I attended an event at a popular dispensary and consumption lounge in West Hollywood a few months ago. There, I purchased three jars of flower, each strain a current favorite that I’d tried many times before. I was excited to show my friends and colleagues the fire I was about to put them on to, and announced to the rotation what I would be rolling.
I opened the first jar, took a whiff, and closed it immediately. Dead, lifeless little nugs lay there, devoid of any sensory attributes. I thought it must have been a fluke, so I opened the other two jars — the same devastating whiffs of hay. I checked the dates on the first jar. It had been packaged 54 weeks before my purchase and harvested four months before that.
Sadly, the issue of weed being old by the time it reaches the consumer is all too common, especially regarding sun-grown flower. While indoor cultivators can harvest as often as they want, sun-grown farmers harvest only once a year in October. And weed traveling from rural areas has much farther to go than flower from urban facilities, which are closer to dispensaries.
How weed breaks down from farm to dispensary
How the cannabis industry is structured in legal markets can promote the issue of selling old weed. There is no oversight once the flower leaves the farm for transport to the dispensary. The dispensary is not responsible for its transport, and the farmer has no way of knowing what is happening to their flower while it’s being transported. If a driver were to stop and get a bite on a hot summer day, the entire crop they’re transporting could be destroyed within a matter of minutes.
“With all the different steps that the herb has to go through before it makes it to dispensary shelves, the average batch takes [between] 30 – 45 days to reach consumers.” Said Alec Dixon, founder of SC Labs, a quality control center for cannabis and hemp. “If you’re not actively refrigerating it that whole time and treating it like lettuce, we usually see that 60 – 90% of the terpene content is gone by the time it hits the shelves.”
Chiah Rodriques, a regenerative cannabis farmer in Mendocino, is all too familiar with this issue. “It all falls back on the farmer,” she said. “Because of the way that the regulated system is set up when my flower is sitting at a distro, they don’t technically own it until it sells to retail in packaging.”
She continued, “I don’t get paid for that product until it’s sold from the retailer. The distro doesn’t owe me anything, but they can mess up the product between storing it for orders or delivering it. Ultimately, it comes back to bite the farmer in the butt because I’m on the hook for everything, even though the product I provided them was perfect when it left the farm.”
Mature weed versus dead weed
There are two types of old weed: dead and mature.
- Mature weed is an old-school term that refers to cannabis that has aged in a state of constant curing — or ideal conditions in terms of light, heat, and humidity under the supervision of a master grower. Though farther from harvest and package date, it’s still very good, and some will argue, even better than its freshly harvested counterparts.
- Dead weed refers to flower that’s been exposed to degrading elements like light, heat, and incorrect humidity levels while curing. Thus, it’s become devoid of the active compounds that get you high and dictate smell, flavor, the nuance of its experience, and so on.
How long does it take for weed to mature?
Chaitanya — known as “Swami,” founder of Swami Select — has been a famous grower for over fifty years. He believes that weed gets better over time, arguing that if dried and cured properly, then jarred and stored correctly, flower will hold in a stable chemical position for at least another year post-harvest.
“Even after the plant is technically dead, it’s still biologically very active,” Chaitanya said. “When cannabis is harvested, there are an awful lot of volatile compounds on the living plant. Some off gas, and some stay on the cannabis and become more complex … This whole maturing process, this change happening in the molecules within the cannabis, takes several months. I like to say that it takes four months or more for cannabis to reveal its true nature.”
“The idea that after three months past harvest you can’t do anything with the flower is something that is just wrong, and it’s hurting a lot of farmers because it’s difficult to get your product to market,” he said. “When you finally do, the buyer says, ‘Oh, it’s three months past the packaging.’ I can’t sell that. So they won’t buy it.”
He continued, “Often, that packing date is irrelevant because the guy driving it from your farm to the retailer stopped and had a hot dog and it was like 120 degrees in the car. These are serious problems that we need to address as an industry. How do you know where your flower is once it leaves your hands? You don’t.”
How to tell if you have dead weed
Here are some signs that your weed has died:
- It smells like hay: “The ‘Schwag Flag’ is essentially this condition we see present itself whenever all the primary monoterpenes and aromatics have gone away and it smells like hay,” said Alec Dixon. While the monoterpenes and aromatic compounds that get you high and taste good have low boiling points, terpenes that end in “ol” — like bisabolol and nerolidol — have much higher boiling points. They are still around long after everything else has gone away and tend to taste and smell like hay.
- You bought a pre-roll: Often functioning as an overpriced Trojan Horse for biomass products like shake and stems, pre-rolls get a lot of hate for good reason. A big problem with them is that the process of grinding the flower exposes all of its surface areas to degrading factors like heat, light, and dryness.
- The weed is fully tan or brown: “Brown weed is not necessarily bad if it started out really purple and just lost some of its green,” said Swami Chaitanya. Chlorophyll oxidizes rather quickly in the absence of oxygen. Just because weed is less green doesn’t mean it’s bad. But it’s probably dead if it’s completely tan or brown and doesn’t smell like much.
- Check the harvest date: While we discussed why the dates on the jar can be misleading if the distro or the dispensary exposes the flower to degrading elements, package and harvest dates are still a good way for consumers to protect themselves. That’s not to say you should be wary of weed that’s a couple of months old, but if your package date is over a year old, ask for your money back. No one deserves dead weed at full price.
Since customers can’t usually see or smell the flower before purchasing it in a legal retail setting, consumers are often unaware that the weed is dead until after they buy it. Check the look, smell, and harvest date of your newly purchased weed to determine whether or not it’s dead.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps