Clean Cannabis

Conscientious consumers are asking for marijuana that is organically grown and pesticide-free. Courtesy of Aster Farms

 Consumers are becoming increasingly selective about how the marijuana they’re buying is grown and packaged, and cultivation companies should be thinking about how to appeal to this niche market.

More and more, savvy consumers are asking for cannabis that is:

  • Pesticide-free.
  • Organically grown.
  • Packaged in an environmentally friendly way.

Growers offering any of the three should convey that fact when developing brand image and communicating with consumers.

“If you take the effort to produce clean products, you can absolutely market that by putting it on the label,” said Trip Hoffman, the chief operating officer of Las Vegas-based multistate operator Body and Mind. “There’s value in stamping your product as all-natural.”

 

Cultivation Tips

To create a product that a cultivation company can market as focused on wellness, it’s important to:

  • Grow the plant with natural ingredients.
  • Use an integrated pest management system that employs predatory insects instead of chemicals.
  • Cultivate the plants in “living soil”—think compost, worms, healthy bacteria, etc.—rather than dousing the crop with chemical fertilizers.

One way for a cultivator to get the message across that it’s selling cannabis focused on wellness, according to Hoffman, is to set up consumer-education events, such as pop-up booths in dispensaries.

But is there a market for this type of premium product? Hoffman believes consumers are willing to pay more for clean cannabis.

Trishelle Kirk, director of operations at Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Everest Apothecary, a vertically integrated medical marijuana company, said customers are becoming more educated about everything they’re consuming.

“People are realizing that not all cannabis is created equally,” she added.

Kirk said the foundation of growing an all-natural marijuana plant is to have a true living soil.

“It’s an expensive investment” to focus on natural growing practices, Kirk said. It costs more to develop living soil than it would to just buy premixed nutrients and dump them in a pot. “But I’ve never been in a business where doing the right thing wasn’t an expensive investment.”

At Aster Farms’ cultivation operation in Upper Lake, California, living soil is also a big part of the process.

CEO Julia Jacobson said the company works hard to communicate to its consumers that the cannabis it grows is sustainable and clean.

She does that through marketing and by using packaging that is made from bioplastic and reusable materials.

“Consumers are becoming aware that there are many components to what constitutes clean cannabis,” Jacobson said.

Another way to ensure you don’t need as many pest- or microbial-controlling elements in your grow operation is to select the right genetics, according to Kirk.

She said if a plant is highly susceptible to pests or mold, then it might not be the right plant for your location. It might be easier to remove that cultivar than to spray your entire facility.

“Certain strains perform better than others in different environments,” Kirk added.

 

Good for the Brand

Also important: Growing clean marijuana is ultimately good for the value of your brand, Hoffman said.

“You build your brand by reputation.”

That commitment to your product and brand starts with the leadership at the top of the organization, said Ken Alston, CEO of Hydroponics Inc., a Mira Loma, California-based company that functions as a supply chain manager for cannabis companies.

“Senior leadership needs to make sure consumer health and compliance is of the utmost priority,” he added.

To put that into practice, Alston’s firm hired a head of research and development whose background included a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. The scientist runs tests on the purchased nutrients to ensure the product is the same as what it says it is on the label, giving company executives confidence that they are producing a safe product.

“If you’re vertically integrated, you need to make sure you’re controlling the entire value chain,” Alston said.