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What’s in a Name? The Californian Cannabis Appellations Promise

Taking lead from the Champagne region of France, growers have sought to establish Californian cannabis appellations for their crops.

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PHOTO | M J Rockwell
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Legal recreational cannabis sales kicked off in California on January 1st, 2018. However, the state has been aware that small-batch, craft cannabis growers have sought to establish Californian cannabis appellations for their crops well before legalization happened.

What is an Appellation of Origin?

Appellation comes from the French verb, ‘appeller’, to name. An Appellation of Origin (AO) is a very special internationally recognized name. It’s a designation within the larger Geographical Indication system that’s used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. Think Champagne.

The celebrated sparkling wine of the Champagne region of France is the most commonly recognized international product we all know by its unique high… and it’s AO. Others you may already enjoy at your table include Bordeaux wine, Mexican Tequila and Roquefort cheese.

These distinct, high-quality products have been awarded AO designations because they passed rigorous tests and had those tests verified. By doing so they proved that their superior qualitative characteristics are a result exclusively of their place — their origin. Place is shaped by the region’s unique environmental factors, cultural heritage, production practices and resulting legacy of regional crop varietals.

Are you starting to think Humboldt, Mendocino, The Emerald Triangle? Exactly.

Why Do Californian Cannabis Appellations Matter for Craft Farmers?

Some 25,000 people attended MJBiz Con in Las Vegas this November, the biggest cannabis business conference in the United States. Across the country, large-scale farms are being financed and positioned for the anticipated global cannabis commodities market. Meanwhile, heritage and craft cannabis farmers in California are struggling to stay afloat amid complicated and ever-changing state regulations, while limited to an under-developed legal local consumer base.

Internationally, there have been cannabis production regions within China, Morocco, India, Nepal and Pakistan for centuries, where regulations are yet to be implemented giving these legacy farmers access to a legal market.

What can small, traditional farms around the world do to compete?

Differentiate.

Appellations are an international means to differentiate products and have the potential to create a path forward for traditional, legacy, craft cannabis farmers — if they can hold on long enough for the market to support them. And many of them cannot.

Small farmers are selling their farms, giving up on cannabis as a crop, losing their farms to the bank, and to unscrupulous investors. At the beginning of 2018, California Growers Association estimated there were there were 68,000 cannabis farms in California. Humboldt County officials estimated between 6,000 and 15,000 thousand grows throughout the county. As of October, the state had only issued some 5000 temporary cultivation licenses and by November, only seven full licenses.

So in five years, will even a quarter of the Humboldt farmers still be cultivating? Probably not.

For those family farmers who can make it through on their own, in co-ops or with the help of investors with integrity, the positive outlook is that the looming commodities market and the craft market compliment each other. For example, commodity cannabis fuels affordable products for general consumption, filling the seemingly endless demand for vape pen oils that largely taste the same. Craft cannabis aims for the unique quality niche, for the connoisseur consumer who appreciates and will pay for the unique traits that result because of place, person and process.

PHOTO: Swami Select

Who’s Working on It?

It’s the connoisseur consumer in whom Genine Coleman, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Mendocino Appellations Project (MAPS), has faith.

“Cannabis at its best is an expression of place,” said Coleman. It’s an annual adaptogen, that responds greatly to its environment, to the soil, water, sunlight, farmers and their techniques. Together these factors create what the French have termed ‘terroire’. Appellations will allow us to unlock how to potentiate the unique and alluring traits of cannabis. We’re on a very mysterious and sensual journey.”

Coleman comes with an extensive marketing background including working for Whole Foods during their climb to great success in the late 90s into the 2000s. “Whole Foods succeeded because they made decisions based on what the consumer wanted,” said Coleman with confidence.

Cannabis consumers are expected to be the same, once they are educated about their options. Currently, many self-described, but as of yet uneducated, foodies are smoking hydroponic cannabis grown in warehouses in the desert, fed with standardized, bottled fertilizers. Given the option, many of them would opt for sun-grown, family farm raised products, with the richest terpene profiles, and a story of place.

Education is key.

Coleman has co-led the MAPs team in coalition building and educating over the last 18 months, collaborating with local and global strategic partners developing proposals for environmental, botanical and social research in the coming year, and educating and developing public policy. Because cannabis has been effectively illegal for 80 plus years, gathering data and educating the global community are essential to support the shift to an international market with a place for craft farmers.

What’s Next?

Most recently, MAP was a member of the coalition which submitted a paper to the World Health Organization (by invitation) called “The Importance of Appellations of Origin to the Successful Therapeutic Model of Whole Plant Cannabis.” The 41st Expert Committee on Drug Dependence reviewed it in November and will be offering recommendations based on their findings to the United Nations’ Commission on Narcotic Drugs, possibly pushing forward a positive change in the scheduling status of cannabis within international conventions.  

