We’ve all been there. A customer walks into your store to scope out your cannabis supply. You walk them through your store menu, making a point to emphasize each flower’s lineage and the fantastic, caring environment in which the product was grown. You offer them sensory jars, allowing your customer to smell and look at different strains. You discuss the terpenes and get the customer to note the aromatic appeal of each bud.
And then, they ask that question.
“Cool. But which one has the highest THC potency?”
In the deep, dark recesses of your mind, you facepalm.
“One of the many challenges facing budtenders is combating the misconceptions about what makes cannabis high quality,” notes Keenan Hall, Assistant Manager at Kiaro. “People often miss out on the opportunity to try some really fantastic cannabis strains because they are so focused on THC levels.”
Another unique challenge budtenders face is the fact that many cannabis customers have designated themselves to be “veteran” consumers. They’ve been smoking cannabis long before your doors even opened. Who are you to tell them what high quality cannabis is?
A sensory evaluation is the true test of cannabis quality.
“People are proud of their cannabis knowledge and personal experience, which is a good thing,” Hall says. “There’s always been folklore around cannabis quality. Budtenders need to know how to navigate being knowledgeable while also being compassionate and eloquent in the way they lead people towards what the research says.”
Debunking the Top Four Tales of Cannabis Folklore
The misconceptions about high quality cannabis that exist online and are shared among friends have been around for a very long time. We’ve outlined some of the most popular myths and spoke to the experts to get to the root of the true nature of cannabis.
Myth #1: The higher the THC potency, the better the bud
“The most popular misconception seems to be that THC potency equates to high quality,” explains Pete Shearer, Director of Product Development and Planning at The Supreme Cannabis Company. “But just because a strain has high THC doesn’t mean we can assume it will be aromatically pleasing, have a nice flavour, or even look appealing.”
While THC is an indicator that a plant has been grown with care, a sensory evaluation is the true test of cannabis quality.
Myth #2: The plant strain will determine the effect on the body
“Budtenders should not make assumptions or generalize the affects of strains,” cautions Julie Domingo, CEO and Lead Instructor at CannaReps. “The most experienced consumer may believe that Indica will make them go down while Sativa will make them go up. It’s important to remind people that everyone is different and they will have their own unique reaction to every strain.”
Strain types or good genetics offer a solid base when determining quality, but that alone isn’t a perfect indicator. It’s comparing how you were born to how you were raised.
Myth #3: A cool bud colour must mean it’s awesome
“When people see different hues of cannabis like purple, they assume it’s due to high potency or quality,” says Hall. “In reality, the colour has more to do with genetics, PH balance and the temperature of the plant than its actual quality or THC levels.”
Myth #4: White ash indicates high quality
“If you burn any kind of carbon- based material long enough, it’s going to produce white ash,” explains Hall. “White or black ash isn’t the best indicator of high quality cannabis. There could be some other things going on in the plant to produce either.”
The Importance of Sensory Evaluation
Shearer is known across the industry for developing the Shearer Scale to help cannabis connoisseurs determine the quality of their cannabis. Customers may need to be guided to understand that it is not the THC potency, strain, hue or colour of ash produced that indicates quality. Determining the quality of cannabis (and if we’re going to like it) is much like a wine-tasting. We must look at:
1) visual appeal;
2) smell; and
Understanding what makes a favourable production environment will also help you explain the elements needed to produce high quality product. “Cannabis needs very specific environmental parameters in order to thrive,” Shearer describes. “You can grow amazing cannabis and ruin it if you don’t dry and trim it properly. A fast dry or wet trim can lead to undesirable aromas and flavours in the end product.”
Part of Shearer’s role involves ensuring plant production at the 7ACRES growing facility adheres to a tightly controlled environment from start to finish. They practice a 14-day, whole plant, hang dry. Doing so allows for optimal terpene retention, which ultimately increases the aromatic appeal and pungency of the dried flower.
The Power of Budtender Education
While we are living in a legalized world where cannabis is being used recreationally, there are customers visiting retailers to use cannabis for their medical needs. That is one of many reasons why it is so important for staff to be trained properly.
It is not the THC potency, strain, hue or colour of ash produced that indicates quality.
“Dispensary owners or managers should focus on building a holistic brand and optimizing their organization’s structure and internal operations,” Domingo says. “Cannabis is transformational. There’s a history, art, and culture behind the science of every plant. Dispensary entrepreneurs can create a powerful experience by ensuring their staff has the training to be confident in their product knowledge and compliant in their communication.”
Hall could not agree more when it comes to empowering staff. “We have a really amazing work environment at the Kiaro store on Kingsway, Vancouver. We’ve put together a team that is driven and passionate about cannabis,” he says. “Together, we make sure our customers get the best experience possible while also having a role in each other’s professional development and growth.”
High quality cannabis is like a legend clouded in both fact and fiction. As retailers and budtenders, it is our job to help customers separate the two. With knowledgeable staff, educational resources, and a little bit of compassion for every consumer, we can educate and improve the cannabis community.