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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

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Sun-kissed cannabis tasting

We Bay Area residents tend to be particular about what we consume. We want everything to be local, organic, sustainable, fair trade, small-scale and traditional.

But the necessarily secretive nature of the cannabis business has, until recently, made it impossible to apply the same exacting standards to what we smoke.

Licensed and tax-paying pharmacies and delivery services abound, but reliable information about their products is scarce. Medicinal cannabis patients rely on pharmacies to deliver quality products, but industry professionals and connoisseurs are well aware that pharmacies and commercial growers often fail to follow best practices.

Investigations in Colorado, Washington and Oregon have found pesticide residues and other contaminants in cannabis available from reputable dispensaries. In California, lab tests are not required and there are no legal guidelines for the use of pesticides.

As a result, it can be difficult for even the most conscientious connoisseur to consistently avoid purchasing cannabis that has been poorly processed, mishandled, mislabeled, or grown in grungy warehouses under energy-intensive electric lighting or environmentally destructive large-scale outdoor activities.

Those of us who prefer organic, lab-tested cannabis have surprisingly limited options. Harborside Health Center has been promoting sun-grown cannabis in recent years, and SPARC’s Marigold brand emphasizes outdoor and greenhouse-grown cannabis “cultivated with a conscience”. But even in the Bay Area premiere pharmacies, the vast majority of flowers are grown indoors.

Just a few hours north of San Francisco, farmers in the Emerald Triangle have been producing high-quality outdoor cannabis for decades, while simultaneously acting as dedicated stewards of their land. Outrage over water-guzzling “greed grows” often obscures the genuine passion of these once-outlaw farmers, subjected to military-style police raids for decades. They have had to hide to survive, leaving outsiders unaware of a rich heritage of cannabis cultivation that has evolved over generations.

Surprisingly little of the Emerald Triangle’s heirloom cannabis makes its way to the Bay Area, where indoor cannabis is the norm. That’s starting to change, thanks in part to a local startup promising to bring connoisseur-quality sun-grown cannabis straight from these boutique farms to patients in San Francisco and the East Bay.

Flow Kana is more than just a delivery service, it aims to become a brand that stands for transparency and accountability and sets the tone for a burgeoning ‘clean cannabis movement’.

Flow Kana co-founders Michael Steinmetz and Nick Smilgys add their voices to a growing chorus urging consumers to reflect on how their cannabis is grown and collectively demand higher standards.

Flow Kana has a smaller margin than most pharmacies and farmers get about double the open market rate. Flowers are grown organically, thoughtfully – even lovingly – and are tested for cannabinoids, mold, mildew, and pesticides by Pure Analytics.

Skeptics have the opportunity to verify the authenticity of Flow Kana’s lofty claims by meeting farmers in person.

At Flow Kana’s occasional ‘Swami Select Salons’, Mendocino growers Nikki Lastreto and Swami Chaitanya share samples of their flowers, while informing curious city guests about what exactly goes into those joints being passed around.

The first tasting party, which took place in April at a home in Potrero Hill, featured three strains from Nikki and Swami and another three from HappyDay Farms. In addition to the endless supply of joints, guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, Mendocino wine and breweries, spring water from Nikki and Swami’s Turtle Creek Ranch, and small portions of cannabis-infused “Potka Punch”.

At the second salon, on a breezy roof terrace in the Marina in May, Nikki and Swami were joined by Jude and Lucinda of Hope Springs PermaPharm, who specialize in CBD-rich strains.

And on the third, in June in a Cole Valley backyard, House of Aficionado and Swami Select arranged flowers while special guest Frenchy Cannoli showed off his highly sought-after solvent-free pressed hash.

A fourth tasting will be held in Piemonte on August 6.

Each of the salons had its own distinct atmosphere, influenced by the style and layout of the venue, the composition of the crowd and of course the different strains of cannabis sampled. However, in all three events, a sense of importance seemed to resonate through the smoky air as a fragmented community began to coalesce.

Everyone from old hippies to young techies seemed to agree on the superiority of outdoor organic cannabis, which many described as tastier, with more nuanced effects. There was also a general consensus that cannabis parties were long overdue, and a sense of surprised relief at being able to smoke so openly.

When farmers in Mendocino have the opportunity to speak to smokers from San Francisco, they emphasize the depth of their relationship with their plants and with the land.

Nikki and Swami tell their guests about the difference between growing from seeds instead of clones, and that Swami puts a drop of holy water from the river Ganges on each seed before it germinates.

They defend their water use, pointing out how much more water it takes to produce a bottle of wine (more than 60 gallons) than one-eighth of an ounce of cannabis (less than two gallons).

They explain the entourage effect and how an obsession with THC percentages overlooks the influence of terpenes. They remind us to taste an unlit joint – a “dry hit” – before lighting it, to better appreciate the flavor profile.

They praise the virtues of organic outdoor cannabis, which absorbs the energy from the sun, moon and stars, and the terroir that comes from the soil and the trees and the birds and the bees.

What remains unspoken, but sometimes alluded to, is the suffering caused by prohibition.

Cannabis farmers have been demonized by the media, traumatized by law enforcement and further marginalized by the shift to indoor-grown cannabis. During California’s ongoing drought, farmers in the Emerald Triangle have also falsely taken the blame for draining rivers and killing salmon and other wildlife, criticisms that somehow escape the wine industry.

Flow Kana’s tasting rooms and similar gatherings offer the opportunity to heal these wounds as those who produce or consume cannabis come together to shake off the stigma and celebrate this remarkable plant.

People use cannabis for a variety of reasons, but ultimately we do it because it makes us feel good. And knowing that your cannabis has been grown organically and sustainably by expert growers who take pride in their work makes it feel even better.

Photo by Caitlin Podiak and Erica Edwards

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