Top Shelf Cannabis

Having spent a fair amount of time in conversation with both white and black market purchasers of the discerning kind, I’ve learned a bit about what constitutes top shelf flower.  Many farmers believe (d) that if it gets you high, it’s good stuff.  Not the case, at least not on the West Coast.

Top shelf cannabis flower is large, chunky, naked, white, stinky, potent, and consistent to the extent possible for your grow type and level of environmental control.

As I look around at farmer friends and consulting clients in total desperation, I feel sad.  Good friends who made a great living for decades are being upended quickly.  Many who thought they were good growers are learning (far too slowly and begrudgingly) that such is not the case.

As market demands and competition intensify amid a proliferation of indoor and greenhouse flower and amid increasingly availability of extracts and derived products, much of our Humboldt County sungrown flower – even light dep – is failing to impress.  Outdoor is now largely treated as “biomass” and the type of market flower largely produced in Humboldt across all grow types currently is commanding very low prices…go out of business type prices for smaller, poorer, and less efficient operators.  While some white and black market trades are still very firm for the highly skilled, average prices are falling fast, down significantly over the last 14 months after tanking the year before.  What was once considered killer stuff is now relatively leafy, larfy, and twiggy in relation to expertly grown outdoor, much less greenhouse or indoor flower where tremendous capital inflows now support operations of both scale and reasonable quality.

Because the definition of good flower seems lost on so many who are failing, it seemed warranted to pen a few words on the subject.  For flower sales, the market tends to want them big and showcasey…one bud or partial bud eights have more bag appeal and illicit a more wow type experience to discerning consumers.  If your flowers are small (which most are), learn about plant manipulation, living soil, organic feed regimens, and pest prevention.

Flowers should also be chunky, that is filled out and podded out versus the hollow and hairy flower now dominating our local scene.  If your flowers are failing in this area, learn to thin and learn about organic finishers.

Flowers should be trimmed naked, that is leafless.  What should remain is a solid bud structure, with contour.  This will only be accomplished through the use of skilled, human trimmers that care about the plant and the beauty of their work.

Flowers (regardless of the strain and its particular color profile) should appear white because they are completely caked with outer trichomes.  If not, check environmental exposure like temperature, humidity and UV.  Learn about phosphorus loaded garbage weed and think natural in your approach.

Flowers should be stinky, really stinky.  Your buds should be so terped out they cause mild nausea, dizziness or sensory overwhelm with prolonged exposure…say in an enclosed harvest or drying area.  Learn about artful stressing, terpene production and retention, organic feed, and lower and slower drying and curing processes.

Flowers, in order to compete with the effects of oil and extracts, should also be potent. Rampant and rapidly growing demand for hash shows demand for potency.  Many distributors won’t even purchase flower testing below 20% THC, so the trend for high powered products seems increasingly entrenched.  Use known, clean genetics of exceptional quality and grow them with extreme love and care and this should not be a problem.

To the extent possible, flowers should also be consistent.  While your early versus late run dep may well boast different characteristics and color profiles, your flower should be identifiable as your flower…uniquely awesome, delicious, and profitable, not because you say so, but because the market does.  For those looking to have staying power or to build a brand, differentiation matters and most farmers assume growing a unique strain is enough…it’s not.  Your finished product must be truly exceptional to compete in the flower market, which many argue is going away quickly. If you are struggling with consistency, seek to implement tighter environmental controls to the extent possible for your grow type.  Work with clone stock or sifted seed stock and implement a sound, repeatable, written farming process to increase predictability of outcome and improve overall business results.

I recently watched a piece by Mr. Steve DeAngelo from Harborside while taking a course through the Academy at Green Flower Media (which I highly recommend to those wanting to learn more about cannabis).  He noted that sales of oil and extracts were less than ten percent of their business just a few years ago.    The number is around 30% now and he joked that in another ten years, only old geezers like him would be purchasing flower in a very small corner of their dispensing facility.  You getting it?

Growing top shelf cannabis, the only kind of retail flower the market really wants anymore, isn’t all that complicated. It’s work.  That’s the problem for most.  On many “farms” it seems the plants are actually an afterthought.  Lots of attention is paid to infrastructure and farm operations, while plants, especially in the light dep space, receive amazing little attention other than keeping them alive.  Plants are often force fed and perhaps blasted a few times for bugs or pathogens, but that’s about the extent of things.  Some work is done each day, but the loving and meticulous details required to produce stellar cannabis go overlooked.

Many term grows are no different.  Plants are so big and unruly that broken down flower from 8-14 pound monsters often has little bag appeal.  Even leg sized colas tend to end up spongy as few actually rock them up for fear of bud rot.  It’s hard to maintenance spray really tall plants so many have festering bug problems that bronze flowers and lead to looser buds with funky odor.  While strict organic and “no spray” regimens can be effective, they are generally not full proof and have been shown to be less successful over larger operations.

