It's been a rough year for the cannabis industry. Between tough new local laws, higher taxes and the appointment of staunchly anti-weed Russian operative Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions III as the nation's top lawyer, things are a little…tense.
You know what helps with tension? Weed.
There's a lot of cool stuff going on in the Oregon cannabis world right now. Here are the seven trends and products we're most stoked about.
1. You can get weed delivered to your house, just like the old days.
Once upon a time, the way you bought cannabis was that you called a guy, and he showed up to your door. For the first time in Portland, you can now do that legally.
In late December, the City Council passed regulatory measures allowing Portland's first licensed marijuana-delivery services to come online—offering the recreational market a new way to shop for pot.
With multi-tiered licensing requirements and red tape at both the state and city level, the realities faced by new-school weed delivery services stand in stark contrast to the outlaw days of Craigslist "container salesmen" and black-market operators. Nonetheless, entrepreneurs are jumping through the hoops to break into the marijuana delivery game.
At the time of this writing, four licensed recreational cannabis couriers were verified as operational within the city.
So, I decided to test them.
My first order, with Belmont Collective, had no minimum and a reasonable $5 delivery fee (waived if you spend more than $75). They were an easy choice that was made even easier as I shopped my way through their familiar web interface.
Grams of Blue Balls, Sour Apple and Sour Cookies were priced below the standard rate, and I paid $33, plus a $5 delivery fee and a $5 tip—totaling out at $43. But they didn't receive my online order, meaning I had to call to get the delivery kick-started after a long wait. The driver then arrived within 25 minutes.
Bridge City Collective's Southeast location has a $5 delivery fee for deliveries within a 5-mile range. I ordered an eighth of Marley Natural's Blueberry Kush ($48 with tax), plus a pack of rolling papers to satisfy the shop's $50 order minimum. About 40 minutes after I placed my order, I was out $60—including the delivery fee and a $5 tip—for an eighth of mid-shelf flower. Ouch.
It was an amusing process, playing couch potato while someone else did my weed shopping, but two hours and $113 later, a familiar feeling settled in: buyer's remorse. Only the Sour Cookies was something I might've bought, had I the opportunity to shop with all five of my senses. Until Elon Musk invents scratch-and-sniff internet, I'll personally be sticking to in-person visits. MATT STANGEL.
2. Oregon is now growing biodynamic cannabis.
If you've visited either of the Botanica shops, you may have noticed the name of a farm that looks very different from other farms you see in pot shops: Hoskins Berry Farm.
Beside that name there's another unfamiliar word: "biodynamic," with a registered trademark symbol.
Biodynamic may be new to pot shops, where any type of legitimate organic certification is challenging. But in the wine industry, this celestially bound organic standard is synonymous with some of the world's most renowned grapes.
All-star producers from the Burgundy region and Napa Valley to the Willamette Valley and Columbia Gorge in Oregon use biodynamic methods, based on the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. This holistic approach to agronomy, developed in the early 20th century, is at once grounded in both sustainable pragmatism and magic-crystal spirituality. Biodynamic practices include crop rotation, burying dung and quartz in a cow horn to make cosmically charged fertilizers, and growing schedules tied to certain zodiac constellations.
Demeter International has overseen biodynamic certification since the credential's inception. Demeter's website describes the method as "a Goethean observation of nature and its application to a farming system. This encourages a view of nature as an interconnected whole, a totality, an organism endowed with archetypal rhythm."
So, why did a biodynamic berry farm start growing weed?
"We've always been medicinal herb growers—calendula, yarrow root, etc. This is just another medicinal herb," says Jim Fullmer of Hoskins, which is located in Philomath.
Fullmer points out that the quality-based values of biodynamics are what made it a good fit for the competitive wine industry, and now for cannabis. This set of agricultural standards is a living rulebook developed democratically, as representatives from 29 countries get together annually to discuss and tweak.
"It never would've been worth it for me to risk my farm before it was legalized, but I could tell that cannabis was turning out to be powerfully medicinal," he says. "As a horticulturist, I am blown away by this plant. You look back, and this plant has been following us around the world, literally evolving with us, and we've been evolving with it. We've had receptors for cannabis in our brains for thousands of years."
