ao Ching (Classic of Herbal Medicine), dating back over two thousand years, mention cannabis as a plant with various applications, including medicinal uses and textile production.
Ancient archaeological sites in Central Asia have revealed cannabis residues and artifacts, evidence of cannabis’ presence on the continent thousands of years ago. One notable archaeological site is the Yanghai Tombs, situated in the Tarim Basin of present-day Xinjiang, China. Excavations at the site revealed well-preserved burial remains dating back some 2,500 years. Among the findings were cannabis plants and seeds, suggesting their cultivation and use during that time.
Another significant discovery occurred in the Jirzankal Cemetery in western China’s Pamir Mountains. Researchers excavating the tombs discovered braziers containing cannabis residue with exceptionally high levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This finding suggests the intentional use of cannabis for its mind-altering properties, making it some of the earliest concrete evidence of cannabis as a drug in human history.
Ophelia Chong, Making Moves
The Asian American cannabis community has played a key part in moving the sector forward with their contributions to tech, design, development and social equality. And there’s no one more respected, revered and unrivalled than Ophelia Chong. The award-winning creative dynamo has helped shape the industry’s visual identity, changing misconceptions and stereotypes associated with cannabis and its users along the way. Chong is a US Cannabis Council (USCC) board member, Cannabis Media Council advisor, Emerald Cup judge, founder of StockPot images and the person to ask if you need an expert’s insight.
Chong’s passion for cannabis extends far beyond business and deep into the fabric of culture and social equity. She has consistently advocated for growing cannabis at home and her website askophelia.com is a hub for those seeking information on navigating “through the fields of cannabis and the forests of mushrooms.”
In 2015, Chong co-founded Asian American Cannabis Education (AACE), a non-profit organization that connects and empowers Asian communities by providing educational support and resources on various cannabis-related matters, including issues, news and policies. Through their initiatives and events, AACE actively promotes awareness and understanding to help break lingering stigmas surrounding cannabis, as well as highlighting the achievements of those within the Asian American cannabis community. AACE holds regular events for its members that, according to Chong, Angela Pih, Head of Marketing at StakeHouse Holdings, named ‘Pot Luck.’ “We had the first one in August 2021, two more in 2022 and one this past February for Chinese New Year’s that Ispire sponsored.”
The Problem With Prohibition
Chong says her reason for co-creating Asian American Cannabis Education stemmed from her entry into cannabis back in 2015. “I found that when I entered the cannabis industry, there was no space for me, so I needed to create space for me and people who are like me,” she says. One of Chong’s first surprises with AACE was the discovery that she wasn’t alone. “I didn’t realize there were so many of us,” she says [laughs]. However, she says, it was also hard to find people who were open to freely talking about cannabis and their involvement with it. The stigma associated with cannabis nearly a decade ago was strong—even in Los Angeles—and Chong faced an uphill battle. This was pre-Prop 16, meaning only medical marijuana was legal in California.
“At first, it was very muffled, Chong says. “A lot of people were very cautious about going in. Minorities that were extremely cautious to begin with were now super cautious. And if they were in cannabis, they weren’t talking about it, which is why I created this club to get the ones who were willing to talk about it.”
Throughout Chinese history, cannabis has unsurprisingly held both positive and negative associations. While valued for its practical applications and medicinal properties, cannabis also faced periods of regulation and prohibition. Chong says that part of the challenge with AACE was trying to undo the damage caused by prohibition to a generation of people that began with indoctrination of anti-cannabis propaganda when, in 1985, the People’s Republic of China became a member of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The United Nations had previously taken a stance on regulating psychoactive drugs in 1971, classifying cannabis as a narcotic drug and prohibiting its possession or use in traditional Chinese medicine.
“On that list were psilocybin and cannabis—two of the very top plants in our medicine cabinet that traditional Chinese medicine could suddenly never touch again. For some 5000 years, we were using hemp and all this stuff. Well, no more; it’s now illegal. Overnight, a vital part of their culture was stripped away. They—the children of the 1960s—were indoctrinated into the irrational and unfounded fear of cannabis and they, in turn, passed the fear on to their children. When they immigrated to the US, the anti-cannabis messaging and D.A.R.E. all that stuff became part of ‘stay within your own guardrails, don’t go outside the lines’. This all built up the hesitancy of people wanting to be on AACE because of their parents. ‘How can I tell my parents?’ Now, I get people saying, ‘I want to be on AACE’.” Chong puts it down to Confucius’s philosophy of “education, respect for elders, and following the rule of law. It’s ingrained in our DNA,” she says.
The Cast of Friends
Chong says that the greatest thing she’s gained from Asian American Cannabis Education is realizing the lifelong friendships she’s made with people within the cannabis industry. “I’ve been in many industries from film, photography, music and publishing,” she says. “What surprised me is the depth of my friendships in cannabis—not just through AACE, but just how many people I’ve met, that I’ve probably bonded tighter with than we would have in other industries.”
Another thing she’s learned from AACE is a better understanding of what drives people’s passions and how they find these passions. “Yes, the main subject is cannabis, but it’s also taking that risk to be that passionate, and also taking the financial risk of going into cannabis with all the restrictions on it,” Chong says. “You basically can’t make money right now; you just have to be in it for the long run and lose a lot of money to stay in it. Which is very hard if you’re a small brand.”
Chong says that she sees her role in the Asian American cannabis community as a mentor, a mother, a grandmother figure. “I keep checking in on people to make sure they’re OK,” she says. “Right now, we need to do that because everyone is so tenuous; everyone’s job is on a thread. Everyone’s brand is hanging by a thread. And what you need to do is check-in and make sure everyone’s OK.”
While the current play of California’s cannabis industry remains challenging, to say the least, Chong does see some. “What I see in the future for Asians and cannabis is to just keep working relentlessly and continue to innovate and think out of the proverbial box.”
On May 13, 2023, the 19th instalment of the Emerald Cup Awards brought together the absolute best California has to offer. Held at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA, the 45,000-square-foot venue was filled with some of the industry’s top players and the state’s best cannabis cultivators and manufacturers. The event was a welcome reprieve from the recent issues faced by California’s cannabis industry. There was a lot of love in the air: for the plant, for the community and for those tireless advocates.
Considered by some to be the “Academy Awards of Cannabis,” Tim Blake, the founder of the Emerald Cup, called the 2023 ceremony “the most inspiring yet.”
“The Craneway was the perfect venue for our Emerald Cup Awards ceremony,” Blake said. “Mother Nature blessed us with perfect weather and our community came out in force to celebrate the best of the best and to party the night away on the Bay.”
Official sponsors of the event included legacy brands Mendocino Grasslands and Guild Extracts (their luxury yacht served as the VIP area for the event). Guests on the yacht enjoyed infused beverages provided by Pabst Labs and St. Ides, flower by Elite Eighth and dabs aplenty.
The Emerald Cup Awards honor more than just California’s best products; they also honor some of the industry’s most influential figures. This year’s honorees included Mila Jansen, winner of the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award; Amber E. Senter, winner of the Visionary Award for Advocates and Entrepreneurs; Weldon Angelos, winner of the Social Justice Award honoring freedom fighters; Alex Aquino, winner of the Trailblazer Award and renowned breeder Soma was inducted into the Breeders Hall of Fame.
As one of the pioneers of the social equity movement in the Bay Area and with more than two decades of experience in just about every aspect of the cannabis industry, Amber E. Senter is the definition of a visionary. She’s one of the founding members of Supernova Women as well as founder and CEO of Makr House, a producer of infused cannabis goods and distribution service. Senter’s work with the city of Oakland to establish the first social equity program in the US opened doors for those adversely impacted by the War on Drugs to be a part of this industry, something most thought would never happen.
“I accept this award on behalf of my community,” Senter said. “My community has really done the impossible. Everybody in here is a visionary.”
Aquino has been making an impact on the community in the Bay Area since the late 1980s. In 2007, Aquino took over planning Hippie Hill’s 420 Celebration, which has turned into much more than just a sesh in the park. “There are so many people that do the heavy lifting being the scenes, especially in this industry,” Mario Sherbinski said as he presented Aquino with his Trailblazer Award. “Alex is just one of those people.” Aquino has been involved with the production of Bay Area hip-hop festivals that most SF natives have fond memories of, including Rock the Bells and Hiero Day.
“I want to talk about inspiration because there’s so many of you guys,” Aquino said, addressing the cultivators in the crowd. “You inspire me; you inspire the world. Northern California is the most influential market in this industry and it’s because of you guys.”
The Emerald Cup Awards is renowned for showcasing only the very best cannabis products and this year’s entries were no exception. “It was invigorating to see the better-than-ever quality of the entries, to have our community come together to celebrate our mutual survival,” Blake said.
Taking home first place in the Solventless Concentrate category was Whitethorn Rose Live Bubble Hash, a collab between Frenchy Cannoli’s former apprentice Cherry Blossom Belle of Heritage Hash Co and Huckleberry Hill Farms. Belle paid homage to her Sensi, finishing her acceptance speech with a poignant, “For Frenchy!”
Other winners included Wendy Baker taking home first place for Best Alternative Cannabinoid Edible with the CBN Sleepy Fig Mind Expanding Belt and first place for Best Edible Gummy with the Sour Space Drops, her first-ever Emerald Cup win.
Pure Beauty’s Terry T X Gelato won first place for Best Alternative Cannabinoid Flower as well as the choice for Breeder’s Cup in the same category. Fig Farm’s Blue Face took home first place for Best Indoor Flower, the Breeder’s Cup choice and Best In Show—the first indoor flower to claim this prize. Fig Farms was the big winner of the night with nine awards.
SC Labs helped produce a new series of awards highlighting the highest and most unique terpene profiles. Nevada City, CA equity cultivators Sanctuary Farms took home Highest Terpene Flower with Blunicorn, which totaled an impressive 4.87% terpenes.
“The most important thing about this is the plant and remembering how beautiful the plant is, and bringing it back to genetic, the land and the farmer,” Cherry Blossom Belle of Heritage Hash Co said. “Let’s not forget about the beauty of this plant.”
Some of you may remember an ‘80s joke: “Anyone who says they can remember the ‘60s wasn’t there.” I was never so sure about that, because we always talked about “acid flashbacks.” And for sure, my most vivid memories of that time are from the acid trips I took and from when I was super stoned on pot—the everyday psychedelic—which was most of the time.
I was born in the right place at the right time. Granted I was only 12 in 1967, but I was already fascinated by the hippie influx into San Francisco, my hometown. I wrote in my journal at the time about how it was a conscious decision: Would I become a nun or a hippie? Catholic school had instilled in me a spiritual nature. However, when I smoked my first joint at 14 years old in 1969, within a week it was clear: The hippie path won.
Two weeks later, I was buying weed in bulk Mexican blocks and selling it in “lids”—old-fashioned, roll-over plastic sandwich bags with approximately an ounce of weed. Much of the weight was seeds and stems, and I sold them for $10- $12 each. Mostly, I did this to get my own weed for free and to have enough to share. While William (now Swami) was driving around offering joints to hitchhikers, I was a hitchhiker offering joints to those who picked me up—and it often turned into a full day’s adventure.
I almost feel guilty describing the old days, when the pill was a new invention which afforded incredible liberties; when acid was given away at wild, free concerts in Golden Gate Park every weekend; and when huge Victorian flats were populated by lively hippie communes. It was a time of freedom of expression, a time to question authority. And of course, a time to smoke a whole lot of weed.
Before Swami Met Nikki
I [Swami] smoked my first joint on the second floor of a house on Dayton Street, in the student ghetto at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in the spring of 1967, listening to “Mysterious Mountain” by Alan Hovhaness. During that Summer of Love, I drove to San Francisco in a 1965 blue Volkswagen 1300 with three friends. We all stayed in a house two blocks from Haight Street and the first thing we did was smoke a joint on Hippie Hill. We’re still friends to this day.
At the end of that infamous summer, we literally tripped down to Big Sur before driving back to Madison for a final year in grad school. I switched from European History to the Art Department. The University was surging with political protests against the Vietnam War, and I was arrested for protesting on Election Day. Strangely enough, the arrest came up 50 years later when I applied for a cannabis cultivation license in California. I had to submit fingerprints to the state and county, and the subsequent FBI search discovered the bust. In the end, the state license people had a good laugh about it.
I started doing light shows, photography and making films at Madison before I dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco the following summer, in 1968. Then, in 1969, I got a job at KQED in the Special Projects Film Department, but after working on films about Fidel Castro, Merce Cunningham Dance Troupe and Krishnamurti, I dropped out again to focus on art and photography.
Our tribe had a light show in late ’68-’69 called LSD (Light Sound Dimension). We were like a mini commune and shared a house while we did light show gigs. We also functioned as a “Holding Company” for some dealers on the other side of town, which means they left their weed with us for safekeeping. We warehoused up to thirty kilos of Mexican weed at a time. Because the light show had 18 slide projectors in boxes and numerous slide tray boxes, we could load and unload bricks of Mexican in and out of the house without arousing suspicion. At least that’s what we told ourselves.