At the end of the day we now produce a lot of crappy weed in Humboldt County and the broader Emerald Triangle.  It’s time we step up.  Rather than try to convince people of the quality of our product thru hype and marketing, it’s time to let the flower do the talking.  When buyers audibly gasp when seeing and smelling your product, you’re getting somewhere.  Even then you might not fetch the exact ticket you desire, but at least your stuff will sell, fast.  Average white market transactions are now just over three pounds a shot according to cannabisbenchmarks.  Distributors (like end consumers) are searching for that magic bullet, and they now have plenty of product to shop.   But trust me when they find the right stuff, they scoop it up fast.  Not to toot my own horn, but this past year’s product of mine was being requested in fifty pound lots and I could have moved boatloads more than produced.

Instead of growing pinner, poisonous, sterile shitweed, we must return to artisanal production more in line with market needs.  We can and must do better in order to maintain relevance and capitalize on the nation’s fastest growing industry.

Jesse Duncan


OG Kush

OG Kush is, arguably the queen of the NorCal and US cannabis scenes…at least as far as the illicit market is concerned.  In terms of market recognition, flower beauty and structure, aroma, taste, effect, price, sales velocity and yield, no other strain is her equal.   

As a habitual smoker since my teen years in 1992 I’m a huge fan of old school skunk, trainwreck and white strains.  That said, nothing compares to a bowl of fresh SFV OG topped with its own dry sift.  For me personally, not even the most exquisite live rez dab rivals the flavor and effect of this combo when grown exceptionally well.  As such, SFV OG, Lemon Larry, Ghost, or the traditional herself are my very favorite strains to grow.  In terms of producing showcase retail flower and creating exceptional economic value, core OG Kush phenotypes are also a complete joy to farm.

While simple to grow like all cannabis plants (give them what they want when they want it), OG’s are finicky, they attract significant predation, and they don’t boast of the strongest epidural layer.  Combined with relatively poor farming skills, this combination has led to enormous amounts of shit weed coming out of Humboldt County.  Many growers, hobbyist, professional and commercial alike, produce tremendously small, twiggy, sterile, and ugly OG that ultimately gets dumped for bottom dollar.

Seed stock OG’s are not the real deal in terms of nose or bag appeal and leave middlemen and buyers exasperated as people run to hell and back trying to fill a couple box order.  I recently heard of an illicit market showing where of the 1,000 units requested, 2 of the 700 pounds located by my friend were actually purchased.

Humboldt, you are screwing up big time.  Both white and black markets want OG, and we have largely proven inadequacy in terms of meeting market demand.

With burgeoning supply of decent OG’s coming out of the central valley and elsewhere, and with ever more white market distribution platforms coming on line, not as many people need to trek to our neck of the woods for product.  To the extent that finding good OG in Humboldt continues to be nearly impossible (yes I know there’s tens of thousands of pounds of last year’s product floating around), folks will simply go elsewhere to purchase.

Finding OG with predictable quality at acceptable volume and price is not a task for the faint at heart.   Friends of mine scramble to hell and back, rounding up dozens of samples – at multiple price points – to be rejected far, far more than not.

Buyers want large, chunky, stinky, naked, lime colored OG’s that appear white given their magnificent outer trichome layer.  OG should get you high every hit on the exhale, and it should taste like candy and go down smooth as it annihilates you.  While high levels of limonene (like in the SFV) can be harsh for some users, well done organic OG will require little nitrogen masking and should be both smooth and tasty…even just days into drying.

Because many buyers are failing to find good OG in Humboldt and can find shitloads of decent product elsewhere, our weed market is in big, big trouble.  Many I know have even quit trying to farm OG and are opting for something less desirable they feel is easier to work with. Ouch!

In the midst of what promises to be a painful economic collapse for Humboldt and the larger Emerald Triangle, few growers I know are putting the puzzle together.  They feel picked on, scared, and angry, and many are whining like little kids while harkening back to the glory days in conversation. Instead of getting real with themselves and honing their skills, many have become bitter and have shown their true lack of professionalism, determination, and grit.  Some blame politics and corporations, while none I know, at least publicly, blame their own incompetence or inability to dance successfully with the most desirable strain in the marketplace.

My advice to growers in Humboldt is to learn how to grow OG Kush and other “sensitive cultivars” at a very high level.  Don’t grow some bullshit seed stock or bogus pheno with the wrong nose and wrong bag appeal.  Grow one of the core phenotypes mentioned previously or something else absolutely, unequivocally, and universally accepted by buyers, farmers, and consumers as the real deal.

