Newly Legal Customers Want Mellower Marijuana

The state of the universe.
March 20 2013 12:31 PM

Not That High

Today’s marijuana is too strong, and that’s bad for new business.

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Andrew Marris is a marijuana analyst at Northwest Botanical Analysis in Seattle (and the author's brother).

Photo by Emma Marris

These terpenes affect the high as well as the sensory experience of smoking. It is called the “entourage effect.” As the industry matures with legalization and gets beyond its THC obsession, says Muraco Kyashna-tocha, director of the Evergreen State Cannabis Trade Alliance, “We'll learn we like the 15 percent THC lemon haze with myrcene way more than the 20 percent THC lemon haze with no myrcene.”

Yes, the marijuana industry is about to change, any minute. You can’t exactly walk into a grocery store and buy a sack of weed, but that day may not be that far off. Colorado and Washington state officials are currently hammering out rules and regulations for how the drug can be bought and sold, and by the end of the year, you might be able to pop into a state-run or private shop for a few ounces of the sticky icky on your way home from the office.

Will this new legality expand the market of marijuana customers beyond the current core demographic of guys in their 20s in hoodies and baseball caps with a callous disregard for regular shaving? Yeah. Probably. At least, that’s the read of industry insiders. “Now that the stigma of being a criminal in the eyes of the law (at least here in Seattle) is gone, we foresee a gradual increase in consumption, though perhaps in more benign forms like edibles, drinkables, and topicals. They are much more fun and much less threatening since you don't have to engage in the act of smoking,” says Lisa Dank, the media coordinator and web consultant for one Seattle dispensary, North Seattle Med. Co.

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Back in Colorado, Ellison says that as of now, the demand for straight-up bud comes from men in their 20s, and they pay for potency. “They want to party and get wasted,” he says. But if customers demand something mellower, the industry will supply it. Ellison predicts that large corporations, such as beer companies, might fill the gap, producing large quantities of midgrade weed: not as flashy as the current Cannabis Cup winners, with their crystals of THC glistening under glamorous lighting, but not as pathetic as ditch weed either. “If the big boys come in and come out with a mid-grade” he says, then that new market will be served.

Until then, newbies and those who have been burned by strong weed have a few options. They can make sure that the marijuana they are buying is mostly Cannabis sativa rather than Cannabis indica. Sativa is said to be more cerebral, more placid. Indica, on the other hand, is known for inducing what industry insiders refer to as “couch lock.” If you are in your 40s or 50s, the dope you smoked in high school was probably sativa. “Most of this country, people over 40, the fond memories we have of way back when, when pot made you want to play the guitar and dance in the field, were of sativa,” says Kyashna-tocha. “We were importing from tropical places. But then we started having indoor production. If you grow indoors, you shift to the stuff that is going to maximize production: fast, short, and big impressive-looking buds. That is indica. The shift went to this more stupefying stoned high.”

One caveat about that sativa advice, though. My brother says that there are few, if any, truly pure strains available. Everything has been hybridized many times over in basements and grow rooms from California to Spain.

Another strategy is to go for the bargain parts of the plant. “Oftentimes the dispensary will have the shake and the leaf, which is going to have the same taste, but what you end up with is a less potent pot,” explains Ellison. “That way you maintain the taste and the high but you are not overdoing it.”

My brother says that it takes five months to a year to create a new strain of dope. It might take longer than that for a culture obsessed with potency to realize that there’s a market for something you can smoke after the kids go to bed or on a camping trip of retirees. Marijuana advocates have long countered worries about increased potency with research that smokers adjust and smoke less. But what if people don’t want to smoke less? We don’t all take tiny shots of strong liquor to get our drink on. No, we nurse 5 percent beer so we can keep drinking.

“People don’t want to take one micro-puff of a tiny little doobie and say, ‘We’re done,’ ” my brother says. “They want to share in the social aspect.” He moves his hand in a circle to indicate the archetypal joint-passing ring.

Weed breeders, take note. You can take your time on that 10 percent THC strain with the complex symphony of canabinoids and terpenes, calm muscle relaxation, creative headspace, and beautiful tropical aroma. But those rich baby boomers and Gen-Xers aren’t getting any younger.

Correction, March 21, 2013: This article originally misspelled the name of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle.

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