We never made any money from holding it. We could roll up as many joints as we pleased, which soon got out of hand, so the arrangement didn’t last long. Each morning we’d get in the car and “trip around the city.” That meant driving over to North Beach for a morning cappuccino, then heading out to Big Beach, cruising through the Park, and then maybe bopping over the Golden Gate Bridge to hit a coffee house in Sausalito. All the while we were picking up hitchhikers and getting them stoned as we took them where they wanted to go.
For a brief while we had a studio on Haight Street, where I had a darkroom in the back. We installed the light show in what was left of the Straight Theater, on the corner of Haight and Cole. We performed the show at the Family Dog on the Great Highway and at Fillmore West during rock shows, as well as other groovy venues.
In 1970, a friend from college invited me to be a cameraman for a film called Sunseed that he was making about various spiritual teachers popular at the time with the hippie generation. It was to be the beginning of a long trip, taking us through Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, including encounters with many profound spiritual teachers. I returned in 1971, doing the overland journey from Europe to India, also known as “the hippie trail.”
It was in late1969 when I (Nikki) first met Swami. We were in Washington Square Park in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Swami was hanging with a group of decidedly cool, older hippies (in their mid-twenties). The guys all wore bell bottoms and beads and sported long hair, and the girls were so beautiful, bedecked in flowing Indian dresses with no bras and flowers in their hair.
I was a young flower child. My eyes were huge and my curiosity was at its peak. I became friends with the group who were all so kind to me, teaching me about their unusual lifestyle and which drugs to take, how to cast an astrology chart, and what the posters on their walls of mysterious Hindu gods and goddesses were all about. Catholic school had not prepared me for any of that!
It wasn’t until 1980, after Swami and I had both traveled separately overland to India on the hippie trail and lived in other parts of the globe, that we became a couple. In 1985, we got married in San Francisco City Hall on Valentine’s Day.
Times had changed significantly by then, and while we held onto our hippie ethics, I spent my days working at the San Francisco Chronicle while Swami continued with his art and also worked construction for extra income.
Of course, we were always slinging lids on the side and some coke and psychedelics too, but pot was always our mainstay. In the 80’s it was mostly cheap Mexican, although some tasty Thai and even some homegrown from Northern California was available when we were lucky.
Ex-Pats in India and Mendocino
By the end of the ‘80s, the time had come to drop out again. Enough of that straight stuff! Off we went to live in India for several years, exploring and photographing ancient temples and living in small villages, while naturally smoking lots of charras, as they call hashish there.
We spent summers in the Himalayas where cannabis grows like a weed. The seeds are used in cooking for protein, plus the sticky charras is produced. In the winters, we migrated south to the beaches of Goa to join the throngs of ex-pats and smugglers where we rented a large house. We partied and danced to trance music all night under the palm trees, living the “hippie raj” life to the max.
But by the end of 1996, I felt the urge to return to San Francisco. Swami felt called to retreat to the Himalayan cottage for study and meditation. Even after our parting, we remained the best of friends
Back in the City, the whole dealing world had changed significantly by then. No more cheap Mexican—everyone wanted $400 ounces of “the kind” from the Emerald Triangle. It seemed outrageous to me, coming from the land of $10 tolas (10-gram rolled sticks of charras) in India. But people wanted it, so I supplied it, scoring from my new friends up North.
It’s a long story, but that lead me to meeting Tim Blake, the founder of The Emerald Cup. Tim had a piece of funky land right on Hwy 101 where I could throw weekend psychedelic trance parties, like we did in Goa. This venue soon became known as the infamous AREA 101. Before long, I was living in Mendocino, helping Tim with his grows.
Planting Roots in the Emerald Triangle
William was ordained Swami Chaitanya in 1998 at the Kumbha Mela festival in India. His new vows of renunciation as a Swami included celibacy, eating restrictions, giving up earthly possessions and wearing one color. Although our love for one another persevered, those vows would change our relationship forever.
Around 2002, I paid him a visit in India. When we went to see our old spiritual teacher, Swami Chidananda, it became clear that it was time for Swami to move back to California. Swami Chidananda instructed him to “help Nikki” create my dream of a sanctuary in the hills of Northern California. And doing such didn’t mean Swami had to give up his spirituality or vows. In fact, Chidananda encouraged him to pass on the teachings to even more people as an American Swami.
Swami and I were ready to build a future together, while also remaining true to our own authentic selves. It was a beautiful, exciting next step.
Within two months of returning, we discovered our beautiful ranch in the hills of Mendocino, and we began the largest creative project of our lives: being stewards of a sacred piece of land. Along with installing giant stone statues weighing a ton each and building temples and sacred geometry structures, by 2004 we had our first cannabis garden growing on the land.
It’s been a long, strange journey indeed. Here we are, now legal in a business that was illicit for generations. It’s a challenge, after so many years of being the outlaws. We miss connecting directly with our customers—seeing their faces and shooting the shit. We miss enjoying those lazy summer afternoons after hours of working in the garden all day. Now, instead of heading for the hammock or a shady tree, I’m at my desk, working on permits and bills. We miss the luxury of enjoying free time.
But, it’s worth it to get the best medicine in the world out to deserving customers and patients. Meanwhile, we continue to maintain our hippie ethos, and who knows—we may just drop out again soon!
The time for reckoning has come. The challenges have become huge in the California cannabis market for the small craft farmers, distributors and dispensaries. This current “extinction event” is the toughest one yet, and farmers and companies are dropping like flies. The prevailing question is: Who is actually making any money along this fragile supply chain? And it keeps going back to one place: the government.
The steep taxes imposed on all segments of the chain are wiping companies out, while the state-reported revenue for the first quarter of 2022 at $294.5 million, including $152 million in cannabis excise tax, $36.3 million in cultivation tax and $106.2 million in sales tax. Granted, the farmers are no longer being charged cultivation tax for the time being, yet dispensaries are using that as an excuse to pay the farmers less for their wholesale flowers. Everyone is hurting.
The Real Cost of Cultivation in California
The stories circulating among the Emerald Triangle are frightening. Too many brands are either still sitting on pounds of flowers they never could sell last year, or they ended up selling for as low as $50 per pound wholesale to distributors and dispensaries. The primary beneficiaries of this dilemma are the compassion programs, as literally tons have been donated to veteran, prisoner and patient causes across the state of California. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom—we’ve heard some farmers selling branded wholesale flowers for as low as $3-$5 per 1/8th which is simply not sustainable.
Meanwhile, big corporate grows in other parts of California crank out thousands of pounds of mediocre greenhouse-grown cannabis which they can easily sell for very low prices to struggling dispensaries anxious to feature inexpensive products on their shelves. These mega growers also have access to their own professional teams, which include many accountants and compliance experts. But on a small craft farm, it’s just us—the farmers—doing most of that work.
Here at Swami Select in Mendocino County, we finally bit the bullet a few months ago and figured out what it costs for us to put our flowers into jars and get them to market. The harsh reality is that we lose approximately $4 per 1/8th jar—no, that’s not a profitable way to run a business.
Some Craft Cannabis Farmers Take a Hands-On Approach
I’ll get to our solutions later in this story, but first, let me share what other farmers are considering as ways to cope in these uncertain times. The common thread that ran through all their comments was this: fewer employees.
Jacob Carlson, founder of Revive chocolate and hashish brand in Nevada City, says he must get his “boots on the streets and do it all myself.” Jacob feels strongly that it’s about establishing relationships with store owners and going there in person, not sending sales representatives.
“They have to understand that if we don’t survive, all they’ll have is Budweiser-type brands on their shelf,” Carlson says.
Chiah Rodrigues of Arcanna brand sungrown flowers in Mendocino County agrees.
“It’s just us—my husband Jamie does the breeding, nursery and cultivation while I do parts of cultivation, Metrc, licensing, marketing, sales accounting, packaging and more,” she says.
By wearing so many hats, can they survive?
“We’ve been living off savings to compensate for the cannabis we haven’t been able to sell, and we give a lot to compassion causes,” Rodrigues says. “The lowest we sold at last year was $50/lb and the best price we got for wholesale bulk was $400/lb. I hung on too long and was stubborn, thinking that prices would go back up, but it didn’t happen.”
Chiah is working so hard and yet not paying herself—instead, she’s using funds to cover the price of jars, labels, pre-roll tubes and annual permits, among other business necessities. “We keep costs as low as possible, but we can’t cut them anymore,” she laments.
Look for New Opportunities
It was evident at the recent December 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball that far fewer craft farmers were in attendance, either with booths featuring their brands or as general ticket holders. In response, Producer Tim Blake generously set up a lottery and donated 10 booth spaces to winning small (under 10,000-square-foot canopy) farms from various legacy counties and another eight at discounted prices. This ensured that craft farmers were represented and showed support for organizations such as the Origins Council and other people fighting for direct sales.
“We need as many farmer markets and events as possible to provide access,” Blake said. “While it is sad to see so many brands go down as we lose the majority of them, the truth is that the ones who hold on will do much better [in the] next year or two because there won’t be much competition.”
Sad, but true. So, how does a struggling small farmer or small cannabis business hold on?
Nat Pennington and his team at Humboldt Seed Company are thinking outside the box by introducing Scratch-N-Sniff packaging. Each bag of flowers features a small circle you scratch to smell the actual terpenes extracted from the same batch of cannabis contained in the package. That style of innovative thinking is what Monica Laughter, co-founder of the House of Harlequin in Nevada County who also worked for 20 years in financial tech, claims is the key to success. “The only way to survive in the current cannabis market is to be a disrupter—identify where the market isn’t working and create solutions by changing biz models,” she wisely recommends.
Joyce Cenali, Chief Operating Officer at Sonoma Hills Farm, feels that “Retailers need to welcome more sungrown onto their shelves and educate to appeal to conscious consumerism. More and more, people want to know where their product comes from.”
Cenali says price integrity is imperative. “Rather than always responding to ‘market driven’ prices which are driven by the excess supply from less quality leaning inputs, the very first consideration in measuring margin associations in the go-to-market analysis should be: Pay a fair price for my inputs to ensure that California’s unique atmosphere continues.”
While the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) recently adopted a consolidated regulatory package that promises to simplify regulations on small farms, it remains a struggle. At Swami Select, we agree with Laughter’s “disrupter” theory. As we watch our fellow farmers quit, sell properties and move away while prices continue to drop and dispensaries and distros don’t pay the farmers. It is a sorry scenario indeed. We’ve decided to buck the trend of lowering prices just to make a sale and instead raise consciousness about the value of our craft cannabis, which should cost more because it’s the purest you can find. We no longer can lose money on every sale, and so we have chosen to raise our wholesale prices to a level where we can at least break even.
We have faith that the cannoisseurs out there will always want “The Best” and be willing to pay more for it. To that end, we’re partnering up with stores that respect and understand that. Our goal is to educate the consumers, explain the value of our certifications (Clean Green, DEM Pure and soon OCal) and encourage consumers to purchase from bona fide dispensaries to ensure purity and quality rather than from their “guy down the street” on the traditional market. We’ve also launched Club Swami, a direct home delivery service for members who not only want top-shelf flowers but also want to be part of a burgeoning community of like-minded stoners.
Time to Take Action
So, what are the key takeaway suggestions for small cannabis businesses to survive? We need fewer employees, farmers markets, direct sales, education, certifications and honest pricing. We need a call to action about what consumers can do to help, starting with purchasing their cannabis products from reputable stores to ensure quality and purity. Contact your local and state government agencies and politicians and beg them to lower the taxes, especially at the consumer level.
2023 will be the make-it-or-break-it year for many craft cannabis farmers and businesses. As Joyce Denali stated, “If the legacy of California fails, the biggest companies in California fail. And then our industry nationwide fails in providing consumer’s optimal choice and quality.”
Whether it’s for orchids, berries, or bananas, plant tissue culture has been widely used in agriculture for nearly 40 years to produce uniform and disease-free stock. But when it comes to cannabis, this technology has only emerged within the last few years as scientists working with weed cracked the code of what the plant wants to reproduce successfully at a small scale. Joining in the fight against one of pot’s primary foes, hop latent viroid disease, cannabis tissue culture is a new path forward towards preserving the genetics of one of the most diverse botanicals on the planet. And, while cultivators have been able to get their hands on tissue culture-grown cuts for about eight years, tissue culture clones were made available to the public for the first time through Node Labs at the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball held in December 2022.
“Cannabis is a very tissue culture resistant plant. There are certain plants that are that way,” says Lauren Avenuis, CEO of Node Labs, explaining why it took so long for the technology to become viable for cannabis. “So, like avocados, grape vines, they just don’t like to go into micropropagation. They don’t like that kind of replication. And since cannabis is an annual plant, it likes to grow from a seed, flower, and die.”
The scientists working with Node, a small lab located within an unassuming red barn in rural Petaluma, California, spent years studying tissue culture before discovering the methodology that made stem cell technology for cannabis work. Now that they have, their facility houses an impressive bank of cannabis genetics. It causes a few snickers when I say it aloud, but being inside a room filled with shelves devoted to tissue culture clones, each in their own container, reminds me of being in a pet store aquarium. All the plants are growing within a clear jelly-like substance derived from seaweed called agar, allowing their whole root structure to be seen. They are tiny terrariums that hold the story of pot’s past, present, and future.