And chill the hell out.  G’s like it easy, like a nice day on the ocean.  Find the steep hill video of a phosphorus loaded, red dogged piece of shit of a nug representative of much market OG, versus the more natural and spectacularly beautiful chunk to its side.  Also stop being lazy and start working with your damn plants.  If you want to sell outdoor flower, it better not look like it.  And no, your dep probably doesn’t look anything like indoor either.  Slam the energy down on em thru manipulation, drive it back up in transition with thinning, and keep the bugs and pathogens away.  You will have predictably huge, chunky, heavy, beautiful OG buds more representative of the weed that made Humboldt famous before tens of thousands of us were playing the game.

If Humboldt could truly bring the magic back in terms of actually producing marketable flower, things wouldn’t tank quite as fast.  The tremendously painful economic realignment we are just now facing would be lessened to some extent and our reputation would start clawing its way out of the gutter. 

Because we were largely secluded and because many us of grew the best stuff out of our friend groups, we became overconfident and arrogant.  We thought we actually grew good weed, which was a faulty premise for most operating in the space.

The reason Oregon craft farmers are now failing en masse is because they aren’t and never were craft producers.  Their weed is shit, or marginal at best, which is not much of a selling proposition these days.  Same story here in Humboldt and elsewhere in the triangle… too many who are all bark and no bite.

Larfy, twiggy, moderately frosty outdoor with poor structure, mixed phenotypes and questionable nose is no longer in vogue.  Outdoor makes up approximately 20% of the white market by transaction and prices are now averaging around $650 a pound nationwide.  What the less skilled hate to accept though is that the current range for outdoor flower is from $300-$1700 according to data from cannabisbenchmarks.  Somewhere the Jedi knights of cannabis are crushing it, as are some white market indoor operators garnering $2,500 a unit versus an average a grand cheaper.  The lesson is clear – the market has segmented and will continue to do so.  Market weed is essentially worthless and will drive the small operators producing it out of business in short order…it already is.  For fantastic producers, opportunity is abound, at least for now.  Many will be coming for that prize though, so be prepared and keep grinding.

Execute daily, stay true to your process and above all, keep rocking that stellar OG Kush.

Jesse Duncan

SFV OG Mid Flower

The Brutality of Obsolescence

Becoming obsolete is no fun…in fact it sucks. It tends to make you grumpy, and fearful, and less fun to be around.

In capitalistic America though, economic obsolescence is constant.  As technology, demographics, consumer preference, political leanings, regulations, and innovation continually alter the competitive landscape, some within the economy win while others lose.  In advanced economies like ours, it seems that some win big, while most don’t.

As is often the case nowadays, it is often the smaller, poorer, and less well run operations that go away.  Industry’s emerge, grow and consolidate, often with tremendous rapidity in an interconnected, technological, and highly capitalized world.  While enormous wealth can be made thru the process, it tends to be that wealth ultimately concentrates in the hands of a few.  As a fishing and pot smoking buddy of mine oft notes “if you gave everyone in the world a million bucks, most would be broke in time.”

Such is the case with cannabis.

Mason jar millionaires, of which our and neighboring counties in the triangle rely heavily upon, are getting squeezed – quick.  The smartest among them have seeded multiple enterprises to diversify cash flow, and many have been raising liquidity rather than spending it.  They have become quieter, more resourceful and more margin focused, yet many are still nervous despite high levels of continued economic and business success.  Others are aggressively pursuing white market cannabis activity where there continues to be pockets of pricing strength for the highly adept and highly skilled.

The problem is that not enough of us are making the cut.  Shit weed, the type mostly produced in Humboldt nowadays, is no longer desirable.  Many who thought they knew how to grow are only decent at best.  What many consider to be big, oily, chunky and stoney flowers are actually larfy, leafy, twiggy and sterile in relation to high grade greenhouse or indoor flower.  As someone who has farmed using all three methods, I’ll say it’s tremendously rare to see outdoor or light dep flower that satisfies changing consumer demands.  Flower size and structure, terpene content, outer trichome production and preservation, consistency, visual appeal, potency, color, and flavor are all attributes valued by more discerning users and commercial buyers.  Most stuff around falls far short in several or all of these areas.  The newest trend, putting decent weed in a pretty package and telling people how special it is won’t work either, at least not for long.

We can’t kid ourselves any longer.  Most growers, including the majority of those now holding temporary cultivation permits, were successful, not because of their skill, but because they were operating in a bull market.  Until very recently brown, crappy mountain weed and tiny, mildew infested indoor was selling for thousands a unit…didn’t have to be a real rocket scientist to get a roll going.

