Pubdate: Thu, 14 Jan 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Linda Stansberry


Canna-Branders Prepare to Hurry Up and Wait

"I'm not sure brand dilution can get any worse than it has up to 
now," says Chrystal Ortiz, marketing and branding coordinator for 
True Humboldt. True Humboldt, a co-op of local cannabis farmers, is 
one of several organizations trying to turn the region into a brand 
and realign that brand with values that will sell.

At the heart of the issue is appellation, the protected geographical 
distinction of where a product comes from. Champagne, for example, 
can only be called such if it's bottled in Champagne, France. 
Appellation rights for cannabis growers were one of the provisions in 
the recent spate of state medical marijuana laws largely celebrated 
by local growers. But what Humboldt's appellation will actually come 
to stand for is under pressure from competing visions and practices.

Appellation may call a halt to the canny canna-businesses as far away 
as Long Beach and Colorado using the Humboldt name as a marketing 
tactic, but many believe that unless they can reverse the blemish of 
violent crime, trespass grows and environmental degradation that's 
become associated with the industry, the victory may be hollow.

"Over the years, we've had an influx of people who didn't share the 
Humboldt values, who were of more the extractive philosophy," says 
Ortiz. "Stuff with pesticides, stuff that's mildew laden has gone on 
the market as from Humboldt. Plenty of people think we have an 
opportunity to set quality standards, like France did with wine."

Who will safeguard those quality standards? Some point to 
certification programs like Clean Green, which analyzes best 
practices for cannabis farms in six states. Clean Green started in 
2004 when a friend of Chris Van Hook, who owns a United States 
Department of Agriculture organic certification company, asked him if 
he could certify his cannabis crop. Because the USDA does not 
recognize cannabis as legal, there's technically no way for it to 
become "certified organic." Van Hook applied the same standards used 
in evaluating mainstream agriculture to cannabis when he created 
Clean Green. The company has become the go-to for dispensaries that 
want to help their clients source their buzz back to best practices.

Those best practices include a legal component, i.e., the farms have 
to have a legal market outlet, according to Karin Roscoe, the 
company's outreach coordinator. Because the company is run through 
Van Hook's law firm, farmers inspected by the company are guaranteed 
attorney-client privilege.

"It's a complicated question," says Roscoe. "Right now, the black 
market is a huge deal. It's cost effective to drain the rivers, get 
in there and make a quick buck. We're all just waiting to see how 
that's going to shake down."

Whatever the outcome of the anticipated legalization of recreational 
weed on state and national levels, there seems to be no shortage of 
marketers prepared to capitalize on the national appetite for small, 
sustainable goods with a wholesome backstory. True Humboldt touts 
members of its cooperative as "dedicated to carrying the tradition of 
quality," citing the original back-to-the-land values that made 
Humboldt herb famous. Legalization, Ortiz says, will spur cooperation 
among farmers to adhere to sustainable practices in order to meet the 
standards of the brand.

"When you attach someone's name to a product, it creates pride," she 
says. "Back in the day when you were just a farmer with turkey bags 
on the kitchen table and the buyer offered $1,200 because that's what 
the next guy was charging, you could say you weren't using 
pesticides, were using tea, and it wouldn't matter."

An important step, she says, will be to create brand scarcity, 
although it's unclear how that will be accomplished. Black market 
weed of dubious quality may continue to be trucked out of the 
Humboldt hills, and it's unlikely your average budget-conscious 
college student will look for a logo before packing it into his or her bong.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom