Rioja wine, French champagne… Humboldt marijuana? The geographic origin of agricultural products is a huge factor in consumer purchasing decisions. And marijuana growers seem to be growing more aware of the fact that the very same thing happens within the cannabis industry. With a certified designation of origin, consumers would be assured of the quality, authenticity and ethical cultivation of the product they’re purchasing for only those that meet the requirements set by the region will carry one.
Cannabis is an ancient plant that has managed to adapt to the hottest tropical regions as well as to the coldest mountain valleys. Its versatility has given way to countless genetics all over the world, even more than the vine itself. Each marijuana variety has evolved in accordance with the conditions of the geographical location in which it's been grown, from the dry mountains of Afghanistan to the leafy forests of Jamaica, in such a masterful way that it has captured the true essence of the area.
It's thanks to the environmental conditions of the region that each strain is unique, with looks, textures, tastes, and scents never seen before. But in order to fully understand the true nature of the area –from a more practical or spiritual point of view-, it's necessary to go beyond the weather conditions. Yes, we're talking about the growing and curing of the produce, which is what growers add to the location. Their decisions can really make a difference in boosting or lessening the properties gained from the area they're in.
How geographic origins affect cannabis
This agricultural concept has reached the cannabis industry and no wonder. Some Californian regions, such as Humboldt County, have been growing weed since the '60s. So after decades of work, there's no other county that deserves a marijuana appellation more than them. Following the wine industry's lead and adopting appellations for marijuana would definitely be a difference-maker as it's an indicator of traditional cultivation and quality assurance.
Cannabis legalization is great news for U.S. consumers for it means increased control and fewer arrests for possession. Growers, though, can't but think otherwise. Flooded with regulations meant to protect the environment and the user, they feel more helpless than ever. So a great way to make up for this would be to create a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) mark for them as a recognition of their work.
This is precisely the discussion being held in California, where a project that seeks to confer appellations to certain strains of marijuana has been launched. The Mendocino Appellations Project (MAP) is working to "develop appellation of origin designations to preserve and promote their region's rich cultural heritage".
"Appellations can be a really powerful means to protect the intellectual property of farmers living in Mendocino and Humboldt County as well as in other parts of the Emerald Triangle", they claim. Cannabis producers have come up with unique growing methods and varieties that thrive in certain microclimates while users recognize and value the special taste of Northern Californian weed. The time to protect such a precious product is now.
Towards the full recognition of Californian pot
In 2017, the California Legislature passed a law requiring the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to establish, no later than January 1, 2021, "a process by which licensed cultivators may establish appellations of standards, practices, and varietals applicable to cannabis grown in a certain geographical area in California". The CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing division is doing some research and gaining stakeholder feedback for the CalCannabis Appellations Project, a regulatory process for California's appellations starting in late 2019 and whose aim is to allow licensed cultivators to establish appellations.
To this end, MAP seeks to formalize the appellations of origin ignoring aspects like county boundaries and reflecting the grower communities that have formed over the years within the environmental and cultural boundaries of each area. Data on every farm would reveal the way the land and the microclimate is affecting, let's say, the cannabinoid and terpene content. Depending on the collected data, the belief that Northern California is not like the other regions would be reinforced and it would become known to everyone for its uniqueness and quality.
Protection for the growers… and the users
Even otherwise, the appellation system would still play a major role in protecting local and rural agricultural economies as well as consumers.
Californian growers may be going through a really tough time but things could get even worse if the cannabis industry flooded the market with massive amounts of weed produced in huge greenhouses and the prices dropped. This product could satisfy users looking for cheap cannabis with mind-blowing effects but maybe those who could afford Emerald Triangle certified products would buy them gladly, and would, in turn, contribute to the resurgence of a market of users who truly appreciate the value of good-quality, non-industrial cannabis.
So marijuana appellations can pave the way for traditional growers if they manage to stay afloat long enough for the market to support them. Unfortunately, many of them won't.
Small producers are selling off their farms, giving up on cannabis, having their properties taken away by the bank and by ruthless investors. By early 2018, the California Growers Association estimated there were over 68,000 cannabis farms in California, between 6,000 and 15,000 of which were believed to be in Humboldt County. Since October last year, California has issued no more than 5,000 temporary growing licenses and, in November, only 7 full permits. So, in five years' time, will a quarter of those growers from Humboldt still be active? Probably not.
The best thing that can possibly happen to mom-and-pop farms who make it by themselves, organized in cooperatives or with the help of honest investors is that the upcoming market and the non-industrial traditional market complement one another. For example, commercial cannabis will offer less pricey solutions to the general needs. Boutique cannabis, by contrast, will target very high quality standards, for those consumers who know how to appreciate good-quality weed and don't mind paying considerably more for products with a certified designation of origin.
Summing up, appellations aim to give value to marijuana by associating it with a geographic origin. It works with wine, cheese, olive oil… Why wouldn't it work on weed?