What is Craft Cannabis and Why Does It Matter?
There are several differences between small-batch and commercial weed.
Great weed that's grown with mama's love — that's what craft cannabis is all about. By taking some class-A genetics and putting every minute into growing the plants with extreme daily attention, you'll come away with some of the best weed this world has to offer. But what exactly does craft cannabis mean, and more importantly, how does it differ from commercial cannabis?
To gain insight on the subject, and why it matters in the grand scheme of cannabis worldwide, I spoke to Mike Leibowitz, CEO of Veritas Fine Cannabis in Colorado and Jesce Horton, CEO of LOWD in Oregon — both craft cannabis growers backed by years of experience.
What is craft cannabis?
Craft cannabis — also called small-batch cannabis or artisanal cannabis — refers to a small-scale growth of cannabis that emphasizes quality over quantity. It is defined by cultivators that can dial in every little detail of growing cannabis, from seedling to harvest to curing, ultimately bringing forth the best aromas, flavors, and effects of the genetics they're using.
“Craft cannabis is a hands-on approach to growing cannabis. I think there are going to be two very separate cannabis businesses at some point that define themselves. One is going to treat cannabis more like a commodity that sells to the masses; and then there's craft cannabis, which is a cultivation-oriented, cultivation-first product that emphasizes the technique of growing, emphasizes the medium of how you're growing, emphasizes the genetics you're growing, the atmosphere you're growing in, much more than an automated process,” said Liebowitz.
There are plenty of smaller family farms, especially in Northern California, that specialize in growing small-batch cannabis. These farms emphasize sustainably grown, full-term outdoor cannabis that uses natural processes and regenerative farming methods. But because of these practices, there is much debate over indoor cannabis being considered “craft cannabis” at any scale. It would seem that the answer lies in the size of these indoor farms and the growers' ability to meticulously care for each plant.
In an MJ Biz Daily article from 2019, CEO of California's Flow Kana said, “When it comes to indoor, you can do it at small scale, with love and intention, and call it craft. And a lot of people do it. But for me, indoor is a cultural phenomenon that is left over from the prohibition.”
How does craft cannabis differ from commercial cannabis?
There are many differentiators between growing craft and commercial cannabis. In my conversations with Horton and Leibowitz, I found that it all boils down to three things: operation size, attention to detail, and the resulting quality.
The thing to know about cannabis is that each individual cultivar requires different growth techniques to bring out its best traits. With cannabis that is grown for scale rather than for full genetic expression, many farms have huge fields or warehouses growing a bunch of different strains under the same lighting and watering cycles, and then rush the drying/curing processes as a company's objective is to flood the market with product as quickly as possible. This results in huge harvests and a huge supply, but it doesn't necessarily produce the highest quality of weed that a cannabis connoisseur would want to smoke. Veteran smokers want big aromas, big flavors, big effects, and to be absolutely blown away from their buds each and every time they consume. These traits are often lacking with the cannabis that comes from companies that produce big amounts for the cheapest pricing.
On the extra care and attention to detail that goes into small-batch cannabis, Horton said, “No matter what, each strain is going to like a different level of watering; so especially when you have multiple strains on one table, and people are watering that table at one time, you're not giving some of those strains exactly what they want. You may be able to give them enough to where they're healthy, and they're doing okay, but if they're not getting exactly what they want, then you open up the potential to reduce their quality, and move from that craft quality level.”
This is why craft cultivators emphasize smaller grows with a limited amount of strains, so they can be sure that each plant that comes out of their garden is a true showstopper. However, Veritas challenges the idea that craft can't be grown in a larger facility. When asked how the size of an operation defines craft cannabis, Leibowitz shared, “When we talk about craft cannabis, we talk about really doing something on a micro-level, maybe even at a macro-scale. You can have a 30,000 - 50,000-square foot facility, but the way we've designed our facility is we draw micro-rooms. So we'll have 700 - 800 square foot flowering rooms, no more than 25-30 lights in each room, that way we can plant the room at once, harvest the room at once, thoroughly clean the room in between each cycle, and pay more attention to each and every plant that goes in that room every day.”
When defining the right number of lights in a room that would be considered indoor small-batch cannabis, Leibowitz told me that Veritas has never grown in a room larger than 45 lights. Subjectively speaking, Horton said, “For me, I've found that the sweet spot where I can still do small batches is a max of 30 - 40 lights per harvest. If you can get a 10 - 20 lightroom, those are some of the best because usually you've got one grower in there, and they know the whole process, they know each plant, and they can reduce all these variables that are common in the cultivation space.”
Another huge component of craft cannabis is hand-trimming the plants versus machine trimming. The problem with using big machines to trim cannabis is that you lose a lot of the trichomes from the plant. The trichomes are the key to quality. They are the milky white crystals on cannabis flowers that house both the cannabinoids and the terpenes, which are the compounds in cannabis that are most responsible for the effects we feel when consuming.
RELATED: The Emergence of Cannabis as Luxury
What is craft cannabis's place in the consumer market?
With the future of cannabis consumerism imitating the alcohol industry, it's easy to see that there are going to be different levels of quality for each type of consumer. Just like how you can grab a 30-pack of Keystone Lights for $15 that'll get the job done, you'll be able to go out and purchase ounces for $50 - $100. On the flip side, just like how you can grab a special batch of fruit-infused sours from your local microbrewery, you'll be able to grab jars of craft cannabis that might hit your pockets for $50 - $60 an eighth, but you'll be consuming some of the most flavorful and potent flower possible.
On craft cannabis's place in the future world of weed shopping, Leibowitz said, “Definitely always on the top shelf. I think you're going to have good packaging with it, I think it's going to be like buying a nice bottle of wine versus an average bottle of wine. I think it will undeniably be classes above commercial cannabis. One day a bodega in New York will sell you five joints for seven bucks and it's probably going to be grown outdoors in North Carolina, and have an 8% THC level, and have a purpose, right? And then there will be, potentially in that same bodega, hopefully a jar of Veritas, and it'll cost $60 for three grams, but it's something that is of a much higher quality than what was in that joint that you smoked. And that should be evident to the consumer when they smoke it.”
On getting consumers to buy into the idea of more expensive, but higher quality, craft cannabis, Horton shared, “I think it's really about education. When you start to see other people moving from the lower-cost, lower-dollar cannabis and moving more into top-shelf cannabis, it usually comes naturally. And education of them learning the difference. I think as consumers are getting access to better buds, it is a natural evolution for many to want to consume the best, consume the healthiest cannabis, the most effective cannabis, the best smelling, the most pleasurable from a number of different standpoints when you look at measuring aesthetics, smell, effects, and taste.”