Cannabis cultivation and distribution may be a bit of an enigma to many consumers. Medicinal bud comes packaged in sturdy plastic cylinders, fortified with child-proof tops. The question remains: How does it get there?
Licensed producers (LPs) are required to keep certain aspects of their growing facilities consistent and compliant with Health Canada guidelines, but there are still a range of differences across them. LPs can choose to grow indoors, outdoors, in soil, or using hydroponics, aeroponics or even aquaponics as long as they can comply with Health Canada’s requirements.
In general, growing conditions can serve as predictors of quality cannabis product, where there are typically two main categories: indoor and outdoor. When growing outdoors, the elements of the environment cannot be controlled as thoroughly, so the quality of the cannabis plant may vary. Growing indoors allows greater control over all aspects of the grow, most notably pest control, temperature, humidity and air circulation.
The degree of growing environment management generally differentiates LPs and is often reflected in their pricing, branding, and position in the industry. That being said, there’s a lot that remains the same. All licensed producers must start by acquiring seed or clones from another LP.
Seeds are taken from seed banks within Canada or approved facilities abroad. The security surrounding this endeavour is astonishing. Seeds bought from banks are trackable based on a digital barcode, so that producers can efficiently organize their protocols to minimize profit loss, copyright infringement and back-orders.
The plants propagated from these seeds are considered ‘mothers’, and are the original genetic source for all the plants to come. These mothers are grown until it is clear which of the pack is the most superior — the queen plant, as it’s known. The queen plant is considered to have the best quality genetics for a given strain, and is stored in the ‘mother room’ to be used for generations to come. The chosen plant displays the ideal physical and chemical traits that the grower is looking for: the size and shape of the flowers/bud, the smell and taste, and the varying percentages of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD.
Not to get all sci-fi about it, but the queen plant then gives rise to clones. Clones are made by cutting branches taken from the mother plant and planted in pots of their own producing a new plant, identical to the mother plant it was taken from. Cloning allows a grower to produce an entire crop originally sired from a single mother: the epitome of consistency.
The clones are then moved into a vegetation room, where they are left to grow up for (usually) 2-4 weeks. When ready, plants are moved into the flower room where they complete their final stages of development over the course of 8-12 weeks. After this point in the process, the bud is dried, cured and packaged, all processes that vary from LP to LP.
How long cannabis plants are grown typically reflects the size of the bud, and the integrity of the natural plant chemicals found in the flower. Trent Kitsch, CEO of the licensed producer DOJA Cannabis Co. (which recently received approval to sell cannabis in Canada), walks us through the process of how their cannabis gets prepped for consumption:
At DOJA, buds removed from the flower room are dried as a whole plant, cured, then hand-trimmed. The trimming process removes excess plant material such as stems, leaves and small buds. Some licensed producers use machines and/or other methods to speed up this process, which removes the trichomes from the bud, the specialized structure on the plant containing all of the THC, CBD and other medicinal qualities. Hand-trimming retains the medicinal qualities of the bud much more than machines do.
Not all parts of the cannabis plant are treated as equal. The product material is categorized from A to D. Grade A material is considered the facility’s best product, an exquisite, substantial bud with complete palettes of terpenes and cannabinoids. Grade B is still a full flower but simply smaller in size. Grade C material includes small buds that are sent off for extraction for use in oils and tinctures. Grade D materials are the rest of the plant, which is promptly destroyed as per Health Canada’s regulations.
I heard you gasp at the horror that is wasting of perfectly functional and usable plant matter, especially if it’s cannabis. You’ve probably heard of hemp, a close relative to the cannabis family. Hemp has been used to create textiles, paper, biofuel, to name a few. Cannabis and hemp are not the same plant, but they can be used for the same purposes. As the industry evolves, issues concerning earth-friendly growing practices will increase in importance. Perhaps in time, LPs will be able to recycle, compost and otherwise reuse all parts of the cannabis plant.
Before packaging, the final buds go through rigorous quality control. All product to be sold is tested by a third party laboratory to ensure the absence of pesticides, microbial contaminants, heavy metals and any other undesirable compounds. The product can then be shipped to your residence or a nearby post-office with a click of a button, making the complex process of growing cannabis feel like a breeze.
Although most people’s knowledge of the cannabis production process is typically vague and rudimentary, hopefully as the industry evolves, so does people’s understanding of the cultivation process. Growing cannabis is more complicated and extensive than growing a “weed” like many believe, and Health Canada is ensuring LPs are adhering to a strict set of guidelines keeping patients safe and healthy.
Story by Katarina Kostovic
All photos provided by DOJA Cannabis Co.
The preceding is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to condone the use or consumption of cannabis. For more information, please refer to our disclaimer.