product review:

Legal cannabis needs more love

I know many of you might have a hard time believing this: I don’t want to hate legal weed. I appreciate that something I love as much as cannabis appears to be available to the masses, but is it really? Now that cannabis is legal, it should be accessible—“should” being the operative word here. In authoring our first reviews of legal cannabis for Inside the Jar, we based our selection of products not on branding, potency, or rumoured quality, but on price. Piper and I discovered that in Downtown Vancouver, a place where dispensaries once outnumbered Starbucks outlets, accessing affordable legal cannabis that doesn’t taste like the bottom of a pool is next to impossible.

For as long as I can remember, cannabis of at least half-decent quality has always been easily accessible and readily available in Downtown Vancouver, whether it was acquired on the street around the corner from a pub or from one of the city’s once-hundreds of unlicensed dispensaries. Depending on a dispensary’s location and its owners, prices were often accommodating of lower-income consumers, medical users, and the homeless.

As the province’s Community Safety Unit continues to shut down the very retailers that cater to these individuals, a total of 11 new private legal cannabis stores have opened in the city. While these shops carry legal, tested cannabis that understandably creates confidence in consumers who are new to the product, it comes at a premium, and is undoubtedly inaccessible by many of the customers who frequented these shops prior to legalization.

"I know many of you might have a hard time believing this: I don’t want to hate legal weed. I appreciate that something I love as much as cannabis appears to be available to the masses, but is it really?"

While public cannabis stores and the province’s online retailer offer more reasonable prices to British Columbians, a resident of the Lower Mainland would have to take a lengthy ferry ride to Vancouver Island or a drive to Kamloops for the full in-store experience. Not everyone has a credit card or a home address either, so even if you had the patience to wait three days to smoke a joint, that $4.20 pre-roll on BCCannabisStores.com isn’t an option for everyone. See what I’m saying about accessibility?

Seeing as the store we visited was located in the heart of Downtown Vancouver just off the Granville strip, we knew we’d be paying a premium for what would likely be some pretty mediocre product. I digress.

Getting the weed

Piper and I popped into City Cannabis Co., formerly known as Vancity Weed, and perused the shelves for a few minutes. The sterile shop was in stark contrast to what I remembered from my last visit to the location several years ago, but made sense; after all, this is a new market with legal, tested product, white walls, cedar accents, and all the iPads your clammy hands can get a hold of. The only educational content I could find was a panel dedicated to the benefits of CBD, which seemed to reaffirm my theory that City was trying to tap into a market of new and inexperienced consumers. New money, new digs. I quipped that the tropical plants throughout the store were in better shape than the dried nugs trapped inside the plastic smell jars, and in all honesty, I would have rather taken a potted Pothos off the shelf than what we ended up purchasing: three pre-rolls, each the most affordable option of the shop’s indica, sativa, and hybrid categories.

Our first choice was the store’s cheapest option, a $7 half-gram Prohibition pre-roll by Organigram’s Trailblazer brand. Next, a Gather pre-roll by Aphria’s Soleil brand for $8, and then a Casablanca pre-roll by Edison, also an Organigram brand, for $9. We walked through downtown and back to Piper’s apartment for a rooftop sesh to test them each out, and on our way I did the math: our intention was to purchase the most affordable pre-rolls in the store, but we still managed to spend an average of $17.92 per gram after tax. We hadn’t even opened the excessive packaging yet and I was already fuming.

Everything but smoke: Prohibition by Trailblazer

(Photo by Amanda Siebert/Inside the Jar)

Going through our selection of bottom-of-the-bag pre-rolls, we started with the cheapest and worked our way up. Piper had the honours of opening the Trailblazer, which was packaged in the most convoluted cardboard contraption I’d ever seen but thankfully came complete with an instructional diagram. (In what world is such an obscene amount of cardboard and plastic is required to keep children safe from one half-gram of cannabis containing a grand total of 2.6 milligrams of THC before activation?) Total THC for the Prohibition pre-roll was listed at 47.4 milligrams, which put it at about nine per cent THC.

Taking a closer look at the packaging, we noticed this stubby little half-chub of a joint had been packaged in February, meaning it had sat in plastic for more than eight months. Bracing ourselves for the “just cracked” smell that every cannabis consumer anticipates when they pop open a pre-roll, we waited. Nothing. Nada. Zip. The trend of odourlessness would continue with each subsequent joint we smoked.

Smoke: Prohibition by Trailblazer

There was nothing pleasurable about the smoking experience. Taking the first puff, Piper noted that the joint was rather hard to pull, and had a pretty pronounced chemical aftertaste. Initially, I noted some fruitiness, but not the kind you’d expect: it was like fake fruit flavouring that had gone sour. Piper aptly described it as “like really sharp Kool-Aid crystals”.

(Photo by Piper Courtenay/Inside the Jar)

After just two puffs, the joint was already canoeing. At this point, any flavour I had tasted before was hard to pin down, because my mouth began to tingle—never a good sign. Between the poor airflow, indistinguishable flavour, and bad burn, we had both had enough. It was a joint I didn’t want to finish, and I always finish a joint. To top it off, neither of us felt stoned.

Everything but smoke: Gather by Solei

(Photo by Amanda Siebert/Inside the Jar)

Our next selection, Solei’s Gather sativa pre-roll, was thankfully packaged in a more user-friendly manner, but was still excessive: does a plastic tube wrapped in another layer of plastic also need to be in a cardboard box? I think not. We both agreed that while the Trailblazer pre-roll had too much filter and felt short and stubby, the Gather pre-roll was rolled on the skinnier side and felt more like an authentic joint.