In 2017 California passed a law mandating that the California Department of Food and Agriculture develop a geographic indication system for cannabis, including Appellation of Origin designation to be implemented by 2021. CDFA’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division is in the process of research, soliciting stakeholder input and scoping the regulatory and programmatic frameworks for the CalCannabis Appellations Project. They have much to accomplish in the next two years.

What’s an Aficionado to Do?

Today’s cannabis aficionados are proud to be on the cutting edge of this mysterious and sensual journey with cannabis herself and the farmers who bring out her best traits. They are the connoisseurs that seek out and appreciate quality, thereby fueling the existing and future craft market.

Pick a small farm or coop who’s cannabis you admire and get to know them. Look them up on Instagram, follow them, ask for and purchase their products, give them as gifts, tell your friends, send a love note. Indulge in the terpene-rich, unique strains from the small farmers you want to see thrive in the coming international cannabis market.

To give them a chance to make it there.

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New Odor-Proof Bags Will Keep Your Stash Safe & Stylish

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Higher Standards x Revelry

Cannabis carryalls have come a long way. Continued advancement in smell-prevention technology has created a new breed of odor-proof bags. Just in time for 420, two of the cool kid brands have just launched a collection of form-meets-function travel bags to keep your stash safe.

The Higher Standards x Revelry collection fuses East Coast style with the West Coast spirit of adventure. Each odor-proof bag in the collection is made with Revelry’s signature three-layered carbon filtration system of activated charcoal and synthetic filters that soak up all unwanted smells.

The collab showcases minimalist design with maximum technicality across four odor-proof bags — a fanny pack; zip pouch; dopp kit and backpack. Additionally, the bags are waterproof, made from lightweight fabrics with heavy-duty rubber backing, and seal shut with double-lined zippers.

Higher Standards x Revelry collection is available now in stores and online.

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The Highly Anticipated Collab Between Bllrdr x G Pen Has Dropped

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Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib with the new G Pen Dash | PHOTO Mark Blinch

G Pen has partnered with Bllrdr to introduce a new collaboration, an exclusive co-branded global line of G Pen advanced technology vaporizers, starting with the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash.

This collab integrates new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware, to make for even more brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers.

Helping to both elevate and advance the cannabis experience, the two companies have a shared history of innovation, something that is set to continue with each brand to bring sought-after collaborations to the market.

Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib grinds his iconic Afghani BullriderPhoto by Mark Blinch

Bllrdr is a Toronto-based cannabis brand founded by Noah “40” Shebib, a Grammy award-winning producer, and Jef Tek, a legendary cultivator. The brand is known for its extensive market-leading cannabis genetics and small-batch production, developing rare and special cut strains.

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Shebib discovered the benefits of using the Afghani Bullrider cultivar. Tek’s late wife, medical marijuana activist Michelle Rainey, who suffered from Crohn’s disease and cancer, also found the strain offered relief from her symptoms.

G Pen, known for championing and celebrating the connection between consumption and art, is thrilled to partner with Bllrdr, Canada’s best new lifestyle cannabis brand, supporting its people and their mission.

“I’ve known Noah since the early stages of G Pen,” says G Pen CEO and founder Chris Folkerts, “and this partnership brings it full circle.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of the launch of the most highly-anticipated and unique genetics in the Ontario market.”

Bllrdr x G Pen
Noah “40” Shebib at his studio in Toronto with the new G Pen Dash | PHOTO Mark Blinch

Now, the two brands plan to bring sought-after collaborations to the market increasing the brand diversity of the popular G Pen vaporizers by integrating new cannabis products from Bllrdr with G Pen’s proprietary innovative technologies and hardware.

This first release from the G Pen x Bllrdr Collection is well-timed, with the launch of Bllrdr’s highly anticipated Afghani Bullrider strain — considered as one of the rarest genetics on the market — now officially available on the Ontario Cannabis Store. And just like Afghani Bullrider, the Bllrdr x G Pen Dash delivers satisfying and flavorful results.

The Bllrdr x G Pen Dash is now available in select Ontario retailers and on bllrdrco.co.

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5 Tips for Owning and Operating Successful Cannabis Dispensaries

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Cannabis Dispensaries
PHOTOS | Shiny Bud

The cannabis retail landscape has changed. Once regarded as somewhat of a novelty, legalization has allowed cannabis dispensaries to evolve into modern and innovative retail storefronts more akin to an Apple Store than the dark, secretive spaces they used to be. Some, like Shiny Bud, are proving to be leaders in the space, setting an exemplary standard of a contemporary cannabis retail experience.

Shiny Bud is one of Canada’s most successful dispensary chains. They pride themselves on offering customers a premium experience from the moment they enter, from a contemporary and inviting store design to highly trained staff, and of course, premium products.

Co-founder Alex Ledesma joined the cannabis industry when the Canadian government passed the Cannabis Act in 2018. She comes from a forward-thinking family of entrepreneurs, so the move to cannabis was an obvious next step.

“I saw an opportunity to be part of something big in Canada’s history, so we started following the industry, and applied for an application,” said Ledesma. 