Chief Science Officer Chris Leavitt walks me through the procedures at Node by explaining that plants, unlike humans, do not have an awareness of their entire body.
“[Plants] are a colony of cells that are attached to each other,” Leavitt says. “So if a stem is receiving all the like sap that it would be getting normally in the agar, it doesn’t even know that it’s not still attached to the plant. You can grow plant parts in tissue culture in a way you cannot grow outside. You can grow a dissection of just a leaf or just a stem… you can really break the rules of typical plant growing by having it in that setting.”
My tour at Node starts in the pre-fab clean room where the media, the agar, is mixed within an autoclave, a device designed for sterilization. This room is also where the other tools used for the tissue culture process, such as scissors and jars, are sterilized. I put on a second set of surgical booties before heading into the growth chamber and transfer room, where I watch the hot agar being dispensed into the same clear plastic containers I see in the bulk food section of my local grocery store. Within this room, the air quality is at ISO 8, a measure that contains a thousand specks of dust within a cubic yard that is also used in electronic and medical manufacturing. All the sterilization and air cleanliness ensure no contamination enters the lab.
“One of the things that we do here is we clean plants,” says Luis Mautner, Node’s director of propagation. “Cleaning plants is a process by which you take a plant from the outside world and you run it through a process that we developed here. We select the plants that do not have any issues associated with them like pathogenic bacteria, fungi, fusarium being one of the ones that affects the cannabis industry very much. Also, we index for HLVd, which is hop latent viroid.”
Mautner started working with cannabis after a career in tissue culture that included work with the berry company Driscoll’s and tropical ornamental plants such as peace lilies. He says the clear media is used because it’s diagnostic and shows when things should not be growing on the plant.
Next, we enter another room where shelves store cannabis plants in various stages of growth. There are also shelves containing some other plants Node is testing for research, including wine grapes and the cutest tiny Tempranillo.
To start work with Node, clients provide 10 clone stems from a cannabis plant to form what Mautner calls a bouquet. The clones are broken down to the cellular level because cannabis has a strong affinity for endogenous contaminants within its stem, Leavitt explains. The scientists at Node cut the clones down to one part, the meristem, a type of tissue in plants that houses stem cells, or cells from which all other types of cells develop.
“What we’ve found is when you have the meristem dissection, you can avoid that,” Leavitt says.
“What you’re basically doing is taking [the cannabis clones] down to essentially the stem cells of the plant,” Avenius adds. “So you’re eliminating all of the epigenetic, all of the genetic toggles related to stress or environment. You’re getting [the plant] down to its pure expression, its genetics, and then also removing essentially all the vascular tissue. So you’re just getting a brand new pure example and sample of that cannabis plant that we can now grow into tissue culture free of any other influences and then see its pure genetic expression.”
When cut down to the meristem, the clones are only about half a millimeter to a millimeter in size. Once the plants grow bigger and start looking like cannabis plants instead of little blobs, they are tested for HLVd. HLVd is a widespread pathogen in cannabis clones that causes growth stunting and reduces the plant’s ability to produce trichomes. Leavitt explains that HLVd is like skin cancer in that it can affect one part of the plant, but not another. This is another reason tissue culture has been such a valuable tool in combating the virus because it reduces a plant to its most basic elements.
After the plants have passed the extensive screening process, they are grown to about 3 to 4 inches and are used to fill the bank, the system in which Node keeps cannabis genetics within a genetic library.
“These two refrigerators play a huge role in the large genetics cannabis market,” Avenius says as I eye Node’s genetic bank, containing work from cannabis breeders like Sherbinski and Masonic as well as companies like Cannarado, Connected, and smaller growers like Sonoma Hills Farm, which banked its Pink Jesus.
The seed bank aspect of the company ties into the beginnings of Node Labs. Node was founded in 2018 after Felipe Recalde, CEO of Compound Genetics and Node co-founder, lost his genetic library of cannabis cultivars and his home in the Tubbs Fire, the most destructive wildfire in California’s history that tore through Santa Rosa in 2017. Recognizing everyone around him had also lost their mom stock, Recalde saw tissue culture as the future for genetic preservation. He’d been experimenting with faulty kits for tissue culture since 2010. Still, it wasn’t until he partnered with Leavitt, who had been working on using tissue culture to preserve endangered species, that he saw that tissue culture could be viable for cannabis. Nowadays, genetics are stored within the lab and at a place offsite to serve as an additional backup against a disaster like a fire.
Some of the work Node does is private client services of storing the genetics, but some companies like Connected Cannabis Co. also have certified genetics available for licensing. The consistency of the tissue culture clones one receives from Node Labs ensures that brands that operate in many states, like one of the lab’s partners Khalifa Kush backed by rapper Wiz Khalifa, can provide standardized, consistent flowers across the country. Node’s primary partnership with Compound Genetics allows the lab to grow clones to flower for clients to test. The minds at Compound Genetics grow plants from seed in their San Francisco facility and phenohunt to provide the best clone selections for their clients. The process at Node gives the genetics an authentication that does not occur if someone obtains a clone cut from a friend.
The future of the tissue culture industry is not in creating a million plants to order, but instead holding genetics and delivering mother plants that growers can multiply through traditional propagation, Leavitt says.
“The main functionary of [tissue culture] here is not in micropropagation. It’s not to get you 50,000 plants in one go,” Leavitt explains of the difference in tissue culture techniques in cannabis versus traditional agriculture. “It’s germplasm storage, which is the fancy term in the agriculture issue of holding genetics, genetic banking.”
Another indication of the future of cannabis propagation occurring at Node Labs is the process of in vitro phenohunts or growing seeds within the agar jelly within test tubes. Node takes a tissue culture from small plantlets the seeds produce and grows those plants out, saving time for cultivators because if they like the results, the tissue culture already exists.
“It allows us to save a lot of time, but it also means that when we pop that seed and then we take that clone and put it out, we already have some of the advantages of tissue culture the first time we grow,” Avenuis says. “As an immature plant, it hasn’t been exposed to any viruses or pathogens. And then it has some of the unique morphology that you get from tissue culture plants. They tend to have higher vigor, higher yields, better stem strength. So you’re already seeing a better-performing plant from the very beginning.”
Leavitt points out an example within the lab, Gastro Pop #5, a cross of Apples & Bananas and Grape Gas which was developed in-house via an in vitro phenohunt.
“That Gastro Pop #5 over there, the plants in this lab have never seen microbial fungus and bacteria in their entire life,” Leavitt says.
If someone finds an outstanding cultivar they are in love with, a six-month process to get a tissue culture clone could stunt the excitement, he explains.
“With that process, in vitro, we could have the excitement of smoking the joint and going ‘This is the one’ and going, ‘Cool, it’s here at the lab’ at the same time,” he says.
An in vitro phenohunt is how Sherbinski and Compound created Tribute, a cross of Gelato #41 and Apples & Bananas. Look out for future collaborations between Compound Genetics and Tiki Madman and Compound Genetics and Green House Seed Company.
At the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball held in December 2022, Compound was able to offer “bare pulse” tissue culture clones of their newest offerings. These came without the agar jelly because the clones are more transportable that way. The bare pulse part comes from the fact that they are bare root or stored without soil around the roots. The bare pulse clones can be planted in a chosen medium and become a mother plant to power a grow with consistent genetics.
“We love this as the next gen of clones,” Avenuis says.
The whole process of tissue culture clones is an exciting new frontier for cannabis, one which I was able to experience firsthand when Recalde gifted me a tissue culture clone at a social gathering. I took the test tube, filled with a clone held in suspense within what I’ve since learned is agar, home and grew it out into a plant. At the time, I didn’t know that tiny plant contained within a test tube had the mighty makings to power a brand.
Read more about Node Labs in the upcoming Science & Technology issue of High Times Magazine.
By Benjamin M. Adams, Jimi Devine, Ellen Holland, and Ashley Kern
Brand-building is big business, particularly in cannabis where customer loyalty reigns supreme when it comes to success. Whether it was in making new types of cannabis, growing quality flowers, or crafting terpy and potent concentrates and delicious edibles, here are our picks of some of the brands that defined 2022.
Compound Genetics went into 2022 riding on a high and just kept on sailing along. Massive seed drops and a variety of people taking home trophies all over North America with their gear are seemingly commonplace for them at this point, but it’s still impressive.
We’ve had a front-row seat to their breeding efforts since the move to San Francisco a few years ago and then the eventual partnership with Node Labs where they phenohunt and stress test the new gear to make sure it’s commercially viable. From that work we’ve seen names like Jokerz, Red Bullz, and Pave explode onto the scene.
“2022 has been a year of adapting to my surroundings, opportunities, and adversities,” founder Chris Lynch says. “High levels of success bring new challenges that constantly test your ability to perform and stay consistent. I’m grateful for where I am in this industry and what I’ve achieved with Compound Genetics. Being in my position is something I take seriously, it’s a unique responsibility that’s driven by my passion for quality. I’m excited for the next chapters with this special plant and where they take me.”
Don’t expect anything to slow down in the near future. This year for The Emerald Cup Compound is releasing the Jokerz line. The pairing of Jet Fuel Gelato and White Runtz was one of the strains that Compound used to launch their flower line earlier this year. The community is thirsty for a new round of crosses from it.
It’s also fair to expect Compound’s international profile to continue to build. There are a few factors contributing to that including their collaboration efforts with Green House Seed Co. and their partnership with Paradise Seeds to facilitate European distribution.
As for what strains to keep an eye on, we saw a phenotype of Apples & Bananas x Pave that was batshit heat, but we’re sure you can expect a few more than that in 2023. -JD
As we mentioned in our strains of the year write-up, few have ever had a year similar to the one the Blueprint team had in 2022.
Even a couple months before they hit shelves in the summer of 2022, the hype was percolating hard. A lot of the biggest names in Sacramento, and hence elite cannabis in general, were saying to keep an eye out for what Blueprint had in store. They were not wrong.
The first drop featured names like P90 and Triple Lindy. They are still top of the food chain heat a year-and-a-half later as we noted in our favorite strains of 2022 where we highlighted the Triple Lindy.
One of the things that we got a kick out of about Blueprint was how close they’ve kept the cards to their chest when it comes to genetics. Most of the time lineage has a lot to do with what gets people excited. A lot of the hype we see in weed in general comes from the next generation of something with a known pedigree. Unlike these companies that push their genetics lines and work as the basis of their ethos, the fire behind Blueprint is pure heat. And the community figured that out quickly. Never will you hear anyone complaining because they don’t know the makeup of Blueprint’s genetics, they’re just happy they got to smoke it in the first place.
Blueprint sifts through roughly 140 new flavors every couple of months. We will continue to be wildly excited to try what they find and grow to some of the highest quality levels on the globe. We expect 2023 to see the same level of heat that won them the second edition of Zalympix and what a lot of people thought was the best flower at the industry mega show Hall of Flowers where they could be compared directly against the rest of the pack. -JD
Since its founding as a delivery service in the Prop 215 era between cannabis powerhouses San Francisco and Sacramento, the Backpack Boyz have had a complete dedication to the absolute flame.
“So what I was trying to do at the time, was I was trying to get all of the buds that everyone wanted to smoke but didn’t have access to,” Backpack Boyz founder Juan Quesada told High Times. “I wanted to get that all under one banner and kind of be that one guy that you can see and can get everything from. So, long story short, that was kind of really where it started.”
When he first got the ball rolling he had a lot of deep connections on the cultivation side, but a lot of the product he was moving was white label heat from Sacramento. Eventually, the people coming for that Sac heat started asking Quesada about the flavors he was curating more locally. It was a big confidence booster for him.
Most famously, he would pop Lemon Cherry Gelato from bag seed in 2017. (We go into the full tale in our strains of the year section.) This would catapult the Backpack Boyz into California’s elite. They would eventually open their first retail location in early 2021. Two more would follow by the end of the year.
The brand has done particularly well in making inroads in Southern California after its initial founding up north. Quesada says having the heat helped but he gave his SoCal partners a lot of credit for helping him handle all the local hurdles that came with expanding the company’s footprint across the state.
In 2023, you can definitely expect the Backpack Boyz to keep stocking all the most elite cannabis in the state while continuing to curate a few exceptional flavors of their own. -JD
The third and youngest son of L.A.’s favorite weed family (his older brother Serge is behind Cookies Maywood and his other older brother Aram is behind Gas No Breaks) saw one of the most epic 2022s of just about anyone and his new cultivation facility didn’t even open until the end of the year.
Helping backbone the big year was the rise of the hash hole, arguably the most exotic pre-roll currently available in California. Fidel first encountered the hash hole in Barcelona years ago at Spannabis. The locals would roll up an eighth with some rosin in it to celebrate the weed making it from California—or just to flex.
Back then, Fidel was already growing heat. After spending six years in Beirut from age 12 to 18, he returned to Los Angeles where he spent many years working in a hydro shop. Those years at the grow shop was where he dialed in his game and earned the name Fidel Hydro.
On a trip back to visit friends and family in Lebanon, one of his friends designed the now well-known logo. After that, the race was on. Things have gone so well with his brand that he’s even got his parents in on the act these days. He bought a printer for their house where they do quality control on all his packaging.
