By Chloe Aiello
What questions should a consumer ask when evaluating a craft cannabis purchase? Easy: the same types of questions you might expect to ask about craft beer or cheese.
Just ask Justin Calvino and Michael Katz, co-founders of Emerald Exchange, which hosts farmers market-style events to connect small batch cannabis cultivators from Northern California with cannabis enthusiasts.
"Where is this cannabis coming from, and who is producing it? And then, tangentially, who is benefiting from my purchase of this cannabis," Katz told Cheddar. "In the same way people make moral and ethical decisions about the purchases they make for clothes and food, awareness of where things are coming from. All of those things do come into play in cannabis."
The company's unique events bring Northern California cultivators "out of the hills" and connect them directly to consumers in Southern California. The system not only boosts farmers' margins through direct-to-consumer sales, Katz argued, but also helps cannabis enthusiasts get their hands on premium product. And in the cannabis industry, it's especially important for consumers to know where their products came from for one simple reason: they smoke the stuff.
"In California and places where there are unlicensed shops where people are buying products that are not tested, there is a lot of danger there, so asking where it comes from, who produces it, those are the most important questions," Katz said.
Beyond the margin-boosting effects of direct-to-consumer sales, the team is going much deeper in an effort to help out local farmers. Calvino co-founded the Mendocino Appellations Project, which boasts the lofty goal of making Mendocino County to cannabis ー which lies within California's storied cultivation zone, the Emerald Triangle ー what Napa Valley is to wine, or the Champagne region is to, well, Champagne. The system, he argued, would set rules and regulations to preserve the quality of the cannabis, preserve the heritage of Emerald Triangle farmers, as well as place a premium on the product.
"When you scale to commodity you really sacrifice quality. We see that on a daily basis in the brands that come to play," Calvino said. "We need to gain that market share and give it back to the farmers so the direct to consumer products that we offer through events, that's really important. Those margins belong to the farmers."