Low skilled farmers are now fading fast.  Many are going broke, selling assets or closing shop and selling farms to outsiders with more prowess, deeper pockets and firmer distribution.  High flyers just two years ago, folks dropping 10g’s at the casino in a night are now driving around with smug looks on their faces.  Not so many wide eyed grins or as much bravado as before.  Crazy thing is none (or few) of them saw this coming.  Overconfidence and high levels of cash flow can blind, as many are now learning.

The number of people earning great wages doing scissor work, moving boxes on the side, or picking up labor days at $250 a shot contributed untold millions to the local economy.  What economics shows is that when regular folks like you and I get a little extra dough, we tend to spend it – there’s a consumption effect and a real boost to economic activity.  This is what’s really decimating the broader Humboldt economy.  Less construction, less durable goods orders, less of a lot of stuff.  Even liquor stores are complaining about lost revenue for goodness sake.

As a private financial consultant and a grower myself, all this pains me at some level.  While the arrogance, pollution and violence associated with cannabis production and sales were always repulsive, the huge influx of capital attributed to growers and the teams of people they supported can’t be understated and will be sorely missed. 

While we all know people who are still socking it away, most no longer are.  As the local economy is halved over the coming years, life as we have come to know it will change.  Our homes and land will lose significant value, most non-essential businesses will shut down, and many individuals will up and leave the county altogether.  I expect crime and violence to increase further amid mounting desperation, and this time, I’m hard pressed to see the local economy returning to its former glory.

Humboldt, as crazy as this will sound to those who lost everything, had it relatively easy during the 2007-2009 financial collapse.  Times were tough locally, but we got out of the recession very quickly.  Let us not forget CNBC, Pot Town USA, the Green Rush, and billions of dollars that flooded our economy over the ensuing years.  People, not just growers, made huge money and the county was spared of true economic collapse once again.

Not likely to happen this time around.  Flower is now selling near or below production costs for many and prices are likely to continue their downward trajectory until a national marketplace comes to fruition.  Margins for oil, extracts and derived products, and for processing and distribution will come in dizzyingly fast amid competition and diminishing economic rents.  What’s left…not a lot.  A few astute business folks will remain, corporate producers will spend less locally after the initial infrastructure build outs currently underway, and the county will continue to hope that the hospitals, universities, bike trails and the arts can support us all. 

One problem with humans is that we tend to believe that current economic conditions (whatever they may be) will persist, so the economy grows or shrinks frantically as realities on the ground shift.  We’ve never been a real middle of the road economic engine…boom and bust is more the capitalistic paradigm.   And sadly with economic busts, things usually overshoot to the downside, that is, they get even worse than real conditions on the ground warrant.  As emotional, reactionary beings, we largely expand or retract too far, and often at the wrong time.  Investment and risk taking are crimped when the music stops and things come to a grinding halt until confidence is restored.  I’m fearful that confidence will not make its way back to the curtain after the coming implosion.

This time it’s bust for Humboldt and I, like others who work in the financial industry, am deeply concerned for my lifelong home.  A sleepy little ghost town sounds quaint to some, but getting there from here, the “readjustment” or “realignment” now being discussed, will be no fun.

I’ve labeled our current predicament as “Humboldt’s last ride,” our final hoorah if you will.  While lots of folks just got paid as warehouse rents and prime ag land prices skyrocketed, those benefits were largely enjoyed by those with deep pockets already.  Favorable weather and bountiful harvests the last two years helped many more, while corporate investment is padding the pockets of others as we speak.  That said, Humboldt is in the very last innings of expansion and ominous times loom large. 

Merchants are down, way down and we are still in the very early innings of what promises to come. Even really exciting things such as the proposed fish farm on the bay will only bring an estimated 80 jobs.  Near half a billion to be invested by a foreign entity, but profits will head overseas.  When considering only a half mil upfront and annual chump change for the harbor district after spending a bunch more cleaning up the proposed site, this will not be the panacea some are speaking of. 

If you have money, protect it.  In a few years enourmous value will emerge for those looking to purchase land, homes and existing cannabusinesses.  Doing so now will likely lead to very large near term losses as our friends to the north can attest.  I suspect Warren Buffet came to the county partly in a bid to capitalize on the recent real estate spike, but as a contrarian by nature, I expect his real motive was to be on the ground preparing for the collapse, so that he may pick up the very best scraps that remain.

All the best.

Jesse Duncan

SFV OG – Power Dep

Cannabis Prices

I used to wonder how it happened every year.  Cannabis buyers would pop into town around harvest time and shop units at a specified price, say 12-14 for outs.  How come 12-14 and how come everyone was asking for more or less the same?  Was it collusion, a mere coincidence, or something else?

