Friday, September 20, 2019

The poison-vape crisis could be good for cannabis terroir

Cannabis is a quickly expanding industry, but it is rapidly losing its roots in the weed itself. The crisis of illegal vape cartridges could be a welcome corrective.

To begin my explanation, let me give you a little personal background. I am on a PR firm's list of journalists for wine, spirits and cannabis.

I cover wine for consumer publications like Wine Searcher, where I am US Editor. But I also write trade magazine articles. So I get press releases about wine spanning the gamut, from "our Transylvania Pinot Noir just got a Bronze Medal in the Tirana Wine Competition" to "how you can use big data to charge more for your Chardonnay." More than 75% of all wine press releases, no matter how comical, are fairly close to grapes.

For cannabis, though: less than 10% of the press releases I get are about a farm product. Because I'm not a business writer I often get cannabis press releases in business-eze that I don't even understand, and would fall asleep if I did ("Our CEO has actualized an effective system for innovative HR solutions!) I do get product pitches, but maybe 75% of them are completely divorced from the plant. "Our CBD oil comes in three scents!"

I think it's intentional. The young cannabis industry is full of entrepreneurs who, perhaps because they're still worried about propriety, do not want to talk about why people use cannabis, which is largely to get high. Those that do, want to talk about the specific type of high. It's very, very rare to get a pitch that talks about the plant itself: where it's grown and how.

Cannabis, currently, has no terroir. Not in the mind of the public -- and that's because it doesn't have terroir in the mind of the industry.

Wine used to be sold like this, in the U.S. in the 1980s. Winemakers mocked terroir. But eventually they came around. Now not only do winemakers prize terroir: the winery business office does as well. If you can establish that Paso Robles is a good place for wine grapes, you can sell more Paso Robles wine. That has become an essential point in wine marketing everywhere.

Terroir must make a difference for cannabis. Apples taste different from Washington and California. Onions are different in Georgia and Wisconsin. Terroir matters to plants. Why would cannabis be an exception?

However, when the industry concentrates on concentrates -- get your buzz on from this plastic cartridge full of THC oil and who knows what filler -- they develop a market that is completely divorced from farming. That's what we have now.

The vape cartridge crisis could be the corrective.

People are going to want to use cannabis in increasing numbers; we all agree on that. But the industry as a whole has been moving away from any relationship to where the cannabis is grown. Flower -- the dried buds of the weed itself, also known as the Only Cannabis Available before it was legal -- has been a minority of sales.

But flower is the core of cannabis appreciation. If people don't buy and use flower, cannabis will be a fad like oat bran. (Personally I think this is CBD oil's future.)

Right now, many potential consumers must be a little skittish about vaping. This is the perfect time, with harvest coming in, for cannabis companies -- producers, distributors, retailers -- to talk about flower. To talk about terroir. To explain why strains (varieties) matter, and that where those strains are grown matters.

One of the reasons vaping took off so quickly is that it seems safer than smoking flower. Now we know that's not the case. You do have to burn something to smoke flower, but you can be pretty sure -- 100% sure in a legal state -- that you're not getting any dangerous additives.

Hopefully some far-sighted cannabis entrepreneurs will decide to do what wine pioneers always do: plant their stake in a certain piece of land and tell us the land is special, and we should seek out cannabis from there.

Terroir matters in cannabis: I believe this. I hope the cannabis industry comes to believe it as well.

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S in Oakland said...

Completely agree. Well written and hopefully some growers, marketers and consumers are listening. Organic and chemical free sounds good to me. However, distribution and storage economics may continue to work against this without consumers who are willing to pay a premium price. It will be an interesting market to watch. My guess, a mass market and specialty markets will segement out, as has in many agriculture areas.

W. Blake Gray said...

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