A few weeks back, I was sharing a pre-roll with a buddy when things went sideways. We weren't a quarter way through the cone before the paper started running, catching fire along one side to expose a lengthy, knotty stem. Such is the risk of mass-produced joints.

These ready-mades can be a bit of a gamble. Some contain harsh, leafy post-harvest trim, others have staling b-bud materials, and there's no manufacturer obligation to disclose as much. Even when your pre-roll is packed with premium, top-tier herb, these little fingers can sit on the shelf for some time—all the while, terpenes age and break down, cannabinoids degrade, and the quality of smoke deteriorates.

But lots of companies are attempting to solve the Pre-Roll Problem, and still more are innovating the humble joint in new and novel ways. So we decided to try out a number of these products to see just what kind of value they offer the consumer and who they're really for.

(Matt Stangel)
(Matt Stangel)

For the fresh-seeker:

Medford's Grown Rogue is the first farm in Oregon to tackle the Pre-Roll Problem by nixing air from the equation. Its ready-mades are your standard paper cone packed with 0.8 grams of ground flower, but with a slight twist—the slender smokes are stored in petite, nitrogen-sealed glass vials, a packaging innovation that's meant to "prevent oxidation," in theory slowing the degradation of terpenes and cannabinoids for a fresher smoke. The glass vials contain two joints per and open with a little sip of air returning to the container—like cracking a tiny can of tennis balls. The result is a fair improvement on what I've come to expect from the ubiquitous pre-roll—a step up from the blanched and grassy quality of many in-house, dispensary joints. Progress be praised, though you will be paying roughly twice as much for these pre-rolls as you would for Grown Rogue's flower, so take the convenience and innovation with the markup in mind.

For the canna-curious beginner:

Pachecos by Eco Firma are easygoing, flower-and-kief ready-mades in the form of a traditional cigarette—complete with a cottony, cellulose acetate filter and upscale Vera Cruz Nocturne paper tube for a slow, even burn. They come in packs of three 1-gram joints that retail for around $20 and are categorized by effect rather than cultivar—a gesture of accessibility to newcomers who don't want to bother with strain choices or extraneous information. Also of interest to those who are just getting in touch with their green side, the traditional filter takes care of messy pull-throughs, saving newbies from stomach-churning mouthfuls of shake and socially awkward spit takes. Despite being enhanced with kief—a potent, yellow-green powder made of cannabinoid-rich resin heads—a Pacheco is a manageable high. The Stryders are a mellow, uplifting stroll, while the Hammerheads offer a bit more oomph, and the Keens incorporate CBD-rich cultivars for a light, first-timer-friendly experience.

For the puff of the party:

What's better than a tasty, well-constructed joint? A tasty, well-constructed joint that's been dipped in rosin—solventless, full-spectrum extract—and rolled in fluffy, resinous kief. As it happens, that is exactly what Karma Originals does to its Dip Sticks. These multilayered wands of chronic start at around $12 for a half-gram (including 0.125 grams of both rosin and kief), making for an affordable and potent every-now-and-again treat that seems purpose-built for parties and larger social sessions. What's more, Karma solved the canoeing issue that I've observed in other concentrate-enhanced ready-mades—that is, an uneven burn resulting from dissimilar densities of flower and extract, the latter of which tends to build up in a strip on one side of the joint when applied internally. The even, external rosin dip and kief coating begets a remarkably user-friendly experience—a relaxed, consistent burn that satisfies after only a few puffs.

For the unwavering connoisseur:

If you're the type of smoker who doesn't do pre-rolls, then LTRMN's Cabanas are for you. These strain-specific, 1-gram riffs on the standard cone-and-crutch formula are sold in Spanish cedar-lined tubes that are said to regulate humidity and temperature and therefore "preserve taste and freshness." Joints leave the tube fresh and aromatic, which impacts the flavor and high. Of course, this isn't solely due to packaging. Cabanas are filled with premium a-buds from industry-leading growers, including Resin Ranchers and Archive. I tried out Emerald Evolution's Pink Lemonade, which outperformed any pre-roll I've experienced in scent and, to a lesser degree, flavor—more akin to homemade than store-bought, but with all the benefits of professional milling techniques and hand-finished human attention. That said, you will be paying poolside prices for your 1-gram Cabana: $12-$19, depending on the retailer.