Earlier this year at Spannabis, he hosted one of the event’s most popping parties, the Hash Holes and Donuts event at Cookies Barcelona. Later in the summer, Fidel’s would take home top honors at The Transbay Challenge IV: Hollywood with his pairing of Kush Mints and Zkittlez.
And we can’t emphasize enough that all this happened before his facility was even open. Expect to see Fidel’s flower on even more dispensary shelves across California soon. Until that day, you can still get your hands on hash holes—if you see them on a menu, pull the trigger quickly. They don’t last long since they’re worth big money outside the state, they are one of the few packaged products there is true value in moving compared to bulk flowers in big quantities. -JD
The name 710 Labs is synonymous with small batch quality with myopic attention to detail. Every good concentrate must begin with a good strain, and the company’s cultivation operations are steadily growing. 710 Labs attributes that growth to their commitment to integrity in the cultivation process.
“We’ve had a lot of growth in the past year, which wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t stay true to what got us here: quality focused small batches with a wide variety of flavors,” says Richard Sciascia, vice president of cultivation.
Even though 710 Labs has expanded from its homebase in Colorado to California, they still adopt the same principles they’ve observed since the beginning when they launched as a much smaller operation a decade ago. Part of that is allowing the unique and individual traits of cultivars to shine. That can’t happen when producers pump out mass amounts of a single strain.
“We aren’t monocropping rooms with one genetic, we flower rooms with one cultivar per bench,” Sciascia says. “Other companies—a fraction of our size—are growing batches many times larger with one genetic. That doesn’t excite us.”
Some of that quality is lost when companies bank on strain yields alone, or other aspects that don’t necessarily benefit the consumer.
“We love this plant and all her expressions, and want to see cultivar diversity in our offerings to the consumer,” Sciascia says. “Palate is subjective, and if we limited ourselves to the 10 hottest strains of the year, we’d be doing a disservice to the connoisseur and casual smoker alike.”
710 Labs houses a genetic library that varies between 150-200 unique cultivars, rotating between old, new, experimental, and the tried-and-true. Some classics associated with 710 Labs—Ghost Hulk #25, Black Mamba #6, and Randy Watzon—are grown regularly, sometimes shelved for six months, and others are discarded quickly to make way for new additions. Over 80% of their library has been selected by the 710 Labs team from seed. Pheno hunting is part of the agenda and selections depend on whether the end result is hash or dried flower.
Currently the focus at 710 Labs is finding rare terp combos in newer cultivars.
“The never ending terp quest is what excites us, and we hope you feel the same,” Sciascia says.
Beyond flower, 710 Labs live resin pens passed the bar among highly critical vape reviewers. Their solventless water hash, rosin, and rosin sap are no joke, as they begin with flavorful flowers. Persy sauce is also a squishy new addition to their concentrate lineup, as the trichomes are preserved in the first wash to maximize flavor. -BA
“Veritas” is Latin for “the truth,” and it’s all about transparency at this Colorado-based operation. The Veritas team is currently working with Node Labs to produce new genetics, and with that, they will be producing healthy clones set to be released to the public in early 2023.
Narrowing down those clones is a long, meticulous process, and incorporating the right technology is key in keeping things organized and avoiding losing track of special genetics.
“We take about 400 different cuts, and then those have been removed from the mom and manicured [and placed] into our cloners,” says Jordan Plunkett, marketing director of Veritas. “And from there, it takes about 14 days.”
Part of their operations incorporate equipment that is exactly what you’d expect, while other processes are unique to the company. Veritas plants flower in atmosphere-controlled environments under high pressure sodium lights. The crew then adds as many as 100 bamboo stakes to help spread out branches and maximize trichome development.
“We have bamboo stakes that we use in our plants,” Plunkett says. “This is something that we have not seen any other cultivators doing. The reason behind it is that we believe it gives more stability. And then they actually utilize these stakes to track where it’s at in the process. So this is a very unique kind of opportunity to really take care of our plants the right way. It’s definitely not an easy process; We don’t take the easy approach to this by any means, but we do believe that this will give us a better quality.”
Veritas recently released infused joints, containing 1 gram of Veritas flower and 0.25 grams of ice hash. In 2021, they also released a limited-edition half-ounce offering that resembled a drink holder you’d get from a fast food joint and contained a four-pack of eighths. Stay tuned for more unusual products that you won’t find anywhere else. -BA
Al Harrington’s Viola Brands, named after his grandmother who turned to medical cannabis to battle glaucoma, is a blueprint for success in the world of cannabis. You can tell by the company’s high-end promotions, packaging, and most of all—their consistent quality flower.
This isn’t by accident. No spur-of-the-moment decisions are made when it comes to narrowing down cultivars at Viola. The company’s cultivation team will grow new genetics several times over before deciding if it makes the cut.
“When bringing in new genetics, we grade each on bag appeal, yield, and testing both THC and terpenes,” says Tanner Steele, Viola’s vice president of operations. “Generally, we like to grow new genetics three to six times before releasing them to market. This ensures everything we produce thrives in our environments to provide a consistent customer experience.”
Both cultivation and processing take place at Viola’s original 12,000-square-foot facility in Colorado. The company has expanded well beyond the limits of Colorado, however. In Falls City, Oregon, Viola operates an 80,000-square-foot facility. In Detroit, Michigan, Viola operates a 46,000-square-foot cultivation facility as well as a provisioning center. In Detroit, 40 cultivars are rotated each year. The process begins with the seed.
“When we look to bring unique or different genetics to the market, we start with seeds,” Steele says. “Most Viola strains are a result of several rounds of pheno hunting to get the best genetics for our environment.”
Clone mothers are rotated and replaced on a regular basis. “When re-populating our flower rooms we clone from moms whose genetics have already been proven to provide yield, appeal, and testing for THC and terpenes,” Steele says. “We keep our moms alive for two to three months maximum before replacing them with a new mom from the genetic line.”
Beyond cannabis, the Viola Cares community engagement branch works to reinvest in struggling communities and promote social equity inside the cannabis industry. Last year, the company launched the Harrington Institute of Cannabis Education, with the help of the Cleveland School of Cannabis to provide an online curriculum designed to prepare students to work in the cannabis industry. Viola also launched an accelerator to help cannabis start-ups get a foot on the ground, and it has a very specific goal: to create 100 Black millionaires within the cannabis space. This is because they believe Black business owners face the most challenges in this industry. -BA
Pirate-themed Freddy’s Fuego, a Tier 3 producer/processor in Washington state, adopts a more interactive way of narrowing down the finest fire in the state from an assortment of breeders. Freddy’s annual pheno hunt called “The Hunt” is a spectacle, as the public judges new cultivar cuts on the Hunt Scorecard with questions about visual aspects, taste, aroma, and overall appeal. It’s almost like hunting for booty and gold.
“Freddy’s embodies the pirate archetype—the fearless soul of exploration and a loyalty to evolution as we navigate the uncharted waters of the industry,” says Freddy’s Fuego Marketing Director Blake Stango. “Always on ‘The Hunt’ to find the freshest and rarest genetics.”
Freddy’s Fuego was founded in 2013 by Ben Davis and Tim Haggerty. Since then, Freddy’s has won numerous awards including Best Indoor Grown Hybrid Flower for a fire batch of LA Cookies at Dope Cup Washington in 2018 and three awards in one year at the 2019 High Times Cannabis Cup Seattle for Larry Cake flower and pre-rolls, as well as Guava Jelly, named after a sensual Bob Marley song.
“This year in August, we popped 520 different seeds from about 10 to 15 different breeders—40 different strains,” Freddy’s Fuego Director of Cultivation Roger Hale says of the event that generates a fair amount of excitement in the Northwest region.
“Our process for running through the pheno hunt is we pop all those seeds out of the rockwool, grow them for X amount of time until they’re large enough to basically go into flower,” Hale says. “At that point, we take a bunch of clones from them to produce moms stock, throw them into flower, flower those babies out, get strain notes on them: how they grew, what the yield is, the output inside of our environment, how our feed was, everything.”
Judges choose their favorites in the Hunt Scorecard based on flavor, uniqueness profile, all the good things that everybody’s looking for.
The first iteration of The Hunt begins in January every year, with subsequent judging rounds taking place in the following months. “We release all of those flavors to the public right around January and let everybody try them out,” Hale says. “Everybody gets to vote on which strains they want to have go into the next iteration of The Hunt.”
They continue to narrow down strains in subsequent rounds going into the summer. Freddy’s Fuego then takes that information and advances to the next step of The Hunt, the harvest, when the team gets the strain data back. “The last iteration of our hunt, we run those through the end of summer, choose our top four to six cultivars that we’re going to put into finalists based on what the public chooses,” Hale says.
Then Freddy’s throws a big party at the end of the year and lets everybody check out the new strains and vote on their favorite phenos. The company then takes those and begins producing them for the next year under their exclusive Freddy’s Finest label which is basically their black label collection. This allows the public to take part in the cultivar selection and judging process.
Consumers can buy limited edition eighths of The Hunt selections. -BA
Few companies have racked up as many Cannabis Cup wins as Exotic Genetix. This seed bank, based in Washington state, has produced so many classic cultivars that if you haven’t smoked at least one, you better start the roll up right now. A standout includes the 2018 classic Rainbow Chip, a winning combination of Sunset Sherbert and Mint Chocolate Chip. With Kush and Cookies in the family tree, Rainbow Chip has gas.
“That was pre-Runtz people wanted the gasses, the fuels,” breeder Mike explains of the older Rainbow Chip release. “They range in aromas, the gassy fuel to some of the Rainbows are kind of funky, soggy. Some of them have like a nice ice cream/sherby/gas element to it.”
Founded in 2008, Exotic Genetix also gave the world Kimbo Kush and Grease Monkey. In 2022, we tried a lovely version of Funky Charms, Rainbow Chip x Grease Monkey, grown by Wood Wide High Craft.
In 2022, Exotic Genetix released a line of Red Runtz crosses in feminized seeds, a follow-up to the success of a 2021 Red Runtz line release.
“It was super popular, it erupted,” Mike says of the 2021 release. “I told myself after that release, like I’m only going to once, I’m not trying to stick around on Runtz because, you know, it’s the hype thing. And don’t get me wrong, Runtz is hype, but also there’s a reason for it because it’s good shit.”
He says Runtz, when paired with his genetic line-up, gave it a different edge by providing that “Runtz flair candy” taste the market was craving.
“Now, I’m going to try not to do any more Runtz. It’s hard, because people ask me every day like when’s the Greasy Runtz going to drop and I’m like ‘Fuck. I’m not doing Runtz anymore,’ but I do have a Greasy Runtz line-up just waiting to be released,” he says with a laugh.
Working with feminized seeds has been a key in his success.
“When you do feminized seeds, you take an amazing strain in female form and you manipulate a few things and you can reverse that female and make it release male pollen,” Mike explains. “When you do that, and you use that pollen on your receiver, so to speak, all your other strains, it makes all those seeds that you made feminized. So, now you end up with seeds that you don’t get any males from.”
When creating new kinds of cannabis the results generally either suck or are amazing, there isn’t much in between, he says.
“Ever since I started reversing things that started awesome and making feminized seeds with those amazing starting plants, or the starting plant that I reverse, most of the things they come out amazing,” Mike says. “I don’t mean that like I’m full of myself. I mean like when you choose a male that you can’t see how it’s expressed in female form. It’s hard for you to get a predisposition of how that’s going to breed until you do it a couple times and see what your offspring do. But with the female that you reverse, you already know… it’s kind of a cheating step, but it’s there for a reason and ever since it’s been a told that I’ve used I haven’t turned back because it saves you a lot of time of hunting, going through stuff that isn’t what you’re looking for.”
Mike gained the nickname “Big Stimmy” during the pandemic for Instagram live broadcasts during the time of government stimulus efforts in which he was giving away seed packs. Big Stimmy hosted the “Milk Show” which was full of people pouring milk on unsuspecting victims for prizes.
In the future, look out for the next release of Gary Poppins, Gary Payton x Red Pop. -EH
Ask a legendary cannabis breeder what they’re smoking and they’ll likely flip the question around to the one thing that is ever-present in their mind: selecting, creating, and cultivating new types of flowers. That was the case when we caught up with Archive Seed Bank breeder Fletcher Watson as he drove to his grow room to continue sifting through what will become a new line of genetics, the Flavour Pack reversal feminized line. The journey breeders go through to bring new cultivars into our lungs are immense. When we speak, Watson’s getting down to the final stages of selection. He’s taken the Flavour Pack cultivar he created and reversed the plant to produce male pollen. Next, he took that male pollen and combined it with 60 different varieties of cannabis. He’s grown out 30 types from the seed stock so far, this is only the initial run.
“I’ve got about 150 to 200 seed plants of those Flavour Pack hybrids with all kinds of other stuff that I’m literally on my way driving to right now, to go through the samples and start picking through the population,” he says over a phone call in early fall.
Flavour Pack, which is only one of the seed lines Watson is working on simultaneously with others, blends together old and new genetics in the cannabis family tree. It’s a cross of Hollywood Pure Kush, an OG Kush cut, with a newer one of Watson’s creations, Moonbow (Zkittlez x Do-Si-Dos).
