by Shannon McMullin

In the legal Canadian cannabis market, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of choices. With different consumption formats, strains, and brands to choose from, the options truly feel endless. While each choice has strengths and weaknesses, the ‘Top Shelf’ recommendations of any seasoned budtender will more likely than not be craft cannabis. This refers to small-batch producers who put care into every last jar of flower and tube of pre-rolls.

What is Craft Cannabis?
Often referred to as LPs, Licensed Producers of cannabis utilize many different techniques and procedures in growing cannabis flower. While some LPs will choose methods more geared to producing the highest yield at the lowest cost, craft cannabis producers focus instead on every detail of the process, from strain hunting to packaging, ensuring the cannabis that they produce is of the highest quality. The three main marks of craft cannabis are the scale of operations, tailored growing conditions, and hand-finishing of the plant. All three of these are essential in growing cannabis that is fresh, smooth, and rich in natural terpenes, resulting in the best bud on the market.

To receive a craft designation by the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), cannabis must be grown in a facility that produces under 10,000 kilograms of dried flower (or equivalent) each year. This is important because of the level of care needed for each plant. Having a smaller yield of cannabis flower may seem counterproductive to growers, but it ensures that more product actually leaves the facility to be sold, as opposed to having kilograms and kilograms of flower sitting in storage actively degrading in quality as time passes.

Like other plant varieties, growing cannabis is not a “one-size-fits-all” operation; each cultivar has its own unique growing conditions that bring out the absolute best the flower has to offer. Craft producers recognize this and often have smaller growing rooms tailored to each strain currently being grown. This allows for careful monitoring of each plant during each step of the growing process, checking for and removing impurities, ensuring a plant at peak potency and freshness upon harvesting.

Once cannabis is harvested, leaves and other undesirable plant materials are removed from the plant through a trimming process. Many larger companies will use special machines to do this, but craft producers employ highly-skilled teams to delicately trim the plant at its peak maturity. It is then hung to dry in climate-controlled rooms, before curing in sealed barrels which are ‘burped’ daily for an end product that reaches consumers at its very best in terms of flavour, potency, humidity, and smoothness.

Why does Craft matter?
Apart from the difference in quality, purchasing from craft producers is often the most sustainable option. In their growing processes, you are less likely to encounter irradiation or pesticides as the care taken removes the need. Craft LPs are also on the front lines of growing techniques that are kinder to our planet, such as rainwater capturing for irrigation and planting in living soil, which promotes biodiversity. The ongoing support for the burgeoning craft cannabis community also supports cannabis amnesty and erasure of stigma. Many craft LPs are made up of small, dedicated growing teams who bring decades of expertise from the pre legalization, or legacy, markets. While megacorporations bring in massive profit from providing mass-produced cannabis right out of the legalization gate, many craft producers had an uphill battle in clearing criminal records and getting licenses to transition into our new recreational market. This normalizes cannabis as not only for consumption, but also as a career path, while honouring those who built the foundations of what we enjoy today. For high-quality, terpene-rich cannabis with full-bodied flavour and potency, craft makes all the difference, while giving consumers bud that they can feel good about. Ask your budtender about their top craft picks – you may find your new favourite!

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