Fullmer also happens to be co-director of Demeter's U.S. branch, and is helping develop a process for biodynamically grown cannabis to add to its list of guidelines. Demeter's biggest obstacle is getting growers to change the way they've done things for years. Rather than adjusting the lighting and temperature to maximize the plant's THC content and visual trichomes, biodynamics would guide growers toward developing varieties that fit the climate more naturally.
"The way it's been grown traditionally, I wouldn't necessarily call that farming; under lights and importing nitrogen, without real soil or sun," Fullmer says. "This is totally different—it's the idea that a farm is a living organism in its own right. It takes a longer-term, agronomic approach to growing cannabis."
It didn't take long for Fullmer to be charmed by the plant that has distracted humans for centuries. Even during this trial-and-error round of assimilating cannabis into the berry farm, he has seen positive results. The flower passed pesticide, mold and mildew analyses, despite the monsoon weather last October. The handful of different strains he grew saw potent ranges of cannabinoids in both the THC- and CBD-heavy strains.
"I'm still figuring it out, but it's already turning out resilient. The plants went through two weeks of downpour and turned out OK, without growing mold," he says. "That's an aspect of biodynamics: The resilience is a manifestation of the health of the soil below the ground and the health of the ecosystem above the ground." LAUREN TERRY.
3. Terpene concentrates are allowing us to bring back dried-up old flower.
Just a drop will do it, I'm told. Much more and it'll be too strong.
The blue vial measures roughly an inch in height, maybe half of that in width, and it contains a concentrated blend of liquid terpenes—the aromatic compounds found across Earth's plant life that are responsible for the diversity of odors in the cannabis kingdom.
This particular blend of plant-derived terpenes was formulated to mimic the smell of a strain called Sunset Sherbet, and I'm adding it to some old, stale weed in the hope it'll bring my expired stash back to life.
Manufactured by Portland-based True Terpenes, the Sunset Sherbet blend was reverse engineered from a sample of the titular cannabis varietal. Composed of roughly 30 individual, isolated terpenes and mixed at the ratios that occur in nature, the blend can be used to enhance or renew the smell and taste of cannabis flowers and extracts, as well as edibles and topicals.
True Terpenes co-founder Ben Cassiday, who got his start in the cannabis industry with his work at an online certification clinic that helps sick people get their medical marijuana cards, became interested in terpenes after interacting with people who use cannabis as medicine. Cassiday and his business partner, Chris Campagna, began to wonder, in Cassiday's words, "what made strains of cannabis more potent, flavorful or well-suited for complementary treatment of certain health conditions."
This led him to research terpenes, which, he discovered, do much more than give weed its smell: These aroma molecules influence the high a person gets when they consume cannabis, working in concert with flavonoids and cannabinoids like THC and CBD to shape a person's experience with a particular strain.
Cassiday likens terpenes and cannabinoids to various parts of an airplane: "Cannabinoids are the jet engines, required for getting off the ground and staying in flight, while the terpenes are the rudders on the wings, used for controlling where the craft will fly and how comfortable the experience will be."
Terpenes like linalool provide a sedative effect, while others like limonene boost a person's mood. When these terpenes are lost to age or destroyed in the extraction process, lost are the therapeutic benefits they provide; no longer helping to guide your flight.
But how well will an old plane fly after getting some repairs, so to speak?
I decided to find out with some stale flower I had laying around. Jarred for months, these buds had lost much of their aroma and flavor, as well as their psychoactive nuances. They offered themselves as a decent blank slate from which to experiment.
I started off by grinding up a few grams of flower, which I tossed in a plastic pop-top with a drop of Super Lemon Haze—bearing the distinct aroma of the citrusy varietal. After shaking up the finely ground weed for a few minutes to more evenly distribute the liquid terpenes, I left the combination alone to sit and steep for an hour or so. I repeated the process with a terpene profile of the famed cannabis varietal Blueberry, manufactured by True Terpenes competitor Terpene Botanicals, as well as another Blueberry profile produced by a third company, Extract Consultants.