“Essentially what we do is try to improve certain cultivars that are either popular in the market—the terpene profile is popular in the market and I just like it personally a lot—and mix it with a bunch of old weird stuff that may not have market appeal,” Watson says. “The reason I breed cannabis is I want to, in one way or another, improve upon a variety.”
Watson was 16 when he started growing weed and career-wise, it’s all he’s ever done. His nickname “ThaDocta” comes from a screen name he chose back in those days, one he gained from his time at the skatepark, where he hurt himself so often he started carrying a medical kit.
Archive was founded in Oregon in 2011 and has since blessed the world with many award-winning strains. Archive’s OGKB was one of the parents of Do-Si-Dos. Rainbow Belts (Moonbow x Zkittlez) came out in 2017 and is still crushing the competition scene. Watson sent out Rainbow Belts genetics to about 50 people in 2020 and once it reached the clone-seller market it exploded. It has the fruity Zkittlez terps that people love, combined with a kushy dankness.
“The reason you don’t see too much Zkittlez on the market is it’s such a difficult plant for most people to grow,” Watson explains. “By expanding a line that has that terpene profile really well stabilized within the population, people are able to take advantage of that market that wants that smell and flavor, but get better plants, with better yields and higher [THC] tests making it more marketable to the broader consumer.”
And when an Archive cultivar reaches that stage it can really pop. In 2022, Archive Seeds released Dark Rainbow 2.0. On its website Archive explains the first generation, Dark Rainbow 1.0, used GMO combined with Moonbow and carried the gassy flavors of the GMO alongside the lime candy taste of Moonbow. The second generation is GMO combined with Planet Purple, the offspring of which is generally not sweet, but “raunchy stank breath rotten meat gas tank stank.” Watson says this one is great for hash, which Archive also makes and carries in its Portland, Oregon shop along with house flowers and clones.
“My breeding is less of knowing exactly what I’m trying to make, it’s more of throwing darts at the wall and seeing what sticks,” Watson says. -EH
Sunday Goods (owned by its parent company The Pharm) is based in Arizona and focuses on producing quality cannabis combined with feel-good vibes.
Although Arizona is often associated with brutally hot temperatures, Sunday Goods and The Pharm’s flower is grown in a 7-acre, 300,000-square-foot Dutch glass greenhouse in Willcox, Arizona. The climate in Willcox is mild compared to other parts of the state and often sees more rainfall than Phoenix or Tucson, making it a good place to grow quality cannabis (although many other agricultural goods thrive there as well).
Some of the brand’s most high-demand products include high-potency THC strains, including one called Bangers x Mac.
“That’s a cross between Headbanger and Miracle Alien Cookies (MAC), and it’s a super dank, very diesely, piney strain,” says Matt Daley, vice president of marketing for Sunday Goods.
Not only does Sunday Goods flower take advantage of the mild climate, the location of the grow is also home to a geothermal well that The Pharm uses to reduce heating needs during the colder months, helping to reduce energy consumption.
Alongside its own flower Sunday Goods offers a wide variety of other local cannabis brands, all of which align with the brand’s desire to offer consumers with the best products to help them feel their “Sunday best.”
Sunday Goods is dedicated to the support of the cannabis community, having partnered with the Last Prisoner Project to raise funds and help the organization continue to fight against cannabis injustice. In November 2021, Sunday Goods joined with Arizona NORML to host expungement clinics for those who have low-level cannabis offenses on their records.
“We’re just looking to provide relief, a pathway to creativity, an outstretched hand to an elevated sense of being because I think all of us here at Sunday Goods believe that everyone stands to benefit from what this plant can deliver,” Daley says. -AK
Wyld is one of the most recognizable and popular cannabis edibles brands. Praised for its consistency across multiple markets (it began in Oregon but has since spread to Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington), Wyld earned its place as a top brand by producing a line of fruit-forward gummies.
According to Wyld Corporate Communications Specialist Rachael Smith, there are three flavors in particular that consumers have fallen in love with.
“Our top three national bestsellers are elderberry 2:1 THC:CBN indica-enhanced, raspberry sativa-enhanced, and huckleberry hybrid-enhanced gummies,” Smith says. “Most states follow this same trend with elderberry leading the pack. Recent sales data shows Wyld leading the country nationally with the top six edible products in the U.S. and with nine products in the top 20—more than any other single brand.”
The Wyld supply team goes to great lengths to ensure that each product includes the advertised amount of potency.
“We use a three-test process to ensure a high-quality end product,” Smith says. “Test one: cannabis extract is tested before we receive it to ensure quality and potency. Test two: Our cannabis-infused coconut oil is tested again in house to ensure appropriate dosing in our products. Test three: Once made, the edibles are tested again to certify they are consistent with our exacting potency standards. The last test also includes random selection of products for testing by a third-party lab. All of our third-party testing is conducted by state-certified lab partners.”
Wyld is also dedicated to sustainability, going as far as providing an annual social and environmental impact report (data for 2022 is set to be released during the first half of 2023).
“We’ll be launching our new solventless hash rosin gummy brand in select markets in the fourth quarter of this year,” Smith says. “In 2023, in addition to rolling out compostable packaging in the U.S., our plans include expanding further into the Midwest and East Coast and, as always, we look forward to offering new real fruit flavors with innovative cannabinoid content—keep your eyes on Wyld, we’ve got so much more to offer.” -AK
Montana is known for its vast landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and as of Jan. 1, 2022, adult-use cannabis.
High Road Edibles predates this monumental shift from medical to adult-use sales, having established itself in 2019. The brand was founded by Michael Zens and Ben Miller, two college roommates who enjoy spending time outdoors and sought out to develop a cannabis brand exclusive to their home state.
All of High Road Edibles products are made with full-spectrum cannabis extract. Hybrid cannabis strains come from Sacred Sun Farms, and indica- or sativa-leaning strains come from Collective Elevation, both of which are farms based out of Bozeman, Montana, located in the southern part of the state. High Road Edibles is also partnered with a local dispensary, Dancing Goat Gardens.
The brand features an assortment of gummies, chocolate bars, and mints.
“We started with kind of trying to pick flavors that we thought match the mood state and the strain types we were using,” Miller says. “So more kind of bright, energizing flavors for things like sativa, and more kind of deep, rich flavors for the indica. And then for the hybrid, we kind of just tried to hit those quintessential candy flavors that we all really enjoy, you know, peach and green apple on the gummies, cinnamon on the mint, and then that coffee almond on the chocolate bar.”
Zens adds that their sativa-leaning strawberry flavor gummy sells the best in the Bozeman/southern Montana area, where people tend to be more active. However, in the northern part of the state, around Kalispell and Whitefish, there are more older consumers who prefer the indica-leaning blood orange gummies. This summer, High Road Edibles released a huckleberry flavor, in honor of the berry of the same name that populates the northern parts of the U.S. and is a celebrated summertime ingredient (Zens and Miller joke that huckleberries are a prominent food source for wild bears, as well as tourists).
While the state’s medical cannabis program was restrictive, Montana’s adult-use program has helped open things up. According to Zens, it has allowed the local cannabis community to develop and grow.
“It’s been really kind of fun to actually like, get out there and meet everyone,” Zens says. “Because in the restrictive market, everyone was kind of competing against each other a little bit more. We’re in this wholesale recreational market, everyone can kind of specialize in something and support each other and link up, and kind of create a community that wasn’t there before as much.”
Both Miller and Zens enjoy floating in the various rivers in Montana, but agree that cannabis consumption can be an enjoyable companion for numerous other outdoor activities including hiking. The founding duo alluded to new flavors and products coming out in 2023. -AK
Located in the northeast corner of Las Vegas, Nevada, Aether Gardens’ state-of-the-art facility covers 120,000 square feet divided into numerous sections including cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, and distribution. It was recently ranked #10 on a list of MJ Unpacked’s hottest Nevada-based cannabis brands, which is no surprise since it won two placements in the Cannabis Cup Nevada: People’s Choice Edition in 2021: 2nd place for best indica with Slurricane #7, and 1st place for indica concentrates with Banana ice water indica live rosin. Aether Gardens also has a 2019 High Times Cannabis Cup Nevada 1st place win for hybrid concentrates with Zweet Insanity.
According to Aether Gardens Cannabis Officer Justin Hernandez, consumers should keep an eye out for the popular strain MAC that has been thriving in the facility. Strains like Blue Cheese, Banana, and Blue Java are also popular. Online, Aether Gardens recently showcased its ultra-sweet, flavor-packed strains Mimosé (Mimosa x Rosé) and Terple (Tropicana Cookies x Slurricane #7).
Aether Gardens has been producing cannabis out of its facility since 2018, and, over the years, has continued to develop its tissue culture lab, which now houses 400 cannabis varieties. All of the strains are grown in a structure that takes advantage of sunlight through the use of glass panels. The company also formulates its own nutrient line.
Other areas of the facility are dedicated to the creation of numerous extraction products, from concentrates to edibles. Aether Gardens’ production also serves many other brand partners, such as house brand The Fifty Five as well as STIIIZY, Binske, Huni Labs, Pro Canna, and Hervé. -AK
Mountaintop Extracts has been helping patients gain access to clean, effective cannabis medicine since 2012, but now that adult-use sales is legal in New Mexico (effective as of April 1, 2022), the brand continues to offer quality cannabis products to a wider market.
The Mountaintop Extracts logo features a towering mountain inspired by the Sandia Mountains, which overlooks the city of Albuquerque where the brand is based. Mountaintop Extracts is 100% family-owned, and founder Eric Merryman holds his brand to the highest standard when producing cannabis products for consumers.
“At Mountaintop [Extracts] we really focus on clean, consistent safe medicine and are committed to the educational process so much needed in our industry,” Merryman says. “We are extremely passionate about what we do and have been very fortunate to attract like-minded employees who are making a difference in our industry.”
Joel Krukar, director of business development and marketing at Mountaintop Extracts, explains that the brand utilizes proprietary methods and techniques, which it’s been perfecting for years, to ensure that all of its products are of the highest quality.
“That’s what makes our edibles different. Our vape cartridges are live resin true full spectrum…We don’t cut it with anything. Nothing is reintroduced,” Krukar says. “And our diamonds became a huge success, [they were] really big in the beginning because we were one of the first [in the state] to actually really master growing large grade diamonds. I believe the largest diamond, it was like 7 grams, actually. So we have techniques to really grow very rich, large diamonds.”
And Mountaintop Extracts has the accolades to prove it too. At the 2018 Essie Awards hosted by Kurple Magazine, Mountaintop Extracts took home awards for best infused product, best edible, and best concentrate.
A longtime favorite of medical cannabis patients, Krukar says that the brand’s gummies are one of their biggest sellers.
“Our gummies are by far the highest velocity products we have. We are producing more units of gummies per month than anything else,” Krukar says. “But it’s also sometimes a condition of the market. And I personally love our vapes, and people love our vapes as well too, because we’re the only ones providing that live resin, true full-spectrum, full-integrity vape cartridge.”
In the very near future, Mountaintop Extracts has plans to reveal a new logo, new packaging, and a new patent-pending product to add to its current lineup. –AK
There’s a reason behind why Michigan-based 3rd Coast Genetics calls itself “the swank of dank.” As purveyors of some of Michigan’s finest cannabis, 3rd Coast Genetics focuses on the strange and the unique. The team behind 3rd Coast Genetics are the creators of Smorez, Butterfingaz, and many other strains that are sought after in the Midwest. 3rd Coast Genetics cultivar names will grab your attention, and they’ll stand out from the typical strains that you see every day.
“I am the creative force behind 3rd Coast Genetics,” Max Yields tells High Times. “The 3rd Coast is the shore of beautiful Lake Michigan—the place where I call home.”
Yields is the creator of Oreoz, Pure Michigan, Tagalonz, and many other strains, armed with a passion for breeding and love for pushing the boundaries of quality. “3rd Coast” generally refers to the Great Lakes area in the Midwest. It’s too easy to ignore the fire that comes out of Michigan when it’s overshadowed by countless other brands.
Some of these rare finds include crosses like Walfredo (MAC 1 x Peanut Butter Breath) or Thick Strawberry Goo (Red Pop x Pure Michigan) with 10 beans per bag.
Some other strains that caught our attention—with a little help from the creative names—were Spock’s Brain (Grease Monkey x Peanut Butter Breath) and Wolverine (Animal Cookies x Pure Michigan). But don’t get distracted by the names, because 3rd Coast Genetics retains the quality you want, preserving those subtle traits.
“I feel the most important thing that I do, the one thing at the epicenter of all of my hard work, is the practice of selecting unique and amazing traits,” Yields says. “Everything is dependent upon genetics and being able to recognize the component that makes something so special or unique, even if those traits are subtle.” -BA
What makes Pure Options unique? Perhaps it’s the company’s connection to the local community in Michigan. “Our success ultimately is deeply rooted in our community here in Lansing,” says Pure Options Director of Pro Gro, Jacob Nelson.
Pure Options has been in operations since 2011 and has become a staple source of craft cannabis in Michigan. One of the team’s long-term goals has been to make it into the spotlight and operate a craft cannabis business at a larger scale.
