3 reasons to get excited about cannabis grading
By Allison Cohn
Once cannabis became legal, suppliers and buyers no longer had to operate underground. The wild west of weed evolved into a legitimate, regulated commodity market. But there were many challenges to overcome on this new frontier, mainly instituting a system that revolved around transparency and trust. Grading has made huge strides towards overcoming these demands, providing a common language for industry professionals to communicate the true quality and value of products to one another.
We spoke to Daniel Wendling, senior grader with Big Tree and self described “truth teller,” to discuss reasons why everyone from industry professionals to consumers and connoisseurs ought to be excited about cannabis grading. Read on to learn more about why grading is such an important part in the maturation of the cannabis industry, with valuable insight from a professional grader.
1. FAIR MARKET PRICES FOR EVERYONE
“Grading a product based on its quality, not the namesake of whomever owns the company or farm, provides value and consistency,” says Wendling. In the early days of legal cannabis, farmers would receive a certain price based on regional rates, which would then get marked up in bigger cities. Prices and value were assigned based on supply and demand and market variables, not necessarily the quality of the product. Farmers would get less money for high quality material because of the broad regional market. Then consumers were paying a high rate for products that may be less consistent, just based on the label on the jar.
Consumers were falling back on the brand of the bud because that’s what they were familiar with, even if the quality wasn’t that great. It’s like buying a bottle of wine because the label is pretty, without any knowledge of its quality. Everyone is guilty of buying products based on their appealing packaging, but we should all want to be more informed consumers.
“Cannabis is a plant and has ups and downs in quality,” explains Wendling. “That’s why I jumped on doing grading. I wanted to see an industry that says ‘here is the score and the price will reflect that.’ The quality of the product should equate to the price you’re paying for it.”
With grading, cannabis becomes a commodity with a value based on its quality, just like anything else. Fair Market value set by grading a product levels the playing field for all growers. If they grow better cannabis, they get more money, and grading and appraisal services help growers to do just that.
“I would rather see better growth and enhanced productivity for growers, which will result in a better product in the end,” says Wendling. “I don’t want to price cannabis based on who sells it, I want it priced on how good it is.”
2. AN INDUSTRY BUILT ON TRUST AND TRANSPARENCY
“All growers tell me they’re the best grower with the best strain,” laughs Wendling. “I hear it every single day. Somebody’s not the best grower. Not everybody’s the best. No one says ‘I’ve got some crappy weed, can you grade it for me?’”
When a wholesaler is buying from a grower or another wholesaler, it’s not scientific or accurate to just take the word of that grower that what they’re selling is high quality. “But there’s truth in the grading system,” Wendling stresses. “It legitimizes a product’s value. Every time I properly grade something, I’m improving the system.”
By having a professional, objective third-party come and analyze and evaluate their product based on a set grading scale, the grower can accurately represent their material to buyers, and in turn, buyers are able to utilize that information when purchasing products. It’s all very straightforward and unambiguous. Communication between buyers and sellers isn’t based on one another’s word, it’s based on an assigned factual score.
“These farmers are not my best friends. I like them, but these farmers aren’t paying me. I’ve got no reason to give them a high score because of who they are. I’m there to put a number on a product based on its quality, therefore legitimizing its price. I’ve got no skin in the game. I’m not gaining anything from anyone for giving a higher or lower score. It’s my job to determine the value of a product that’s real, and that’s just the truth,” explains Wendling.
3. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, FROM FARM TO RETAIL
Wendling describes grading as “a way for all the different levels that the product moves through to have the same, indisputable third party information.” According to him, grading allows all steps throughout the industry to be the most informed about the quality of each product.
Cannabis grading is extremely beneficial to everyone in the industry, from the farmers and wholesalers to the consumers. Grading serves farmers by empowering them with information about their material, providing them with an unbiased analysis of their yield and the ability to ensure a Fair Market price. “Growers are paying us to tell them the exact real truth, not just the good things,” Wendling says.
One of the most important aspects of cannabis grading is to inform the grower about the quality of their own cannabis. Wendling explains how sometimes, as a business grows, the grower becomes less and less hands on with their garden. Maybe they aren’t physically there as often or they hire staff to care for the plants. By having a professional grader come in to regularly analyze their products, the grower is able to best assess the quality control of their plants and products. Grades help growers to efficiently diagnose any previously undetected problems or inconsistencies. Having their products regularly scored by a third party allows growers to put out more consistent, high quality material in the long run and thus maximize their profits.
Buyers benefit from grading by knowing exactly what they’re getting before they’re getting it. If their retail products have a good grade, they will be more consistent in quality and will therefore sell better. Buyers can confidently make proper orders of proven high quality, graded material — no matter who or where it’s coming from. The grade stands alone, informing them of the precise status of the products without having to physically see it for themselves.
As for grading from a consumer perspective, that’s priceless. “I would love every single consumer to be able to see the score on the jar,” says Wendling. Knowing a product’s grade or score massively helps budtenders to provide outstanding customer service from a factual, objective level. Yes, cannabis affects everyone differently based on their own, unique body chemistry, but being able to provide consumers with a tangible grade to denote the quality of the product they’re about to consume — beyond just the THC content — gives retail customers an opportunity to make a more informed decision.
“If I had the option, I’d want everything I buy to be graded. As a consumer, I expect the price to reflect the quality of what I’m purchasing. If it doesn’t, I feel burned and probably won’t go back to that dispensary. Managers and owners should want the ability to defend their product through a third party grade,” Wendling concludes.
“Twenty years from now,” Welding predicts, “no one will remember cannabis before grading. Grading will be the forefront of how people choose their cannabis.”
Allison Cohn loves gold spray paint and nonsense. She also has a very difficult time sitting still and keeping quiet. She can often be found dancing like a fool when she isn’t hiding out in her mountain lair or gallivanting around the globe.