I first sampled the Super Lemon Haze concoction, which smelled fantastic but tasted exactly like what it was: old weed with some fresh terpenes laced over the top of the dominant stale flavor. Yet, despite the lack of flavor penetration, True Terpenes' Super Lemon Haze did in fact lift my mood and influence divergent mental patterns, which were never traits of the weed I started with. The Blueberry blend by Extract Consultants was miles away from capturing the legendary DJ Short Blueberry—instead resembling the smell of a Slurpee or some experimental, berry-flavored gum. It was more akin to candy than cannabis, and wasn't at all what I had in mind.
On the other hand, the Blueberry blend produced by Terpene Botanicals was relatively accurate, based not on synthetic visions of sweets, but on the strain of weed it's named after. Those terpenes also had a lasting effect, sinking deeper into the old buds and eventually overriding much of the stale taste to transform the samples back to something resembling fresher weed. MATT STANGEL.
4. WeedTech is helping make better beer through concentrates.
In cannabis, the virtues of weed are well known. In recent years, most heavy heads have migrated from flower to dabs given how pleasant it is to get a huge high without turning your lungs into Texas brisket. Recreational users have gone all in on oil pens—to the point where prices on cartridges have soared because of the scarcity.
But beer was a little behind the times. Hops are a cousin to cannabis, and a lot of the methods used to make oil, wax and shatter will also preserve the flower cones that make your beer bitter, allowing brewers to make the type of dank, resinous India pale ales that Oregon beer geeks love, without making brews that are grassy and overly green.
Finally, hop concentrates are getting a push thanks to one of the state's most respected brewers, who is using the lessons of WeedTech to make better beer.
Nick Arzner of Block 15 in Corvallis is a big deal in the beer world. His flagship IPA, Sticky Hands, is much sought-after, and people wait in line to buy his sour barrel-aged creations.
About nine months ago, he decided to start experimenting aggressively with hop concentrates.
"We really liked the product," he says, "but some people are a little weird about it and say they want beers with whole cone hops and all that. I said, 'You know what? I'm going to launch a series that really celebrates that we're using all these different hop products to make really good beer and push our techniques a bit."'
The beers Block 15 has made as part of the DAB Lab series—that stands for Dank-Ass Beers—are wonderful. In February, we named the third beer in the series one of the 10 best beers of the past year.
Other breweries around the country have experimented with the stuff, too, but Block 15 is the only one to experiment so much, or to advertise the connection to cannabis—which might be partly because it's in a weed-friendly state so close to the Yakima Valley, where most American hop farms can be found.
"The hop growers showed me the [concentrates] during hop harvest, and I really liked it. They're a little secretive about how they make some of it, but if you've seen CO2 resin for cannabis, it's that," he says. "It looks the same, it feels the same."
And some of the same people are into it.
"We have a lot of customers that enjoy craft beer who also enjoy cannabis, so they get it," Arzner says. "A lot of people don't know anything about it, so they don't care. They're just happy to have a great beer. But if they know it, then they're excited about it and they seem to latch on harder."
Like concentrates, which typically use the whole plant, these new hop products are getting more out of each and every plant that's grown during the yearly outdoor harvest. (Hop prices have skyrocketed in recent years, so there are a few growers now experimenting with indoor hydroponic hops, but it's still a novelty.)
"Lupulin powder costs a lot more to start, but once you really figure out everything, you can increase your yields and it more than pays for itself," Arzner says.
The cannabis collaboration doesn't stop there. Arzner is teaming up with Doom Glass, a "water-pipe technician and fume ninja" from Eugene, to make a collaboration beer that will be served in cool custom glassware.
"You can see from his Instagram that he was really into beer and he's drinking lots of great beers, so I was like, 'Hey, it would be cool to have someone blow a badass glass for this beer,'" he says.
Look for that beer and custom glassware soon—and for lots of even crazier creations as brewers take their hits from the innovations of the cannabis industry. MARTIN CIZMAR AND KAT MERCK.
5. Our flower is getting greener thanks to bug-eating bugs.
Jeff Sessions isn't the only pest Oregon cannabis has to fear.