“We built our foundation as a very small team operating in the traditional market taking great caution to keep our heads down and stay focused on this mission,” Nelson says. “It was during this time that we built our culture in preparation for our future. So, when people ask us what makes Pure Options unique our answer is always the same, it’s our team and it’s culture.”
Pure Options’ uniqueness isn’t defined by any particular special process or “secret sauce.” The entire team Pure Options are students of cultivation. Small details matter, and cutting corners for profit is never an option, Nelson says. Every day is an opportunity to learn, refine processes, and improve the final product. This mindset is fueled by passion for the plant.
“Thankfully for us our love for the craft and attention to detail hasn’t gone unnoticed,” Nelson says. “Our team’s passion and culture has helped us deliver high quality cannabis to the Michigan market at scale and along the way we’ve been able to secure some amazing partnerships by proxy.”
Some of Pure Options’ partnerships include collaborations with Archive Seed Bank, DEO Farms, Wizard Trees, and Skunk House Genetics. This has given the team the opportunity to raise their platform with exclusive strains from some of the best breeders in the industry.
“The entire Pure Options team is excited for what the future holds,” Nelson says. “We cannot wait to operate on the national stage next and are thankful for everyone who has helped reach our goals along the way. It was all a dream, and teamwork truly does make the dream work.” -BA
Aerīz, pronounced like “arise,” is the producer of aeroponically grown flower, as well as full-spectrum hash oil, sugar, diamonds and sauce, budder, and many other products. They are “the largest aeroponic cannabis cultivator in the world,” according to their website. The company probably focuses on root health more than most typical producers.
Roots are misted in Aerīz’s custom-fitted tables, where cultivators have full control over nutrient uptake. The closed-loop system helps the team to minimize nutrient waste. While it’s a system that would cause a novice grower to most likely fail, the team at Aerīz have perfected the practice.
“We grow aeroponically, for basically two main reasons,” Aerīz Senior Producer Ian Krass tells High Times. “One is the quality of the flower. And the second is the environment. So the easier thing is the environment, which has an aeroponic growing process.”
Krass went on to say that the grow medium is recyclable, and that they’re not using any soil, so there’s a lot less waste. “Our water nutrient solution that the roots get nested with is recycled in a closed-loop system,” he explains. “So, you know, basically, it’s the least waste you could possibly generate growing cannabis. And, you know, being environmentally friendly is definitely at the core of our mission.”
Aerīz’s aeroponically grown flower is sometimes converted into full-spectrum hash oil, distillate, sugar, shatter, budder, and infused honey sticks.
Aerīz is currently partnering with a company called Pachamama, that does carbon offsets. Quality is achieved using a closed loop, computer-controlled nutrient delivery system. The team is very precise in terms of giving the plants exactly “what they need, when they need it.”
Aerīz has expanded beyond Illinois with operations in Arizona as well. Be sure to check out their powerful cuts of Jenny Kush (generally accepted as Amnesia Haze and Rare Dankness #2) and Pink Kush (King Kush x King Kush). -BA
Helios Hash, a solventless hash producer based out of Maine, rocked the hash world in 2021 with a win at the Ego Clash. The winning entry, a mix of Rainbow Belts with a small amount of Ice Cream Cake, represented a major victory for the family-run brand. After all, they won the well-respected hash event with sungrown plants from their first commercial harvest, and 2022 was only their second season growing.
“It’s your classic Zkittlez,” Stav Anagnost says of the Ego Clash-winning entry. “It’s one of the more sought-after type of terps. We hit it at a good time. A lot of people are growing Rainbow Belts.”
Anagnost runs the company alongside two of his brothers, Alex and Demetri, and believes their Rainbow Belts edged out the competition because of their growing style, which he describes as “West Coast.”
“We grow sungrown and our entire operation is based off of sustainable regenerative farming,” he says. “What we do is we are resin farmers so we strictly grow outdoor plants one time a year, seasonally done for resin and our resin is for hash.”
Hash produced from the resin of sungrown flowers is incomparable and is more flavorful than hash made with indoor flowers, Anagnost says. In sunny California, sungrown flower is decidedly more common than in Maine, where the weather is colder and harsher. But Anagnost argues the weather challenges in Maine contribute to the quality of the hash.
“Resin is a defense mechanism to the plant,” he explains. “So the more that the plant gets certain stressors in its environment allow the plant to produce a better quality and more luscious resin.”
The goal at Helios is always full-melt.
“At the end of the day there’s nothing that can compete with the sun,” Anagnost says. “We’re strictly a hash-based company. Everything we do is sungrown and we believe that’s the best representation of the plant and of the resin.”
Looking ahead, Helios is hoping to start a breeding project. Their hash, only produced once a year, mirrors the successful wine industry model of select year limited releases. -EH
When it comes to building a brand built on hype, heart, and heat, Kolektor’s got it down. The only things this Bronx-based underground cultivator says he won’t put out is the stuff that you can find everywhere. Don’t look to Kolektor for Gelato or Runtz; he came up in the era of Platinum Girl Scout Cookies and started growing after getting tired of seeing the same old flowers. “I feel like the market is so oversaturated with those things. You can get them anywhere so there’s no point in me growing those cultivars,” he says over a phone call. “Everybody else is doing it and I’m trying to create my own lane.”
Right now, his lane seems wide open as he looks towards licensing and continues to mingle with California cannabis elite heading across the country to explore the burgeoning New York scene. He’s got West Coast growing experience and, through Instagram marketing, has already met a few major players in California cannabis.
“California knows that New York is a bigger market,” Kolektor says. “California has always been at the top of the game in production, and New York has been just buying. So now you have a bunch of local growers popping up, which is really cool.”
When we speak in early fall, Kolektor has just got through the last of other breeders’ genetics and popped 100 seeds of his own to grow out. The male he’s currently working with is a Black Mamba crossed with four different female cultivars. The results are just unnamed crosses for now, Candy Cane x Black Mamba, a Honey Banana x Black Mamba, a Grape Pie x Black Mamba, and an unrevealed fourth. Kolektor’s also creating his own genetics with Purple Taipan (Grape Pie x Black Mamba) pollen and says the hope is that the brand can create a menu “fully curated, bred, and grown by us.” When we connect, he’s just harvested a Sherb Breath, Sunset Sherbert x Mendo Breath.
“It’s super heavy on the Mendo Breath so you get a lot of that like savory terps, almost like a beef soup, beef stew or something, it’s real weird,” he says.
Kolektor grew up in the South Bronx and never thought he’d be able to grow cannabis. Serving in the Army in Afghanistan he saw acres and acres of weed growing in the desert and it hit him that growing it himself might be a possibility. After he got out of the Army, he took some seeds back with him to New York and started experimenting. He’s making plans in terms of gaining official state cultivation licensing and wants to stay close to the Bronx.
“That’s where we can serve the community the best,” he says. “A lot of investors want us to go upstate, but if we go upstate we’re just going to service a bunch of white folks, like our social equity plan will be shit at that point, you know? I’m from the Bronx apartments in Yonkers so we understand how bad the communities have got due to the War on Drugs and the Stop and Frisk era so we want to be able to offer some good opportunities to people in the city that we love.” -EH
Solar Cannabis Co. grows indoors in its main facility in Somerset, Massachusetts within a 67,000-square-foot space. Its solar production allows the company to operate completely energy independent; solar panels cover the entire facility roof as well as an adjacent 4-acre lot. The cultivator also utilizes two high-efficiency CHP (combined heat and power) generators, making natural gas the only utility that Solar Cannabis Co. is hooked up to. It cycles through 10,000 gallons of water a day, but reclaims 90% of that water to be recirculated back into their fertigation watering system (a process which adds fertilizer into an irrigation system).
Solar Cannabis Co.’s Director of Marketing and Communications Derek Gould says the company is constantly striving to reduce its energy footprint.
“A lot of these states where you can only cultivate indoors, at least all year round, it’s definitely important to take a look at the energy footprint and the carbon footprint that we’re leaving, because, it’s huge, it’s massive, and we really just want to do it the right way,” Gould says. “We want to do it upfront, and be a model for other operators, whether current or upcoming, to take a look and identify that, hey, we have a corporate responsibility to operate in a sustainable way.”
Solar Cannabis Co. is a vertically integrated company, but they also grow vertically to fully take advantage of their facility space. Cannabis plants are cared for on a three-tier rack system, allowing Solar Cannabis Co. to house anywhere between 2,200 to 2,400 plants per room.
“The way that we have designed our facility is for constant production, we are harvesting a room every week-and-a-half and we’re pulling down. I would say close to 350 to 400 pounds of dried flower per room every one-and-a-half to two weeks. So, you know, we are constantly in mass production,” Gould explains.
Solar Cannabis Co.’s Vice President of Cultivation Brendan Delaney has a background in cultivation in Trinity County, California and has helped make connections with West Coast cultivators like Compound Genetics and Humboldt Seed Company. A few of their current best sellers are recognizable cultivars like Cherry Punch, Gas Truffle, Hella Jelly, Jelly Runtz, Pink Certz, The Bling, Waffle Cone, and Wedding Cake.
“What we’ve brought from the West Coast here to the East Coast, they’ve been game changers, everything’s been home runs, for the most part,” says Gould.
In Massachusetts, vertically integrated cannabis companies are limited to having three retail licenses, and with Solar Cannabis Co. having two in operation and one coming soon to Dartmouth, the brand is expanding its ethos into other markets and holds a retail-only dispensary license in Rhode Island. -AK
Using cannabis as a way to support Black and brown communities that have been disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs is a worthwhile commitment. Good Green (owned by Green Thumb Industries) strives to sell affordable cannabis flower while also providing funds to worthy nonprofit organizations.
Split between sativa, hybrid, and indica offerings, Good Green is in several markets: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, Green Thumb Industries was one of seven multi-state operators to participate in New Jersey’s first day of recreational sales which began on April 21. As a vertically integrated company, Green Thumb has its own grow facility in New Jersey that supplies an “ever-growing portfolio of strains.” Strains like Banana Cream, Animal Face, L’Orange, Jack Herer, and Rebel Sour are a handful of popular strains in New Jersey.
Good Green isn’t just a flower producer though, it also offers its Good Green grant program to help support worthy nonprofit organizations (hence the brand motto “Green that does Good”). There are currently eight nonprofits that have been chosen to receive the Good Green grant, based in various locations such as Illinois, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Jai Kensey, director of social impact at Green Thumb Industries, explains why it’s so important that cannabis brands give back to the community.
“It’s an obligation and I always say as multi-state operators, it’s our duty to give back to the communities,” Kensey says. “This industry has been built on the backs of Black and brown people, and who have been the most harmed by it. Black people are four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis use. And so it’s definitely something where I say it’s very unique for our industry, where it should be part of every bit of our operation in terms of giving back to the communities that have been impacted by it.”
With an extensive, thorough, and rigorous review process, Kensey, along with Social Impact Program Manager Alyssa Estrada and the Good Green brand team, sift through many applicants and score them based on a number of factors. They closely examine each one, scoring them fairly based on three areas: expungement, employment, and education, as well as geographical location and the organization’s financial records to ensure that their funds go toward various programs.
When High Times spoke with Kensey, she shared that they were currently in the process of reviewing over 70 applications for the third round with the intention of choosing four, which will receive a split of $200,000 which was announced in November 2022. This amount helped the brand meet its goal of granting a total of $1.3 million to nonprofits by the end of the year. -AK
December was a wild one. From searching the streets of Bangkok for the heat, to the Harvest Ball’s premiere of the Dank Tank, to a whole lot of holiday parties, I’m exhausted. I usually try to take the back half of December to try and recover & prepare for the upcoming year, but it never really works out. This year was no exception. I don’t know why I still expect holidays to be relaxing.
But Thailand was wild! I’m working on a piece covering our adventure that you’ll all be able to read sometime next month, but the long and short of it is that the country has embraced legalization like I’ve never seen before. There are independent stands to buy weed in front of dispensaries, there are trucks selling weed like ice cream trucks on every block. I’m not going to pretend they’ve got the highest quality yet, but they’re throwing themselves at it, and I love to see it. There are a few picks from there leading the list this month for anyone looking to experience it. We’ve also got some gems I found while attending the Harvest Ball, which Jimi & I went to the day after we returned to the states. Talk about overbooking.
(Also P.S. sorry to everyone I saw that weekend. It was a whirlwind and I was still coming down from my plane drugs so I barely remember anything, but I’m sure I didn’t get enough time to properly hang with any of you. I won’t make that mistake again – I’m coming well rested all 2023 :))
Anyway, I was hoping to get two more of these out before the year ends as I just turned 33 last week and it felt symbolic, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Guess we’ll start off ‘23 with #33, which is my lucky number so we’ll say we’re starting on a high note. If there’s anything you think needs to be included, or you just want to talk about one of the picks I made in this or previous lists, hit me on Twitter and let’s hash it out!
