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For Toronto’s Irelyne Lavery, her reasons for switching from cannabis flower to pre-ground products were all about convenience and value for money.
It’s simply easier to drop some into a bowl for a bong hit rather than grinding it up first. Plus, the prices are hard to beat, with seven-gram bags going for around $30.
She doesn’t consider herself a connoisseur so she doesn’t notice much of a difference in quality from the more expensive non-milled nugs on the market, nor do most of her friends.
“Over the last couple months, in my circles of friends who also smoke weed, everyone’s made the switch,” the 22-year-old said on a recent phone call.
Pre-ground cannabis sales are rising quarter after quarter
According to the Ontario Cannabis Store’s 2021 quarterly insights reports, milled cannabis sales at the retail level rose 104%, from $6,518,000 to $13,360,000 from Q1 to Q2. By Q3, sales of milled flower rose again to $19,853,000.
Seattle-based data, analytics and intelligence company Headset have also been tracking the progress of the category they’ve named “ground flower” in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Saskatchewan. In those markets, sales of milled flower have grown from 0.7% of all dried flower sales in January 2020 to 5.8% in March 2022.
According to their data, the top brands today are Shred, Pure Sunfarms and Steel City Green, and 90% of all sales are the seven-gram bag, which is the most common size of milled products.
“This is the battle of the connoisseur versus the practical stoner”
Mike, What’s My Pot, says of the milled cannabis trend.
Milled flower popularity makes connaisseurs balk
Owen Allerton, the co-founder of Kitchener, Ont.’s Highland Cannabis Store, has also noted the enormous appetite for milled flower products.
On a recent episode of The Dank Hour, a US-based podcast by Future Cannabis Project, he shared how popular the category has become among shoppers at his store—stunning the longtime consumers and connoisseurs featured on the show.
“You’re blowing my mind that this is a popular product, Owen,” said one guest in disbelief.
On a call from his home in Waterloo, Ont., Mike, the founder of strain recommendation website What’s My Pot, jokingly called his fondness for milled cannabis “my shame”.
Milled products are traditionally thought to be made of shake, the loose bits of cannabis flower that are leftover in containers or fallen to the floor or countertops while the real buds are being processed for sale. Mike explains that this isn’t the case with modern milled products.
“This is the battle of the connoisseur versus the practical stoner,” he said. “It’s certainly not very connoisseur to be smoking, you know, a milled weed blend. It’s not the sort of thing that’s winning any High Times competitions. But at the same time, we are smoking weed every day because we have to, not necessarily because we even want to, right?”
Mike has type one diabetes, and he said consuming THC helps reduce the volume of insulin he depends on by between 20 and 30%. He has some neuropathy and rheumatoid arthritis, and also uses cannabis to manage pain.
While he also buys a few premium brands and pre-rolls, milled products give him a level of convenience—no fussing with onerous containers and grinding with sore hands, for example—as well as the value that he depends on as a frequent medical consumer.
Shred’s success is a testament to improvements over time
Organigram launched its first milled blends in 2017 in the medical market. But it missed the mark in 2018 with its Prohibition blend, and the product was withdrawn, according to Alisha Fernandes, the company’s senior manager of communications.
But they took their learnings and applied them to a new set of recipes, launching Shred in 2020 with three flavours: Tropic Thunder, Gnarberry and Flower Power. Strains are blended based on sharing similar aromas, and categories like indica/sativa are left behind.
Tropic Thunder’s special mix of cannabis strains, for example, has largely citrus and fruity flavours. THC potency is at a minimum of 18%, and each bag comes with a moisture pack.
“Shred tapped into the somewhat dormant, light-hearted, and rebellious side of a nascent Canadian legal market, that had come to be known for taking itself too seriously and big, corporate brands that all looked and sounded the same,” Fernandes wrote in an email.
“It cast a wide net for weed lovers who just liked to get high and weren’t overly concerned with the more progressive elements of cannabis like terpenes, bud structure, breeder history, etc.”
It’s all about the grind
While milled blends aren’t necessarily for the connoisseur, their reputation for being ultra-low quality isn’t really accurate, according to Andrew MacMillan, the senior vice president, commercial at Auxly, whose Back Forty brand is popular in the milled category.
“Our milled flower is selected based on THC content to ensure it meets our high standards and is then assessed for moisture content to ensure the flower does not end up too dry and we deliver a consistent product,” MacMillan said in an email. “Our milled flower is then sifted to remove stems and carefully packaged by hand.”
In addition to potency, hydration, and the absence of seeds and stems, the quality of the grind is one of the most important factors to look at when evaluating quality, said Ryan Roch of Alberta’s Lake City Cannabis.
“One of the bigger mistakes growers make is they go with too fine of a grind at the beginning,” he said. “You’ve got to go with a coarse grind to get your best results out of it.”
Alisha Fernandes of Organigram concurred. For Shred, the team tested many different types of equipment, aiming to reproduce the quality of a handheld grinder on a larger scale.
“Organigram has tested many different types of milling equipment over the years, and now we have something that is both scalable and consistent,” she said. “Everyone has had their grinder seize up on them from resin build-up. Imagine that a million times worse at our scale of production.”