Cannabis naturally draws attention from mealybugs, caterpillars, moths, broad mites and spider mites. Growers often use pesticides to control them, but in the post-legalization world, we've learned that those pesticides sometimes leave toxic residues on the crop. Last March, Colorado recalled hundreds of batches of pesticide-tainted cannabis, while Seattle newspaper The Stranger declared Washington's cannabis crop "totally fucking fucked" with pesticides. Oregon's much tighter pesticide regulations and testing have essentially squelched the supply of cannabis concentrates.
One possible solution to the bug problem? More bugs.
In 2014, Gladstone company Natural Enemies became one of the first companies in the world to specialize in providing bug-eating bugs to protect cannabis crops without resorting to chemicals. Instead of spraying for pests, horticulturalist and Natural Enemies founder Shane Young is helping cannabis growers seed their crops with predatory mites—whether to kill an existing infestation or prevent one from taking hold.
"The predatory insects feed on the eggs, the juveniles and the adult insects, rather than providing a cover-up for the pest problem," says Young.
"There are specialists and there are generalists" among the predatory insects, Young says. Soil-dwelling "generalists"—like Stratiolaelaps scimitus, a mite that looks a bit like a translucent deer tick—eat a broad range of bugs and so are good at preventing infestations, and specialists like parasitic wasps specifically target whiteflies or other pests.
Though buying thousands of sachets of live insects is significantly more expensive than pesticides, Young says it's better for the health of the plant than oil-based pesticides that operate by essentially smothering both bugs and plant—plus it removes the possibility that dangerous levels of pesticide residues will collect in cannabis oils and concentrates.
"There's no negative impact to your plant," he says. "Their only food source is the pests. When people cut the flower to harvest, that's not where they are. They're searching for food elsewhere on your plant."
Young essentially acts as a go-between, connecting insect cultivators with cannabis growers—and educates customers all over the country on how to apply the predatory insects. He says that since starting three years ago, he's seen "explosive growth" in interest among cannabis growers.
"People who are my customers, they've been raised on pesticides. They don't have the option of biocontrol because they haven't been introduced—they're always reaching for the bottle," he says. "Biocontrol, much sooner than later, is going to be growers' first means of defense rather than chemicals." MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
6. Stash boxes are finally getting an upgrade.
Remember Baggies™? It wasn't so long ago that your cannabis came in a little Ziploc. I still have a few buds inside Baggies and sealed in Tupperware, actually. It's a favorite strain (Space Queen) that mysteriously slipped through the cracks of Oregon's rigorous medical marijuana regime three years ago, and which rarely appears in our recreational shops. It was a favorite, favorite flower for me, and I can't quite bring myself to finish it off—especially now that it's bone dry.
Ever crack a 5-year-old BridgePort barleywine that tastes like soy sauce? That's what happens with old weed—except, in addition to the harsh flavor, it'll be muted in effect.
But that's not necessarily how it needs to be. Cannabis storage is getting serious, with products like the Cannador, a new humidor designed to maintain your flower at optimal humidity.
First, some cheaper and older wisdom. Your crazy college roommate wasn't wrong: The best place to store your buds is in the fridge.
"If it's for a month or longer, cannabis does best in the refrigerator," says weed whiz Jeremy Plumb of Farma. "The cool, steady temp helps to preserve aromatic compounds and freshness. It's important to use an airtight jar, or the flowers will degrade due to dehumidification—ideally, one that blocks light to prevent that oxidative force."
Plumb says Mason jars are fine, but something that truly seals, like Oxo Good Grips pop containers, is an upgrade with noticeable results.
But if you really want to go pro, check out the Cannador, which maintains cannabis at 55 to 62 percent humidity—the optimal range, according to a study by Boveda, a maker of tobacco and cannabis humidity packs.
The Cannador is priced between $159 and $249, depending on size, and is designed to maintain higher terpene and cannabinoid content, along with robust flavor.
The company was founded by a cannaisseur-turned-ganjapreneur named Zane Witzel, who came up with the idea in late 2013.
"I was out with a couple friends, and my buddy cracked out an old shoe box and brought out all his Baggies and paraphernalia and had them strewn about," Witzel says. "And I thought, 'Good god, man, there has to be something better than this!' And there wasn't."