If you’ve been paying attention to the culture for awhile you’ve probably heard the legend of Thai sticks before. Some of the first Sativas proliferating the states, Thai sticks were basically Thailand’s version of brick weed back in the day. Packed and bound tightly around actual sticks and smuggled to all the corners of the world largely through the help of the military, they’re something of an urban legend today. When we landed in Thailand they were obviously the first thing we asked about, but it became clear that this was an elusive delicacy. In fact, most of the dispensary guys we asked said to let them know if we found it for their own consumption needs. While this might not be completely obvious by the looks of us, but we found it, and the guy who has been packing them for almost 60 years. I can’t give you information on how to find him, but I can tell you he’s out there, and so are modern sticks.
I try very hard to ensure I’m not duplicating picks that other journalists have already written about, and although Jimi already mentioned Dr. Dope’s Double Dawg in his 12 Strains of Christmas piece for LA Weekly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the best weed we found at a dispensary in Bangkok. While the game out there is still fresh, and the climate makes it difficult to produce tops, this was some real authentically Thai-grown heat. You could actually see the trichomes on this one, which was not as common as you’d expect in the developing market. That said, Dr. Dope was also a fun and frankly classy spot to hang in, worth the stop if you’re in the area!
This is less of a product and more of a destination, but if you want a truly unique weed experience (especially in Thailand), you’ve got to hit up Plantopia ‘Weed City’ on Khao San Road. Basically a weed strip mall, this shopping center has a maze of dispensaries and consumption lounges for you to purchase or consume in, and a nice open air smoking patio for you to sesh with the clients of other shops. It’s wild how in Asia having 100 of the same type of stores right next to each other doesn’t seem to bother anyone, but it was surprising for me. That said, it’s a very unique place to hang – everyone gets their own flavor without compromise.
At the party I’ll detail in the last entry on this list, a local friend from the internet pulled up with some of his underground grown to show us. I’ll be honest, this was the best weed I saw that (I believe) was actually grown in Thailand, though it wasn’t through a traditional dispensary experience. He said the farm is just getting set up, and that it’s called Kasta. The group also says the cut is called Nam Wah, which is a cross between Banana OG & Mimosa from Symbiotic Genetics. They do love their sativa’s on that side of the world! Also big shout out to Bbboss for pulling up on us at the party!
Let me start off by saying that Trufflez is taking the branding game to a new level with this one. The pleather stitched mylar was not something I ever expected to see, but it also feels like a better compromise than most of the fancy bag attempts we’ve seen lately. It feels classier than a mylar – and while I’m sure it’s more expensive I’m curious to see how weed will last in this pouch long term. I’m going to do some experiments with that on my own. That said about the marketing, the weed in the bag is actually up to par. In fact, all the samples I saw from Trufflez were what I would consider real top shelf flower.
Anytime I see something new from Turtle I know it’s going to be something that’s going to hit in the streets, but their latest, Purple Sticky Rice is hitting on a whole new level. Redefining the ‘candy’ nose most expect from some purple dank, these were some of the sweetest nugs to ever hit my nostrils. And I’m not just including this because of the Asian nod, this one’s definitely a gelato relative and we all know how the market loves that! All I’ve seen so far are the tasters so I’m not entirely sure if this one’s hit the streets yet, but when you get a chance, definitely tap in.
You’ve heard me rave about LING in the past so I don’t need to go into how great his production skills, or brand design, has been thus far. You already know that his flower is killing it all over the country, and that his hash collaborations and donuts are top tier. Well friends, have you tried his new Runtz x Gushers cross yet? Because let me tell you, I am writing home about it. With all the sweet firepower you expect from two of the most popular strains of the past decade, LING’s got something truly special on his hands with this one – do I even need to mention how god damn hard this branding is?
I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with this one. I don’t know if he’s a brand, or if he’s just growing fire, but what I can assure you of is he’s definitely doing that. I met the new homie at Chronic Culture for the first time at their Kalya dinner (which was directly after Jimi & I got off the plane returning to the states) and every single cut he showed me was stellar, and fully rocked me upon deeper inspection (into my lungs). Not knowing if he’s a full brand, I’m not sure how available this flower is, but if you’re in the Bay and you hear someone talking about a cultivator with a weird name (I mean, what IS Spoomalack?), maybe it’s this homie. If it is, you’re in luck, young padawan.
These guys have been making a TON of noise down in Florida and I’ve been asked more about Gumbo than pretty much any other cultivar in recent history, so I’m pleased to report that it’s not just hype – the guys are doing something down there in the South East. I was fortunate enough to catch Superfly and El Tay on my trip back from the Bay (shout out to Jet Suite X, the trapper’s choice!), and they broke me off with some of their latest harvest and carte blanche, this is the best weed I’ve seen come out of Florida yet.
Felipe presented this to us in the Dank Tank Jimi and I hosted at the Harvest Ball and I’ve got to say, for a guy who has said countless times he’s over gelato, their new collaboration with the creator himself, Sherbinski, just rekindled my love. This Apples & Bananas x Gelato 41 cross smells and tastes exactly how you would expect, with a natural, yet couldn’t be more dialed in with additive terps if you tried flavor. You can smell the apples, the bananas, and that sweet candy finish Gelato’s known for. And it’s smokin’ too! While not quite as knock-you-out as a lot of Gelato varietals, this one’s a nice sunset smoke.
Bonus: Thai Lasagna
If you ever get the chance, you’ve got to try a Thai lasagna. I’ve been dreaming about these freakin’ things. When we went to visit Tropicanna, after sampling their wares the gang let us know they had prepared lunch if we were hungry. I had known one of the owners spent years living in Italy (you could tell, he had style); I didn’t realize he was half Italian. Not going to lie, I never expected to eat a lasagna and curry feast, but boy did we house it. It was the best hospitality we experienced in Thailand, in my opinion. There will be more on this in the ‘the Gang goes to Bangkok’ piece I’m working on, but for now just know I ate close to an entire lasagna by myself.
I’m adding this as a nepotism bonus because Oliver, one of the proprietors of Phandee, was our guide for the Thailand trip, but I am not fronting when I say this was my favorite of the shops we saw in Bangkok. While the store itself isn’t all that big, it’s part of a larger footprint that also sells food, drinks and even booze, and has a great little patio in the middle so everyone can enjoy everything together. It’s not only a good setup, it also looks insane because the outside is wrapped in this rainbow translucent glass. Or plastic, I don’t know, but I know I like it. Oliver also hosted a party at the shop for us while we were there and I’ll be honest, I was not expecting anywhere near the type of turnout we got, or the amount of people who knew who we were. It was a great time and will surely be a check-in anytime I’m in the city.
It was a familiar scene walking up to the 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball. The sun was poking through rain clouds; the ground was wet and slightly muddy. I regretted not wearing boots. “We’ve almost been cursed,” joked Tim Blake, founder of the Emerald Cup, “but I don’t want to call it that. We need the rain.”
Despite the bad weather, a big crowd turned out on day one. Emerald Cup 2022 sold more single-day tickets at the box office than the total amount of pre-sale tickets sold for the entire weekend. This is the first time in the Emerald Cup’s 19 years that we saw bonafide hip-hop artists in the musical lineup, including The 707’s own E-40 headlining the opening night and Bay Area local Kamaiyah carrying the crowd on the last day. A more diverse musical lineup led to a more diverse crowd of people who were otherwise unfamiliar with the event.
The Harvest Ball 2022 Is Helping Small Farmers
The Department Of Cannabis Control (DCC) and The Emerald Cup have been working together for the past two years to make the event more beneficial to farmers, which includes opening their doors to different aspects of the greater cannabis culture.
“To me, it’s all about unity,” Blake said at a sit-down with the DCC’s Chief Engagement Officer Cassandra Di Benedetto and Deputy Director of Policy and Research Christina Dempsey. “We’re not going anywhere. You guys need us, and we need you. So we have to work together.”
Along with the DCC having its own booth at the Harvest Ball in 2022 where licensees could interact with their team in person, they also led a panel discussion to better understand how the agency is supporting the industry by developing new strategies, resources, technologies and education.
“It’s been great for us to interact with farmers and see their pride in their work,” Di Benedetto says. “We’re here because we believe in a safe, equitable, sustainable, regulated market.”
With more than 150 booths, brands were able to connect directly with customers to bring them some of the best deals of the season in a compliant way, and without having to go through a traditional retail storefront.
“A regulated event is a successful event,” Dempsey says. “We want to be good partners in making sure that we’re clear about our expectations and also providing good information, good resources and good opportunities to ask us questions.” The newly created role of Chief Engagement Officer allows individuals to connect directly with the department via Zoom as well.
Attendees of the Harvest Ball 2022 found refuge from the rain in the Hall of Flowers Pavilion and the Puffco Pavilion, two of the event’s larger sponsors. Available for purchase included everything cannabis—products, accessories, cultivation equipment, seeds and clones. I spent some time at the Equity Trade Certification booth with Root’d 510 admiring Oakland Extracts, a long-time staple in the industry and Saffy THC, the only Black-owned and Jamaican-owned equity brand in Humboldt County. Another couple of honorable mentions are Sanctuary Farms, especially the fruity terpene profile on their Prickly Pear, and Sense’s Glitter Bomb, which certainly lived up to the name.
Creating Opportunities to Grow Together
Having larger and established brands in the same room as small independent farmers also created an opportunity for customers and licensees from different demographics to connect and learn from each other. While the DCC is currently exploring many different routes to providing relief to our struggling industry, it’s important for the entire community to keep having conversations that keep the ball rolling forward.
“I want to take an opportunity to just really acknowledge the challenges that are being experienced right now in the cannabis market, across the supply chain and also with small and legacy farmers and equity businesses,” Dempsey says in response to my question about what the DCC is doing to provide relief to some of these legacy farmers. “I feel very proud of the strides the DCC has made to listen to licensees and to make changes that are responsive to the things that they really need.”
The DCC just adopted a consolidated regulatory package that simplifies regulations and eases some of the burdens small farms and independent brands are facing. “The other thing that I think that we’ve done is push Metric to make some changes that also reflect some of the pain points that our licensees were experiencing,” Dempsey says.
Alas, there’s always work to be done, and the DCC knows it.
“There’s a lot that we’ve done but we also acknowledge that there’s a lot more to do, and we’re cognizant of that, and that’s why we think it’s so important to be at these events, to have an individual who’s really interfacing with the community, to have office hours and to make sure that we’re available and accessible.”
While The DCC continues to work towards stabilizing the market, Blake encourages the state to stop looking at the cannabis industry through rose-colored glasses.
“They’re not in the same reality we are,” he says. “They’re not really understanding what’s going on here, the boots-on-the-ground. It took 50 or 60 years for the liquor industry to allow craft breweries and craft vineyards to have direct sales and to do those things, but we don’t have that time. We have a large legacy industry here and we need those direct sales now.”
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the principal psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Prohibitive cannabis laws define the plant based on THC levels, and in the United States, cannabis with less than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis is non-psychoactive and therefore considered hemp.
Until recent years, consumers at the dispensary counter were primarily only concerned about jockeying for the cannabis and concentrates with the maximum amount of THC. Today, they’re smartening up and asking more about terpene and other cannabinoid content. THC, however, remains the most crucial compound overall in terms of the plant’s psychoactive high.
There are multiple reasons for seeking high-THC levels in products beyond shooting for the most potent effect. One benefit of high-THC products for medical patients, for instance, is that high-THC products can provide relief while limiting the amount of smoke and thus reducing harm.
The Chemistry of Higher THC Products
SC (Science of Cannabis) Labs opened in 2010 in Capitola, California. Co-founded by Jeff Gray, Josh Wurzer, Alec Dixon, and Ian Rice, the company helped develop some of the industry’s first testing standards.
“Early on, we emphasized testing cannabinoids and specifically THC,” SC Labs President and Co-Founder Josh Wurzer says. “The THC content became very associated with the perception of quality in cannabis. That was the only quantitative metric you had to describe the cannabis—the percentage of cannabinoids.”
Examining high THC levels is one of Wurzer’s focuses, as he applied for several cannabis-related patents, some related to the improvement of the extraction of cannabis.
Today, many people still equate higher THC concentrations with better quality.
“That’s just not the case,” Wurzer says. “When we look at these different events—High Times Cannabis Cups and The Emerald Cup—the winners usually don’t have any higher THC percentage. They almost always have a greater average terpene concentration. What consumers should be looking for is the terpene concentration of the products they’re buying.”
The over-emphasis on THC is partly due to chemistry and the way THC is quickly depleted. THC is, in fact, surprisingly quite delicate once the smoking process begins.
“The THC percentage isn’t really that important in an inhalable product,” Wurzer continues. “You’re exhaling the vast majority of the THC you’re inhaling. Really, you could just hold the hit in longer, but the THC concentration doesn’t even necessarily get you higher. What makes [cannabis] taste better and makes the effects more pronounced is the terpene concentration, and that’s where consumers should be looking.”
While it’s the most powerful psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC is best experienced the natural way, combined with other compounds.
The Highest THC Concentrates
Just how high in THC percentage can concentrates get? Some approach pure THC.
“I’ve seen people make 99% concentrate distillate—purified THC—but I wouldn’t want to smoke it,” SC Labs Director of Client Relations and Co-founder Alec Dixon says. “I wouldn’t want to consume it. It would taste bad. It would be harsh. The higher concentration concentrates are generally not the most desirable.”