Thanks to my curiosity and 20 seconds on Google I stumbled across, a subscription service aggregating sales data from white or regulated markets across the nation.  Data there is presented by state and by grow type – outdoor, greenhouse and indoor.  Quite interestingly market bids approximate the data presented.  White market numbers presented are very close to what we hear and black market numbers are around a third less as they don’t account for taxes or compliance costs.  As I learned in finance, markets are efficient in that they do a good job of sorting out information to arrive at “fair” market prices.  The cannabis market is proving no different, much to the dismay of growers.

Indoor flower comprises most of the market and commands the best price, followed by greenhouse flower, then outdoor.  Interestingly outdoor, or sungrown cannabis, accounts for approximately 20% of sales volume in white markets.  Despite marketing efforts desperately trying to convince market participants about the value of sungrown flower, outdoor prices are plummeting as consumers are becoming more discriminating.  Consistency, visual appeal, flower structure, size, smell and color now dominate the buying landscape.  Most outdoor simply isn’t that good and doesn’t have as much bag appeal as other grow types.

We might not like it, but what many west coast farmers produce simply isn’t that in vogue as extracts, dep and indoor are becoming ever more available.  Consumer demands are changing, fast, and it doesn’t appear that many farmers seem willing or able to adapt.

Wholesale prices have been in a freefall since 2017, with outdoor flower now averaging around $650 a pound in the US spot index, which aggregates data from all regulated states.  Interestingly, because we produce so much weed here in Cali, our prices tend to reflect average US prices to a large degree.

Recent price reports are rather grim.  Outdoor prices have dropped significantly and forward markets show further price deterioration moving into this year’s harvest season.  The west coast seasonal price bump normally experienced is becoming more muted and there is very real concern among less skilled producers that their goose is nearly cooked. 

Given supply gluts in neighboring states, favorable growing conditions the last few years, and commercial entrants into the market, this new ballgame for lower cannabis prices is predicted to continue.  Markets used to clear earlier, with sales picking back up in February after a brief lull in the action.  Last year sales didn’t really get cracking until April, this year perhaps the same or worse.

Distributors are buying wholesale flower on the cheap, in small batches, and on the front…some citing 4 weeks or more for payment.  This is a recipe for disaster for small, less skilled operators.  Producing units at $400 or more and selling them for a taxable amount slightly higher is a recipe for bankruptcy as many are now learning.  Without the ability to break desirable product into smaller sales units as good producers are, many here in Humboldt and surrounding regions are becoming panic stricken and are closing shop.

Because many farmers are actually really bad growers and because many distributors have very shallow markets, the disastrous consequences of this combination are becoming ever apparent to market participants and the local economy.

Lots of people (who thought they were good at their job) now have little money and essentially worthless product they can’t distribute to either market with acceptable volume or velocity.  The few businesspeople farmers I know with true Jedi Knight like skills are still slaying it and will for some time.  The unsung heroes, growers so good they will never risk disruption by going public will still stimulate local economies, but even their robust contributions will pale in comparison to the black hole created by falling cannabis prices and the evisceration of many mom and pop operators and ancillary service providers.

Those shipping product abroad or to other states are also learning about discriminating consumers and flooded markets.  One middle man recently told me in desperation that “there’s fucking weed in the Midwest for god sake!”  I hate to say this, but once black market dealers are complaining (not bullshitting) about business, time’s are certainly tough indeed.

In Oregon, retail bulk week now sells at just a few bucks a gram and dispensaries and farmers are shuttering businesses at alarming rates.  Craft farmers (not really but that’s what they call themselves) are being decimated and astute operators are swooping in and purchasing assets at pennies on the dollar.  It is they who will garner most future profitability if and when the pendulum swings and the supply paradigm shifts back in their favor.

Like to the north, bulk weed will be dirt cheap within another year or two…little debate needed.  Truly specialized product will garner value, but most will never produce anything good enough to meet the cut.  Other profit centers like oil and extracts and processing and distribution will also erode given increased competition and slackening rents.  From there, only the best will survive.

Good luck to all.

Jesse Duncan

Sour Diesel

The Shift

Across the West Coast cannabis growing regions, a major shift is underway.  Cannabis production, and the economic benefits traditionally associated with such, is going from the hands of many to the hands of few.  Small mom and pop operators are struggling to compete with well capitalized corporations and more skilled producers, and this trend will only intensify.

While the Craft industry (small batch, high end production) offers lasting hope for small family farms, the challenge is that many folks operating in the space don’t possess the knowledge, husbandry, resources, or even basic farming skills required to compete successfully in high quality flower markets.  In other words, it’s not just that small operations lack the capital, business prowess or proximity to major metropolitan markets as many argue.  It’s that many simply aren’t producing a product desirable enough for increasingly discerning and judicious consumers.

