Just inside the front entrance of Igadi, an all-in-one marijuana dispensary in Tabernash, Colorado, visitors are greeted by bright green stalks of cannabis, lined up like newborns in a nursery. Some belong to Igadi, but others are only here temporarily. Once the plants are ready for curing, the dispensary will hand them over to proud owners—as anything from flower to oil to customized cookies.
Further inside, customers are guided through Igadi’s menu—flower, shatter, edibles—in view of an industrial kitchen where those edibles are made. The 12,500-square-foot warehouse also features offices, plus a room where employees process concentrates. Igadi was founded in 2015, and every marijuana product that leaves its walls was also made within them.
“The industry in this state was already established when we got here,”says Igadi general counsel David Michel. “We wanted to do something that set us apart.”
As updated marijuana policy makes its way across the United States, an artisanal industry has sprung up in the window between local legalization and widespread corporate interest. By demystifying the sourcing and processing of marijuana, Igadi founder Kemsley Wilton hopes to strip the drug of its unsavory associations and create a one-stop shop that controls every aspect of production. The company’s storefront is part dispensary, part educational museum.
“We want this to be more of an opportunity to buy like you would on a wine tour,” Michel says. “This is not a black-magic drug.”
Igadi’s business model works in Colorado, but differences in laws at the state, county, and municipal level can make seed-to-sale operations complicated at best. In Colorado and Oregon, storefronts are often separate from farms, but business are allowed to vertically integrate, (i.e. dispensary owners can assist small growers to keep an eye on their product). Washington, on the other hand, mandates a total separation of grower and seller. States like Alaska, California, and Michigan—all three last month voted to legalize marijuana—have months, if not years, before they establish workable laws on growing and selling.
More unified legislation is unlikely to occur anytime soon, says David Rheins, founder of the Marijuana Business Association. “The state of Washington separated retail from production and processing because they didn’t want the same kind of monopolistic approach of Big Alcohol,” he says. In other words, vertical integration could benefit a huge corporate entity as much as it has Igadi.
Even if cannabis shops can’t observe their supply from start to finish, many are still finding ways to come close. At Origins in Seattle, co-founder Jon Sherman visits farms to hand-select strains for purchase, and pays for quarterly third-party lab testing.
“We really want to target the people who care about what they’re putting in their body,” Sherman says. “The people that might go to Whole Foods vs Safeway.”
But just as in the craft-beer and -wine community, there are hurdles. Small batches mean smaller output, and premium prices. Manual hand-watering and trimming is time-consuming, and pesticide-free plants are more susceptible to disease. For all that attention to sourcing, marijuana can’t even be labeled “organic”—the term is federally regulated and pot is still illegal under federal law. But growers say the end result is worth it.
“When production is smaller, there is more time that is spent with each individual plant or product,” says Chris Olson, founder of Rooted Northwest in Portland, Oregon. “Superior quality can be lost or ignored when a project gets too large.”
Legal complications aside, the artisanal pot community does share one common goal: Teach consumers how to have the best experience. For buyers, that means not just looking for the highest THC potency—akin to asking for the beer with the highest alcohol content—but considering each strain’s terpene profiles (aromatic oils in cannabis) and cannabidiol ratios.
“If you were a wine connoisseur, you’d seek out the restaurants that have a staff that curates the selection and can speak with a very educated understanding of the products,” says Nate Gibbs, the founder and head grower at Gold Leaf, one of the farms supplying Origins. “When we choose a store [to supply], it’s not based on a high volume. It’s based on how they represent our product to customers.”