Harvest boon

Climate change, CBD love and the feds make this year’s marijuana bounty bountiful, cheaper, greener and more potent than ever

Northern California is renowned for having some of the best produce in the world, and that reputation extends to its sun-kissed cannabis. California’s annual outdoor marijuana crop has come in, and despite global warming and heated federal threats, the harvest looks quite golden.

In fact, growers, dispensary operators and experts say California’s 2011 crop is bountiful, cheap, high-quality and more medicinal than in years past.

While the federal government has publicly pilloried medical-marijuana profiteers and exporters, the Drug Enforcement Administration generally is not interested in qualified patients cultivating marijuana according to state law.

More people are growing more ganja than before and more of it is being grown outdoors, this according to Ed Rosenthal, author of several cannabis-cultivation books.

Cannabis is a seasonal crop in California, with an estimated annual value of $14 billion. Though most of it is thought to be grown indoors nowadays, outdoor crops still go into the soil after the last spring rains.

Farmers in the Golden State’s Emerald Triangle—formed at the intersection of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties—grow much of it, though robust outdoor growing now occurs throughout Northern California, Sacramento and into the Central Valley.

The fall harvest typically means a drop in prices, as a glut of weed comes to both the black market and the burgeoning dispensary market, and this year promises substantial savings. In the medical scene, eighth-ounces—which can go for more than $60—are on sale for as low as $20. Ounces, which retail for as high as $360, can be found for as little as $150. That’s a boon to low-income patients, several operators say. But, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Famed cultivator Rosenthal said price cuts might be even more sharp in the black market, because dispensaries are not hoarding inventory like usual. Federal saber rattling and efforts to shut down storefront collectives have operators nervous about stocking up, said Rosenthal.

“It’s going to make for very low prices,” said Rosenthal.

Meanwhile, the quality of outdoor this year is also rivaling indoor-grown sensimilla, and that’s something of a sea change, experts say.

In the ’70s, almost all cannabis was grown outdoors, but the federal drug war in the ’80s pushed farmers out of direct sunlight, and many went entirely indoors.

Since the ’90s, the indoor market has come to dominate California cannabis both in clubs and on the street. It tends to be stronger, better-looking, and more easily controlled than an outdoor grow, watchers note.

But under the protections of state laws, as well the state attorney general’s guidelines and two federal memos, outdoor is making a comeback, many say.

David Bienenstock, editor of High Times magazine, has gone on several fall garden tours this year. It’s another big year for Kushes and Diesels, but his favorite this year is a NorCal hybrid called Tangelo.

“It has this amazing tangerine citrus smell,” he said. “I think people are bringing more and more knowledge and experience to outdoor growing, and they are producing this incredibly high-quality harvest because of that.”

The outdoor harvest is not only higher-quality, but it’s also more medicinal. In 2011, outdoor growers have embraced the high-CBD strain Harlequin in a major way, said Bienenstock.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a nonpsychoactive, anti-inflammatory molecule in marijuana. Highly therapeutic for pain, CBD dampens the psychoactivity of pot’s main active molecule, THC, which is why black-market breeders had nearly eliminated CBD from contemporary pot. The Bay Area medical scene has been using labs to identify high-CBD strains and get them to growers—to bring CBD back, as it were.

Addison DeMoura, co-founder of Steep Hill Lab in Oakland, said 2011 is ushering in this new era of high-CBD outdoor Harlequin, as well as other high-CBD strains Blue Suede Shoes and ATF.

For the first time, they’re systematically coming to market, High Times’ Bienenstock notes.

“The dispensary provides this new feedback loop between patients and growers,” he said, “and, out of a big choice, the growing market is for nonpsychoactive [pot]. It goes against the U.S. attorneys’ entire point for making a target of these places.”

This year’s outdoor harvest has also been affected by global warming, growers say. “They’re experiencing climate change,” said Bienenstock. “The one thing I’ve been hearing everybody wail about is the weather patterns they’ve been used to and have relied on have not been consistent.”

Consequently, greenhouse-grown ganja has emerged as a new halfway point between fully outdoor grows and a controlled environment, Bienenstock said. “Greenhouses are a way to adapt.”

Hybrid enclosures are also changing the terminology of the harvest. This year, many local dispensaries have started calling “outdoor” cannabis “sungrown” cannabis. It better reflects the product’s origin and battles the stigma that outdoor is somehow contaminated, dirty or weathered.

“I think it’s a good way to remind people that that’s the natural way to produce this plant,” Bienenstock.

Lastly, cannabis labs are touting new techniques for preserving this year’s skunky bounty. While pot can stay fresh for up to a year when sealed and stored in a cool, dry dark area, growers are increasingly turning to nitrogen-injected, vacuum-sealed standardized packaging that’s labeled for transport to dispensaries.

This is most definitely not the outdoor stuff bound for export by alleged Mexican cartels. Or, as Steep Hill’s DeMoura put it: “You don’t spend $20,000 on testing, packaging and labeling 100 pounds just to rip it up and ship it out of state.

“You don’t wear Manolo Blahniks to the bowling alley.”