Shiny Bud opened its first dispensary in Toronto on February 14. Fast forward only a few months, and the company has opened the doors to its fifth location in a small town called Orleans, just outside of Ottawa.

“We have a pretty aggressive rollout,” said Ledesma. “Coming from a quick-service industry, we’re quite comfortable with builds and finding locations. We took our expertise from that and put it into cannabis. And it’s all completely within the family.”

Shiny Bud was awarded 75 dispensary licenses by the Canadian government. The company’s expansion plans include two more Ontario store openings this year, bringing the total number of store openings to seven. And they have no plans to slow down.

“We should be hitting 30 stores by the end of 2021. And we’re planning on maxing out to 75 stores allocated. When we stop to think about it, it can take our breath away.”

The constant march forward of legalization has created an ever-growing interest in dispensary ownership. Below, Ledesma offers up five pieces of advice for those looking to enter the cannabis game.

1. Have a Well-Trained Team That’s Focused on Customer Experience 

As the industry is still so young, formal education in cannabis is still relatively scarce amongst prospective employees. For Shiny Bud, this presents an opportunity to reinforce one of their most important business objectives: provide cannabis education and training for their budtenders to pass on to their customers.

“Education is everything because the industry’s so new,” Ledesma said. “We truly believe that we’re an industry where we need to listen to our guests. This is one of the first things we teach our budtenders, along with providing a safe and educational experience for our customers in-store.” 

For many customers, the biggest value in going to a dispensary is learning which products are best suited for a specific condition or effect, whether they’re seasoned cannabis consumers or newly curious. 

“The goal for budtenders at Shiny Bud is to ensure customers are choosing the right product for them to provide a safe experience both in-store and at home,” Ledesma said.

2. Create a Guest Centric Environment 

This goes without saying, but customer service is critical to the success of any retail operation. Ledesma attributes Shiny Bud’s success to the brand’s core vision of providing a “fast and friendly cannabis retail destination.”

“We strive to offer our customers a unique and memorable experience — this has stayed with us since day one,” Ledesma said. “When you walk into any of our Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries, they’re bright, they’re big, and there’s a lot of education. The budtenders are dressed uniformly, and there’s personality — it’s not what people expect.”

Watching the change in customer demographic has been encouraging to Ledesma, who notes the increase in the 60+ demographic looking to add cannabis to their health and wellness, whether it be recreational, or to aid with a specific ailment.

“As a disclaimer, we always have to tell them that we’re not doctors and we can’t give them medical advice, so to start low and go slow,” Ledesma said. “It’s nice to see people like my mom, my dad, and grandparents come through the door, because you also know you’re helping break down the stigma.”

Cannabis Dispensaries
Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries are bright and clean, with plenty of quality products and customer education opportunities.

3. Stock the Best Inventory 

With so many quality products now available, choosing which ones to bring to Shiny Bud is quite a lengthy process. 

“We carry out a lot of research in terms of what’s new or trending, and what our customers are looking for in each location,” Ledesma said. “I wish I knew consumers’ buying preferences before our initial order was placed. We ended up buying too much!”

“We also use recommendations from our team members, our budtenders, and our customers. A lot of times we bring in representatives of the licensed producers to educate our budtenders about the products we’re selling.”

The three most popular purchases across three Shiny Bud locations are dried flower, vapes, and pre-rolls. “Our most frequently asked question is, ‘what is your highest THC or CBD?’” Ledesma said.

4. Have a Great Location  

The age-old proverb of “location, location, location” rings true in the cannabis industry, too. Finding the right real estate is arguably the most important part of retail success. Plus, because of the industry’s prohibition history and the nature of the products being sold, it’s important to find understanding landlords.

“Initially, landlords have said to us, ‘absolutely not, we will not entertain the idea of having a cannabis retailer here,’ so I invite them to take a look at one of our dispensaries so they can see the vision of what and who we are as a company and as an industry.”

5. Ensure Your Cannabis Dispensaries Connect with the Community 

Dispensaries are already major focal points in their communities. For Ledesma, giving back and helping break down old stigmas related to cannabis is a top priority. 

Shiny Bud is in the process of launching a collaboration with Tsaichedelic to create a line of tie-dyed tees and other merchandise. The proceeds will go towards supporting Cannabis Amnesty projects, like providing legal counsel to get those with criminal records over minor cannabis charges expunged. 

“Being a woman and a person of color in the cannabis space, I really believe in the fact that it needs to be the same playing fields for everybody,” Ledesma said. “Teaming up with Cannabis Amnesty just felt right.”

With the regulated cannabis market still so new, it’s important that business owners are able to adapt to changes and weather the ever-changing landscape of cannabis and the regulations.  

“It’s ever-changing, so we’re constantly learning and growing from it,” Ledesma said. “Regulations are always changing, so being fluid helps a lot.”

Look for Shiny Bud cannabis dispensaries in Canada and keep an eye out for their expansion into America in 2021.

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