In the farming space, small has become synonymous with craft and nothing could be further from the truth.  Most small operators in Humboldt County I’ve worked with are really bad at pot farming.  Tiny buds, poor trichome production, terpene sloughing, powdery mildew, mold, bugs, and terrible drying and curing processes plague the many dozens of farmers I’ve met over the past five years.  And to be very clear, every one of these operators told me they grow killer stuff and the vast majority are holders of temporary cultivation permits.

The remote locations, the somewhat inward or isolated lifestyles of many sungrown farmers and the lack of exposure they’ve had to true top shelf flower has led to outsized and unwarranted confidence around production and skill set.

Sadly, I’ve lost friends (and perhaps gained a few adversaries) as I’ve shed light on the subject for consulting clients.  Cannabis farming has been a very ego driven business and we know that males derive personal satisfaction and a sense of self worth and accomplishment from their work, so I completely understand the angst.  Many find it hard to accept that they have learned little about producing high end product over the past decades and struggle with how ill equipped they are to compete in the current marketplace.  Coming to understand that their livelihood was based, not on skill, but on the fact that there was relatively little weed around is a tough pill to swallow.   Many are exiting the industry while others are barely holding on. 

In defense of the less skilled, we must not forget that until two or three years ago old, brown shit weed still fetched a fair ticket in the illicit marketplace…now those units are being purchased by folks from Arizona and elsewhere at $100-150 a pound.  Given that long-time operators are suddenly competing directly for shelf space with corporate money and those who actually exhibit admirable cannabis farming skills, overconfidence has been largely replaced with fear, anxiety and depression. 

Economically speaking, small communities across the west coast are beginning to feel the pinch as excess rents (profits) go away.  Fewer lifted trucks and less spending on fancy attire, boats, firearms, ATV’s, vacations and dining out are hitting small businesses hard.  With less disposable income and with the corporatization of cannabis markets, money is changing hands quickly.  Corporate producers spend less on local consumption and this trend has only just begun.  Over the coming year it’s estimated that 90% of California cannabis companies will fail and the pain felt by industry participants, local merchants, and ancillary service providers will be significant.

It’s time small farmers quit whining and start executing at a higher level.  The reason many permit holders are struggling with distribution isn’t because the market sucks, it’s because they do.  The quicker growers can step up, hone their craft and begin producing something of value, the more they will realize that opportunity is ripe.  It’s the first inning of the regulated cannabis marketplace and to assume things are over is ridiculous.  Skilled farmers are inking deals with celebrities, building brands of their own, and capitalizing on the rapidly growing industry and the fervor for high quality Humboldt product.  The cannabis industry is now our nation’s fastest growing and there’s a place in it for skilled participants across the operating spectrum.  The ability to meet consumer needs, adapt to their changing preferences, and stand out among increased competition will separate the winners from the losers.

Unfortunately out west, many long term producers are losing and will be wiped out in short order.  Pockets of economic strength will remain and wealth creation will be significant for some, but not many.  Local economies will struggle and must be nimble and adaptive in order to succeed in this new paradigm.  Will you do the same?

Jesse Duncan

Blue Cookie

Murder Mountain

My name is Jesse Duncan.  I’m a lifelong Humboldt County resident, a private financial consultant operating in the cannabis space, and a commercial farmer.  I recently viewed the Netflix “docudrama” Murder Mountain in its entirety and found it both entertaining and insightful. 

The local cannabis community is making quite a stink over the supposed merits of the program, while others applaud bringing the darker and largely repulsive side of our industry to further light.  Opponents dismiss the program as sensationalist and argue that one small corner of the growing community is not representative of the whole.  Entirely true, but Rancho is one of many such places that exist throughout the county.  Having worked atop Waterman Ridge, Bear Creek Road and yes, in between Blocksburg and Alderpoint over the past few years, what was depicted about Murder Mountain was relatively tame.

Arguably stretches of highway 36 are far more lawless and dangerous.  In 2017 alone I heard someone get killed one night around 10pm while foliar spraying the crop (passed the coroner heading down the hill around midnight).  There was the buck mountain shooting, the car chase through the construction zone, regular assaults and armed robberies, and numerous scorched vehicles that were eventually shoved cliffside after being completely destroyed.  Our joke (although not real laughable) was that any car left roadside near Dinsmore was on blocks overnight, completely trashed the next day, and torched by the third.  This I saw at least 6-7 times that summer alone and most were far from junk vehicles.  There were storefront fist fights, rampant amphetamine use, roadside drug deals and much more.

            Waterman Ridge (like southern Humboldt) was home to poppy farms, serious levels of wildlife poaching, roadside garbage like farm slash, and deliberate poisoning of unwanted visitors like bears.  While near Blocksburg I learned that the preferred method for disposing old tarps and plastics was to burn them.  I have been told, multiple times, that they only burn black for a minute or two and have heard many males brag about Murder Mountain being in their backyard so they seem tough.

