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Can Little Craft Cannabis Survive the Push From These Corporate Grow-ops

Randy Robinson
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Craft cannabis has a taste and aroma that mass production simply can’t match. That luxury comes with a comparable price tag. Is there a solid market for craft?

Like craft beers, the cannabis industry produces craft cannabis. Craft cannabis comes as gorgeous buds meticulously shaped by mindful trimmers and given a full month or more to cure. They smell amazing, burn cleanly, and generate flavor bouquets unmatched by the large-scale stuff grown in a rushed manner.

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As cooks say, you can tell when someone prepares a dish with love. The same is true for cannabis. Growers cultivate, harvest, and trim craft cannabis with love. But, big commercial grows threaten little operations with their intense production volume and incredible capital access.

It’s All About the Numbers

Cannabis is one of the oldest – if not the oldest – cash crops in human history. Today, the legal industry is worth $9 billion. In the next few years, it will likely hit $50 billion.

The only way to meet a $50 billion demand is to grow large-scale, likely through monocropping. This means giant warehouses or farm fields with rows and rows of cannabis. The plants are identified by tag numbers. They receive no love and are nurtured only by automated machines and the occasional human hand.

Because demand is so high in recreational markets, such as those in Colorado, Nevada, or Canada, producers are pressured to get product on the shelves quickly. Empty shelves, after all, can’t sell anything. No sales, no profits, no hefty taxes going to Big Brother. This means commercial cannabis is often pushed through one of its most delicate phases – the curing process – which leads to subpar product.

Will Commercial Become King?

“I love craft cannabis, but I can’t afford it,” says Carl Yates, a cannabis patient who lives in Colorado. Yates takes cannabis to treat anxiety and insomnia, but because he doesn’t want his name on a government registry, he hasn’t applied for a medical cannabis card. Instead, he chooses to fly under the radar, as it were, by buying anonymously from recreational retail stores.

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Right now, most recreational pot shops in Colorado sell an eighth of an ounce of weed anywhere between $12 to $20. Full ounces can go for as low as $70, before the graduated 25 percent tax. However, that $70, says Yates, only applies to the cannabis that is discount. The higher-quality stuff, dubbed “top shelf,” can sell for well over $100 an ounce.

“I smoke too much to pay that every month,” Yates said. “Weed is pretty much all the same for me anyway.”

 

Or Will There Always Be a Place for Craft?

Craft cannabis, just like craft beers, may find a permanent niche in the legal markets, despite stiff competition with discounted commercial cannabis. In the same way most beer drinkers may be fine swilling Pabst Blue Ribbon, others with more refined palates may prefer something like Chimay or a Fat Tire.

“There will always be a place for craft cannabis,” wrote Harold Friday to RxLeaf in an email. Friday (not his real name) is a home cultivator based in Colorado. “There will always be people that want the best stuff, and the best stuff isn’t made in bulk commercially.”

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Friday noted that in Colorado, prices drastically fell over the last couple of years as cannabis saturated the market, and the state teetered on the brink of oversupply. But as the young market has stabilized, prices are going up for “quality brands.” Consumers are beginning to recognize the best buds from the filler, and they’re spending their money accordingly.

“Quality brands names seem to be getting the most following these days,” continued Friday, “so I am led to believe quality will always rule the market.”

Is Craft Safer Than Commercial?

What exactly entails craft cannabis is up for debate. Some connoisseurs may say that only homegrown cannabis can be craft. Others argue that commercially produced cannabis is also craft, as long the company produces it with high standards.

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Let’s assume, for the sake of this argument, that craft cannabis can only come from the loving environment of a home grow. In many U.S. states with legal cannabis, such as Colorado, only licensed cannabis cultivators can submit their buds for lab testing. Home grows and small-operation medical caregivers cannot submit their product for lab testing, which could spell danger for some patients.

“I hope you can see how outrageous this is for someone trying to treat their medical needs,” wrote Friday. “So even if you are a medical home grower, you cannot test your own grown meds now.”

Regarding safety – whether it’s a fear of pesticide residues or powdery mildew – commercial cannabis should always go through stringent lab testing. Even if commercial weed may not always be of the highest quality, rest assured, it could be safer to consume than home grown stuff.

Could being the key word.

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Randy Robinson

As someone who wanted to know everything but couldn't decide on anything, Randy completed degrees in English, World History, and Molecular Biology. During their studies, they received an externship at the biotech firm Cannabis Science Inc., focusing on phytocannabinoids as anti-tumor and anti-cancer agents. Based in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, you can find Randy on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium @RanDieselJay

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