Product Consistency: A Tale of Two Markets

Departments - From the Editor

August 30, 2017

Often in the cannabis cultivation industry, people relate product consistency to the wine-making industry. While many say cannabis cultivators need to achieve consistency levels similar to those in wine-making (and tout that wine-makers achieve consistency outdoors), there is a definite flip side to the analogy: Wines can have particularly “good years,” or vintages, based on environmental conditions, not only during production, but throughout the year (or so I’m told). So there are certain properties of the grapes and the resulting wine that are different.

In a recreational cannabis market, like the wine market, these differences may not be overly significant. Yes, customers expect certain quality, tastes, “high” effects and side effects (or lack of), and they want to know that when they buy a particular product, it will be similar from batch to batch, year to year. Cultivators with variable conditions can likely tell the difference in their products from year to year—if terpene production is altered even slightly, for example—but perhaps many consumers likely wouldn’t even notice.

What happens, however, when a plant’s cannabinoid profile is slightly altered by changing environmental conditions? When a crop must stay in the ground longer, due to environmental variances? What happens when an epileptic patient, say one with hundreds of seizures a day, can’t get the exact product they received last year, or even last harvest?

This is where the medical cannabis market is more aptly compared to the pharmaceutical industry. (See “Re-thinking Security: What You Can Learn From the Pharmaceutical Industry”.) Variances in drug dosages or composition would never be tolerated, nor would they be helpful to patients, and could even be harmful. Variances in medical cannabis must adhere to the same strict requirements of any other pharmaceutical or nutraceutical. It must be the same, time after time, harvest after harvest, year after year.

Environments must be very strictly controlled in order to achieve this.

The recreational market may allow for subtle differences from harvest to harvest, akin to the wine industry; however, as the medical marijuana market’s sophistication increases, so too will expectations for the sophistication of MMJ cultivators and facilities.

I anticipate that we will see a greater shift toward pharmaceutical-type facilities in the medical market over the coming years as medical cannabis growers strive to provide patients with the highest consistency in medication, and look to bring legitimate scientific research to support (or disprove) the health benefits of this plant.