            Couple these experiences (and dozens more) with the fact that the vast majority of Humboldt farms didn’t give two shits about entering the permitting process, it seems reasonable to assume that our local industry is, quite factually, dominated by relatively bad actors…and no they aren’t all from out of state! 

            As I have heard countless times when consulting with holders of temporary cultivation permits, many of these were sought to gain another year or two of coverage before closing shop and moving back to illicit, indoor grows, which are currently flourishing once again.  When the dust settles, very few of the temporary permits will ever come to full fruition.  The environmental impact of most mountain grows is significant and when considering that road repair alone for many has a six figure price tag, it just simply isn’t going to happen for most farms.  Couple this with the lack of business and cannabis growing prowess that many demonstrate, I’d be surprised to see more than 500 lasting cultivation permits ultimately granted out of the couple thousand now on the table.

            So why the fuss about Murder Mountain when most local residents know how “lawless” Humboldt County pot farming really is?  The answer is simple.  More ethical operators like Humboldt High Five and others are engaged, like the industry as a whole, in a rebranding effort where cannabis farming is positioned as legitimate, life giving, and earth friendly.  Why do you think Hezekiah Allen went to such great lengths several years ago to debunk the absolutely factual claim that female trimmers are being preyed upon sexually?  It is because that ugly and indisputable truth didn’t jive well with the newly forming narrative designed to professionalize and legitimize an industry with lots of skeletons in the closet.  If I only had a dollar for every farmer who laments that trimmigrants are now often accompanied by a male counterpart…

            It seems a more appropriate industry response to Murder Mountain is to own that fact that many participants in both the white and black market farming spaces are less than desirable in terms of their moral compass, ethics, and relationship to consumers and the environment.  In so doing, that will only strengthen the hand and value proposition of those acting in a more socially responsible fashion.  The industry should use this information to create such fervor for snuffing out the black market and illegitimate white market operators that the National Guard troops recently offered should be met with red carpets and fine wine.  While not all market participants behave repulsively, attempting to smooth over the largely grotesque nature of our local and largely illicit industry is silly and will not serve the goals of professionalization and legitimization well at all.

            The fact that many are looking at Murder Mountain as a sensationalized, isolated anomaly is ludicrous and most of us in the cannabis industry know this.  Those portrayed in the Netflix Documentary are not simply “tweekers” as many are quick to point out.  Many farms I’ve seen are in a similar state of disrepair, resembling garbage dumps more than agricultural facilities.  To pretend otherwise is disingenuous and again, will not serve the conversation well.  We must embrace the facts, take a courageous stand against the very real lawlessness that plagues many of the county’s growing regions, and must passionately and ardently tell the stories of other operators doing things right. 

            We must not forget that the regulatory push for cannabis regulation here in Humboldt was largely predicated on the fact that we needed to drive bad actors out of the hills and return some sense of normalcy and environmental protection to a region that seems out of control to many a casual observer.  Now it seems we are saying that’s not the case…seems fairly insane to me.  And to stand for the equally absurd copout in saying that’s not really Humboldt or not the Humboldt we know is also silly.

            Actions speak louder than words. More operators should use interviews, farm tours and Instagram posts to show the world they mean business and are serious about environmental protection, consumer protection, and producing world-class products.  To be defensive about the dominant behaviors plaguing our industry or to be outright disingenuous in pretending they don’t exist will only fan the flames of discontent and make our local industry look more pathetic than it already does.

Jesse Duncan

Creme Brule

A Cannabis Story

Like many others I have a storied history with the cannabis plant.  I retired after a decade of financial advising in 2014 to cannabis caregive for my dying mother and have been growing full time since then.  Both personally and professionally I hid my use for years.  Until far too recently I was a full grown man behaving like a damn child, sneaking around and lying about who I was.  Almost seems laughable…except it’s not fucking funny.  It’s sad and it’s criminal and it put me in a crappy emotional space for years.

For a decade I sat behind a desk longing to do more.  I wanted to farm professionally and with respect to capital markets and personal finance, I wanted to engage people more like myself.  I wanted to use freely and perhaps most importantly, I wanted to shed the negative internal dialogue that held me back and prevented me from operating at my highest potential.  I know that cannabis makes me healthier, but it also makes me kinder, more understanding, more appreciative, more connected to God and nature, and far more loving and empathetic.  To be denied that, by statute, enforcement action, or because of misinterpreted negative externalities or someone’s own imposed morality is both cruel and intolerable.