Gather was the most potent of our purchases, containing a total of 96.63 milligrams of total THC, or 19 per cent, so we hoped to at least feel stoned by the time we reached the end. It was also packaged in the beginning of September, a date we were both far more comfortable with.

Smoke: Gather by Solei

This time it was my turn to spark. While visually the joint looked better, it was still a little tough to start. As I rolled the smoke over my tongue, I noticed that this pre-roll tasted far less chemical in nature than the previous one, but the flavour still wasn’t all that appealing.

(Photo by Piper Courtenay/Inside the Jar)

“This tastes like sour cream,” I said to Piper as I passed off the joint. (I’m lactose intolerant so that wasn’t exactly jiving with me.) The online product description suggested Gather would have notes of citrus and earth, but initially all I could taste was dairy. After a few puffs, the flavour began to change and soon I was tasting some of the earthiness—but it was very subtle.

We both agreed that the smoking experience of pre-roll number two was a step up from our first choice. It wasn’t a pre-roll we would buy again, but if it was passed around a circle, we certainly wouldn’t say no. I described it as the Budweiser of pre-rolls: something you might go for in a bind, but it likely wouldn’t be your first choice. It was the only joint we smoked until the end.

Everything but smoke: Casablanca by Edison

(Photo by Amanda Siebert/Inside the Jar)

Our last selection, the Casablanca pre-roll by Edison, came in the same atrocious packaging as our first (as noted earlier, both Trailblazer and Edison are brands under the Organigram umbrella). I had the honours of trying to claw my way through the box, which, unlike the Prohibition pre-roll, was instructionless.

We wondered why the Casablanca pre-roll didn’t include instructions, until we looked at the packaging date: January 2019. (Evidently the folks at Organigram realized how fucked up their packaging was and added the diagram in the month that followed.) I tried not to gag at the date, and wondered how the 86.5 milligrams of total THC had held up after drying out in plastic packaging for almost a year.

(Photo by Piper Courtenay/Inside the Jar)

Smoke: Casablanca by Edison

Piper sparked our last joint of the sesh, and found that it pulled better than our two previous pre-rolls.

“It’s very savoury. This one’s burning the back of my throat,” she said.

I found that while it burned better, it also left a sickly burning feeling in my mouth and throat. I picked up on the savoury profile Piper had described and for a moment I thought it tasted like dill. The first few deceiving puffs weren’t horribly unpleasant, but as we continued to smoke, the burning sensation in our throats and noses intensified. I felt like I had to sneeze, and we both wondered out loud how much attention had gone into this strain’s treatment.

We put it out and agreed we were, as they say, “good on that”.

After three joints, were we stoned? I felt out of it, sure, but not stoned. Discombobulated, unpleasant, and a little anxious, but not the kind of baked I would have liked to be on a (rare) sunny autumn day in Vancouver while taking in the view from a rooftop.

All around, it was a pretty disappointing experience.

Conclusion

Remember how I started this off: if weed is legal, it should be accessible. Who among you readers would feel comfortable spending nearly $18 a gram for old, dry, improperly flushed, horrible tasting cannabis? When these issues are brought up, the producer blames the retailer; the retailer blames the province; the province blames the federal government, and on and on this blame game goes. Obviously regulations play a part in why we’re experiencing these issues, and I imagine that things could improve if they were adjusted accordingly, but I think before we do any of that, we need to take things back to the start, and by that, I mean asking ourselves about our intentions.

Think about the way a fresh nug of your buddy’s home-grown Afghan Kush or Blue Lime Pie brings people together around a table. Think of the energy with which that plant is grown, the pride your friend has in sharing it, the stone you feel from that cultivar, and the unique flavours and experiences that happen once you’ve consumed. Now think of the oversized greenhouses and grow rooms operated by giants like Organigram and Aphria (not to mention the very public issues these companies have struggled with over the last several years), the impersonal nature with which these plants are tended to, and the length of fucking time their processed cannabis sits on warehouse shelves in plastic packaging before you even get to try it. By the time it gets into your hands, it’s lifeless. The intention with which cannabis is grown—whether for medicine, for family, for fun, or, as we’re seeing, for shareholders—informs both its price, and the way the end user experiences it.

Maybe this is a little too “woo woo” for you—but tell me your mother’s homemade cookies don’t beat the hell out of a bag of Oreos (especially stale ones). I’m not arguing that we ought to price top-shelf legal cannabis at $5 a gram, but there’s nothing okay with expecting low-income Canadians (or, let’s be frank, Canadians who just don’t feel comfortable spending more than $15 a gram on schwag) to make the jump to the legal market if all they can get is dumpster-fire cannabis for three times as much as they are used to paying.

So long as these issues of price and quality continue to exist, legal cannabis will never be Canadians’ first choice, and it certainly won’t be mine.

Trailblazer Prohibition

1.7/17

Conclusion

Terrible. Would never purchase again; tastes like chlorine and fake fruit. Easily the worst pre-roll I’ve ever had the displeasure of sampling.

Solei Gather

8/17

Conclusion

Close to passable; would smoke in a circle, but wouldn’t purchase again. Some earthy notes, but overall the flavour profile leaves much to be desired. The best of the worst three joints I’ve ever smoked.

Edison Casablanca

3/17

Conclusion

Rather unpleasant. Though some interesting savoury notes, dill belongs in the pickle jar. Harsh in the throat and nasal cavity, not something I’d revisit anytime soon.