If the taste matters, a better metric for determining the quality of concentrates would be quite a lower amount of THC, he says. The way terps are preserved in live resin is one of the ways concentrates have improved over the past decade or so.
“Good live resin concentrate should be anywhere from 60 to 80% [THC], and that’s going to be the most flavorful,” Dixon says. “I’ve seen the best effects on live resin, and it’s generally considered to be a much more premium product than, say, like a distillate that’s in the 90s and that has artificial terpenes added to it.”
Dixon says that on the cultural side of things, it’s always been known to farmers that terpene content is way more of a predictive indicator of quality, evident when you open up a jar and bomb the whole neighborhood with the smell of great pot.
“Smell and aroma directly coordinate toward effect,” Dixon says. “In their absence, it’s quite a bland THC effect. Unfortunately, the market is so focused on THC. It’s bound to be terp-less and, [therefore] soulless. Part of what we do with the Emerald Cup and California State Fair is to sort everything by terpene. It comes down to personal preference. To me, my favorite profiles are gas and Haze, that terpinolene Jack Herer strain.”
SC Labs is among many labs that test for THC content, and variance depends on where the samples are taken.
“When it comes to potency, the top versus the middle versus the bottom bud, they can test very differently depending on how the farmer prunes their plant,” Dixon says. “The more leaves on the plants in the crucial parts of development, the bigger the variance is going to be from top to bottom.”
He says that most farmers who do canopy management and remove foliage remove way too much leaf, way too late in the flowering stage. As a result, areas in the middle and bottom sections are shaded by leaves, leading to massive variance in the potency levels of the buds depending on where they are grown.
Greenwolf dispensary has won many Cannabis Cup awards, too many to list in full, but a few concentrate wins stand out. In 2017, Greenwolf took home a barrage of awards at the Cannabis Cup, winning first place with MNG for “Best Sativa Concentrate” with their offering Nectarine. In 2018, Greenwolf won “Best Non-Solvent Hash” for Clementine in collaboration with Rosin Brothers. Greenwolf is known throughout Southern California as a trusted retailer.
Greenwolf hosted the Greenwolf Winter Zalympix Awards Ceremony on Jan. 22 in Los Angeles, featuring YG and Larry June, among other performers. It was an exotic cannabis competition with judges’ kits and an awards ceremony. Greenwolf also presented the Zalympix Championships on June 11 in collaboration with Secret Sesh. Competitors representing the winners of the summer and winter Zalympix events competed in a “Battle of the Champions.”
The Greenwolf team is used to people asking about THC levels and their importance to the smoking experience. Come to find out, they are bombarded with this question daily.
“I’ve been talking to actual customers all morning about this!” says Liz Caffrey, owner and COO of Greenwolf. “And it’s interesting because I feel like maybe two years ago, people literally just came in, and they didn’t care what the strain was called or who grew it. All they wanted to know from a budtender was what the THC percentage was.”
Caffrey says in the last year or so, people are getting more and more educated about what defines quality cannabis, and they’re starting to realize that the THC percentage is not always the sole compound that produces the plant’s effects.
“The terpenes play a large role in the actual effects that you feel,” Caffrey says. “And I do believe that the consumer is starting to realize this.”
Caffrey doesn’t really see anything over 40% THC—except for infused pre-rolls when it comes to flower. Infused pre-rolls are enhanced with concentrates such as wax, distillate, or diamonds. Caffrey says labels can be quite deceiving, as one brand could have stunning packaging with disappointedly subpar effects.
“I do feel like the consumer is finally starting to have brand loyalty in what I call ‘the new market.’ And they’re doing their own research, which is great,” she says.
Caffrey explains that people don’t realize that the feeling they get from a good sativa that has 20% THC but is grown well might also have a high limonene percentage, which can provide a mood boost.
“I feel like [THC levels] go hand-in-hand with pricing,” she says. “Like the consumers more willing to pay a higher price if the THC percentage is above 30. I consider high THC 30 to 40%.”
Caffrey says that in retail in California, pre-rolls are probably the number-one seller, and infused pre-rolls are the top-tier of these types of sales.
“A customer will look at an infused pre-roll in awe, as it can have a 50 to 80% THC profile, and they think, ‘I’m getting all that in this one gram!’”
When choosing a high-THC product, consider taking the advice from laboratory leaders such as SC Labs or retail leaders like Greenwolf. As anyone with experience will tell you, inform yourself of the terpene content as well as the THC.
If you’ve paid any attention to what’s happening in the California cannabis scene over the past few years, you’ve likely already heard of Wizard Trees. Hell, you don’t even have to be in California to have heard the good word. Known for growing some of the most popular strains of recent years, like RS-11, notably popularized by the street-savvy Doja Pak, and its latest adaptation, Zoap, both of which were bred by longtime partner DEO Farms, the cultivation skills at Wizard Trees are hard to ignore.
The brainchild of Scott, a true Los Angeles local who has been cultivating high-grade cannabis for around eight years, Wizard Trees is the product of trial and error and putting in the work. While most brands today are focused on volume and scale, for Scott, the bar to wear his logo is constantly elevating. If it’s not beautiful, if it’s not terpy, it’s just not Wizard Trees.
In the year since I’ve started talking to Scott about his business, this elevation has become apparent. When we first spoke, he told me flower was, and I quote, “the main focus, but I’d like to do some like rosin, high-end concentrates, actually.”
This May, he took home second place in the Hydrocarbon Solid category at the highly prestigious Emerald Cup for his work with Doja Pak and FIELD Extracts on their RS-11 live resin. So, as you can imagine, things are going well. With all the acclaim, I had to hear the story of how he scaled arguably the tallest mountain in our industry in such a short time. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was all the other players Scott was about to mention.
BECOMING THE WIZARD
Although Scott wholly owns Wizard Trees, he’s well aware that his network is an important key to his success. From humble beginnings running home grows to an opportunity that helped him scale to 100 lights, it was Scott’s passion for high-quality cannabis that started him on his journey.
“I saw people making Instagrams,” Scott told me. “When I first started, I watched the Jungle Boys a lot. I kind of picked pieces from their Instagram, and I was like, ‘These guys are fucking killing it.’ I’d always go to TLC [Toluca Lake Collective] and the other top dispensaries at the time, just trying to learn stuff like that.”
At this point, Scott was finding some success with his 12-light setup, but he fell into an opportunity that forced him to learn how to scale to the next level quickly.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, but I think the biggest part was getting a facility to run those 100 lights,” he said. “Where I started, I didn’t really know a lot of technology. I didn’t know how to irrigate. I was hand-watering. I just wasn’t using my brain on anything, but then I started to figure out, you know, like VPD [vapor pressure deficit], temperature, humidity, irrigation tech. John Slab Lab was the one that started teaching me how to do irrigation and stuff like that. From the second I caught on to how to irrigate and how to read graphs with certain sensors, I was able to scale at a very high level and very quickly because I knew what I was looking for. Back then, it was like, ‘Shit, something looks like it’s wrong here.’ You know, ‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ [Now I] could identify it very quickly.”
About a year into running his 100-light facility, Scott realized the pressure was making a diamond, and his job got easier.
“Now there’s a lot of different technology where you can see what’s going on immediately. You can get alerts on your phone if temperatures go out of whack. If it starts getting too hot, just shut the lights off. Immediate, real-time responsiveness… And then, from there, people saw what we were capable of. I got more opportunities and got more spots, and just continued to grow at a very, very fast pace.”
With the increased attention, it was paramount to Scott that anything hitting the streets that bore his name was of the highest possible caliber.
“What we look for is, you know, similar terpene profiles to what’s hot in the market right now, but we’re trying to recreate something new, where it’s similar to something, but it has its own twist,” he said. “We’re trying to get customers for our brands for life—not just one time and then you go out and talk shit because it wasn’t very good. We want to be like, ‘Yo, have you tried this shit? It’s so fucking fire!’ That’s what makes it fun. I got into this because I love smoking weed. I was on the hunt trying to find the best genetics and grow the best flower on the planet, you know?”
Throughout his own growth, he partnered with friends to develop a nutrient line called NPKaliPro. Today, he considers that part of his secret sauce.
“It’s gotten the product where it is, my pro salts,” Scott said. “I think the way everything smokes, how clean it smokes, that’s a factor. Why it smokes that way, why the ash is so white, why the terps are the way they are…”
TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK
Although Wizard Trees is its own brand, Scott is quick to point out the other players that helped him get to where he is today, and that collaboration has elevated his game to levels he didn’t know he could reach. Most notably, he attributes a lot of his success to Deep East, the person behind DEO Farms, who breeds most of the genetics Wizard Trees grows.
“Rob [Deep East] was working with my partner at the time, and there was a falling out between the partners, and I received all of Rob’s genetics,” Scott said. “He had given my partner all these seeds, the Rainbow Sherbet seeds. We popped 100 seeds, and we found the RS #3, our RS-11, and the RS #54, which is Studio 54.”
After Scott connected with Rob directly, it was clear the two were on the same page. Seemingly kismet, Scott pitched an idea to Rob.
“Let’s build something together and just keep working on this.”
As you can likely tell by now, things only picked up speed from there.
“I have always gone after the highest quality strains, you know? Trying to find the best genetics and keep things on an exclusive level to at least the group and infrastructure that I’m a part of,” Scott said. “I think it’s cool what he’s doing, and now what our group is doing on the genetic side. How we can keep it a small, tight-knit group inside the cannabis industry—people that have been in the industry for a minute— and then just elevate each other to the next level. I think the way that we put the group together, I think it just kind of fell in place this way. Rob’s the breeder, I’m the grower, and Ryan’s the distro. He’s the one that gets it out. And I mean, at this point, all three of us have really big names. So whatever we touch, it kind of just… I mean, I don’t like to put out anything that’s not good. So if it’s not good, I just don’t grow it. But the bigger it is, the more people see it, the bigger it takes off.”
And that model seems to work with the partners, as we’re seeing with his latest collaborations with Fiya Farmer, Zangria, and CREAM.
As Scott told me, “[Fiya Farmer] was one of the first people that I actually met through Instagram. We started super small, and we’ve always kept in contact. Our latest, CREAM, is GM3 x Thin Mint Cookies. GM3 is the first female I ever found from seed. It’s a Grease Monkey pheno from Exotic Genetix.”
Another longtime partner, SMKRS LA (aka Captain Save A Grow), is actually the guy who selected Studio 54 and the RS #3, which SMKRS is currently running as Shirazi.
“So everyone that I partner up with, we usually have similar ambitions on trying to find dope new genetics and just hunting for the new thing to keep it exclusive to the group,” Scott said. “If everyone has it, it’s not that cool. There’s a lot of really good genetics out there. But if everyone on the planet has it… It’s worked out pretty well between me, DEO, and Doja and the other partners that have been a part of it along the way.”
DOWN THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
With some of the most in-demand genetics in the game right now, it’s easy to assume that Scott would just stick to his lane and keep pumping out primo in California, but that’s not a big enough goal for Wizard Trees.
“I think the goal is to try and be in every high-end state,” he said. “The biggest problem is making sure that everything gets grown properly. You know, the biggest concern of having anyone grow our strains is that it’s not going to be up to our quality, and we don’t want to see the brand get tarnished if it’s not grown correctly because, at this point, everyone knows what’s good and what’s bad. And if you put out some bad flower into your brand, people don’t forget that. Scaling up too quickly is a problem.
“You know, people don’t really understand. This isn’t the easiest thing ever,” Scott said. “I am hoping to be a part of a group that just basically takes what I’ve done here and can scale it from state to state and be a part of that process and make sure that they grow out the same way that I like it to be grown.”
But just growing his own brand isn’t enough for Scott. He’s constantly putting together new projects, like Avantt, a collaboration between himself, Deep East, and Joey Colombo, the artist known as JdotColombo behind Money Trees Cannabis.
“The reason we want to do that is we just want to push one thing,” Scott said. “People have kind of gotten confused in the past on who’s a part of it, or who did what so that just can be all of us. Rob is the breeder behind it, I’m the grower, and Joey, he’s gonna do all the badass art that he does like make bag designs and animations, and we think it’s gonna be a pretty epic concept.
“With Avantt, what we’re doing is all the crosses and dope strains that we’ve made over the years, we’re going to cross them all. We’re popping thousands of seeds, and we’re trying to find some of the dopest genetics and different terpene profiles and have, like, six to eight strains. What me and Rob do is try to find different lines where it’s completely different terp profiles and then keep working those lines. Something we kind of just learned with the RS-11 is when we dropped Zoap, the 11 started to fade a little bit. So now when we find something, and we’ve got so many of them, we can start ramping those up and start phasing the old ones out.”
If there’s one thing we know about the way the industry moves, it’s that you’re only as good as your latest product.
“We’ve got to stay ahead of the game,” Scott said. “Once a strain starts dying out, we already have the new production in heavy flow. With what we’ve got going on with the brand right now, we need to focus on the highest quality there is. Otherwise, it’s work. If you walk into a 50-, or 100-light room, and you see six different badass flavors that are about to come down, and they’re all purpled out, smelling amazing. Just walking through one of those rooms puts a big smile on my face.”