Things really began to change for me at Tech conference in Oakland.  I knew nothing of the event until a day or two prior and was right in the middle of harvest season when I got the invite.  I was feeling busy so declined, but was mystically nudged in the right direction and changed my mind later the same day.  The experience was amazing.  At conference I learned about the cannabis Movement for the first time.  I was lucky enough to be in a room where Wayne spoke passionately and was introduced as the very first 215 patient in Cali.  I was amazed by the overall love for cannabis and by the caliber of professionals who were leaving other industries to play with us. 

My Central American sweetheart and bride of nearly twenty years calls me a loser for growing and using cannabis and believes I am taking my family to hell as a result.  Some of you may know how that feels and it hurts, a lot.  Nonetheless I will march on and the reason is simple…In 2014 my lack of knowledge and understanding contributed to the unpleasant and tremendously sad death of my mother.  Had I known then that high ingestible loads of THC and CBD oil could have saved her, I would have responded very differently.  Instead of using cannabis to replace opiates, ease her pain and combat the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, I would have used cannabis to reverse her cancer and allow her light to continue shining.  She was a gift to this world and loved kids more than anything else.  To see her life cut so short and in such a terrifyingly painful and sad way was more than I could handle.  I sunk into a deep two year depression and were it not for the grow-room, the life giving beauty of my cannabis clones and flowers, and my desire to improve lives, there were many days I would have simply stayed in bed.

All of this breaks my heart to this day and angers me deeply.  Mom’s death, while certainly not my fault, is now my cross to bear at some level.  Because of this experience though, I believe ever more in the free flow of credible information and in my role in the Movement.  I want to actively participate in saving lives and took a meaningful step toward this end in both 2017 and 2018 where 10% of my personal crop was donated to a woman fighting cancer.  This season I will do the same once a needy recipient has been identified. 

Near mom’s death I began farming full time and was kicked out of my own home for four months, forced to live alone and away from my five kids at the time.  I was eventually allowed to return home, but because a lack of regulation and other factors has led to a somewhat dangerous growing environment in Humboldt County, my small 16 light medicinal operation came under attack and was ravaged by criminals.  The high THC flowers stolen were destined to improve and save lives, not make me excess profits.  Heartbroken and afraid as I came under repeated attack, I closed shop and transitioned from organic indoor growing to organic sun-grown farming on a small commercial scale, operating in the 10,000 to 20,000 sq ft space. 

While I no longer financial advise corporately, I have served as a private financial consultant since retirement.  While my money-centric consulting platform serves both cannabis professionals and those from other industries, my newest offering thru Nor Cal Financial and Cannabis Consulting is pro bono and is designed to help small and mid size farmers achieve financial success in an increasingly competitive market. 

In the spirit of full transparency, I won’t pretend that my relationship with cannabis has always been a bouquet of roses.  Like my mother and many family members before me, I am another talented and passionate individual plagued by the affliction of addiction.  I am one of the 9% of users who are physically addicted to cannabis and tolerance break for me means smoking flower only instead of dry sift or oil topped flowers.   If I were to not use for a few days, as I did last week, I can’t sleep, I can hardly eat, and stimulus is overwhelming.  I’m not proud of this part of myself, but have learned over many years and after much trial and error that cannabis is the one substance I can use productively.  Abstinence doesn’t work for me as I really get enormous physical, spiritual, emotional, and interpersonal benefit from using cannabis, but excess use is also damaging.  Fully aware that I can become someone who’s very existence revolves around using cannabis, I approach my use with an added level of respect and caution. 

I have also felt the sting of the law.  In 2002 as I was nearing college graduation, I was caught growing four marijuana plants at my mother’s home.  The Sheriff’s office confiscated my product, ransacked her house inside and out and came for me six months later.  Several squad cars and multiple officers showed up unannounced and cuffed me in my undies outside my apartment at 6:30 am.  Of the course the wife and two kids were home and the landlady who lived next door was as well.  I spent the day in jail and was subsequently forced to quit smoking, go to a detox facility for heroine, meth, opiate and alcohol addicts and enter a 6 month prop 36 drug deferral treatment program.  All of this made quite a stink when financial advising and I had to threaten litigation to keep my job with a Wall Street Investment Bank when my fingerprints trigged a booking report.

In my wife’s defense, cannabis hasn’t always been the healthiest of things for me.  While I used to righteously debate and contradict the merits of her views, I have learned better over time.  As I’ve grown up and matured emotionally, I’ve come to better understand and appreciate the criticisms associated with cannabis…things like laziness, negative health consequences, greed, addiction, violence, illicit activity, and environmental degradation.   For those reasons I share Green Flower Media’s desire to help professionalize and de-stigmatize our industry.  I want everyone to have safe access to high quality cannabis products around the world and have decided to make this my life’s work.   As more and more top tier professionals confess to using cannabis and dedicate themselves professionally to the Movement, the more consumers will be empowered, vindicated, and celebrated.

Jesse Duncan

Mountain Grown