I've long used cigar boxes for my best flower, which Witzel cautions against unless they're made of mahogany, as cedar has oils that taint the flavor.
The Cannador humidor has an odor-proof seal that works with beads or humidity packs that can be monitored with Bluetooth. It's especially popular with vapers—the import drivers of the cannabis world—since dry bud is extra harsh as vapor.
Witzel says his system will keep flower as fresh as the day it was cured for at least three months.
And, he says, it can maybe help me bring back that Space Queen. He's had success rehumidifying busted buds. Obviously, the terpenes will have degraded, but the burn of a desert-dry nug will be gone.
"At that point, at least it's smokable. You don't have to throw it away," he says. "There are obviously cost-effective means of doing that—you could put a Boveda pack in a Mason jar. But the Cannador is a normal, functional piece of furniture in my home, not some clear jar I have to hide in the closet. It's a step up, I'd say." MARTIN CIZMAR.
7. There's finally a use for cannabis leaves—besides mulch.
Aside from branding, pot leaves are pretty much useless.
The distinctive shape of the leaf is eye-catching, but the vast majority of those leaves end up as mulch. Any time I see it, I wonder if the person who slapped it on a bright-pink background and sent it off to the printer understood that those leaves are quickly snipped away from the precious flowers growing in their midst.
Hey, for a long time, I didn't know that. The first bunch of times I smoked cannabis, I thought I was inhaling dried-up leaves.
Was it just me?
If Liz Nolan has anything to say about it, maybe pot leaves will finally have a use—as juice. Nolan owns Portland Juice Co., the Southeast Powell Boulevard juicery that specializes in cold-pressed juice made on a state-of-the-art hydraulic press. (Which is purportedly healthier than traditional juice, since the spinning blades of a traditional centrifugal juicer can generate heat that oxidizes nutrients.)
Last fall, Nolan introduced what she believes to be the world's first cannabis-leaf juice.
"We've been cold-pressing juice for four years, and we've juiced just about every fruit and veggie you can imagine," she says. "Everything you can get at the grocery store, and many you can't get at the grocery store."
In the cold-pressed juice scene—it has a fervent following in New York and L.A. and is now expanding to places like Bend with a large bougie population—everyone is looking to push the envelope.
"Every type of produce is going to have some micronutrients that are unique to that vegetable and aren't in anything else," Nolan says. "Almost every juice company has some variation of apple-beet-carrot, maybe with ginger, maybe without, but nobody gets excited about apple-beet-carrot, as opposed to something like turmeric, which is hot right now."
And thus, Ananda, the world's first commercially available cannabis-leaf juice. It's made from leaves harvested at a hemp farm in Nehalem, near the coast. The variety used is called Fedora, which was bred to be a fiber plant. Portland Juice Co. used about 70 pounds of fresh green leaves. Because of the short season, those leaves joined cranberries as the only ingredients the company freezes prior to use.
There's about an ounce of hemp juice in every bottle of Ananda, and it definitely tastes like cannabis. Each $8 container also has grapes, lime and sea salt in it.
"Compared to other leafy greens like, for example, kale, it has a mild flavor," Nolan says. "We wanted to complement it and not mask it like we would other greens."
Because it's made from a hemp plant, it has less than .03 milligrams of THC. That was the lowest the lab could read—the actual amount could be even lower. It's also low in CBD, though a CBD-rich version could be next if Nolan can find a farmer that has plants bred for CBD instead of fiber.
Either way, there's a lot of potential here. Cannabis is a versatile, hardy plant, and yet most of it is wasted, even by an industry in which growers are scrappy and would take pride in finding a way to be more efficient with resources and to feed people. Since Ananda went on sale, Nolan says she's gotten a few business cards from people in the cannabis industry who want to help her find a use for all those pretty leaves.
"It's a really sustainable plant," Nolan says. "It grows really quickly, and there's definitely a lot of plant material that doesn't traditionally get used that I think is an excellent source of nutrition and could be the next frontier for food sustainability." MARTIN CIZMAR.