For Kristin Nevedal, Super Silver Haze is not always the same Super Silver Haze. Like the concept of “terroir” in foods, she and many growers believe the characteristics of cannabis plants vary depending on their local environment.
“There are obvious differences between, say, a Super Silver Haze that is cultivated at a 700ft elevation and a Super Silver Haze that is cultivated at a 2,200ft elevation in Humboldt County,” said Nevedal, a cannabis activist and former grower.
There are champagne labels for wine and roquefort labels for cheese, so could there be a Humboldt Haze label for cannabis?
Cannabis appellation – one of the provisions in new California regulations that went into effect this year – could ensure that certain strains – for instance, Mendo Purps, which was first cultivated in Mendocino, California – are only grown in certain regions, not simply plants of that origin cultivated elsewhere.
Aside from being useful to the discerning consumer who might “want the specialty stuff they can bring out for special occasions or just want to treat themselves”, appellations could protect small farmers against “big cannabis”, said Dale Sky Jones, chancellor of cannabis-centric Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California.
It could ensure that growers in a specific area who built the state’s prestige by producing high-quality strains retain exclusive rights over that location in marketing, so that Santa Cruz sensimilla or Bodega-grown Blue Dream is reliably from those locations.
“This is how small business competes with big cannabis”, Jones said. “And this is why this is so unbelievably important … Appellation is going to wind up being the first line of defense.”
Already with medical cannabis’s legalisation, the state is seeing a boom in investors and entrepreneurs inundating the industry, and more are expected amid current efforts to put recreational cannabis before state voters next fall.
The appellation system is “a means to protect California’s unique heritage and leadership within this industry”, said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a statewide education and lobbying group.
Allen said that there “are isolated communities of cannabis cultivators in every corner of the state and each of these has a unique culture”. But the reclusiveness that protected their illegal operations is now an impediment to competition.
Allen added that he sees the appellation system extending beyond just region to incorporate issues such as sustainability practices, use of pesticides and other “value” issues that “articulate what the community standards are”, he said.
While location is a key differentiator for northern California growers, some in the industry say southern California is likely to focus more on branding than appellation, since it lacks as many notable growing areas.
“It’s more about personalities down there,” Jones said. She points to celebrity-backed strains of weed that are catching attention and venture capital backing not just in California, but in other states where cannabis is legal. Influential musicians and stars such as Willie Nelson, Wiz Khalifa and the family of Bob Marley have all announced ventures into the cannabis industry.
While California’s new cannabis laws went into effect 1 January, the state is a long way from setting up the appellation system or fulfilling the complex medical cannabis regulation package that could become the model for recreational legalization in the state. Some advocates don’t expect to see implementation of the law until 2018.