In a recent article, we addressed pricing structures for consumer amounts of cannabis in DC in our article How Much Does an Ounce Cost in DC? But to truly understand why an ounce of weed costs what it does, an understanding of where your cannabis comes from, how it’s wholesaled and how those costs are structured is important.
The truth is, not everyone gets the chance to meet a wholesaler, or come less than two degrees of separation from a grow. The best-quality flower is always the one you get as close to the vine as possible. But with home grow limited to a maximum of 6 mature plants per household of two or more and no legal retail sales, most cannabis in the gifting market is imported. Most of the weed imported to unlicensed markets is from California, but flower is starting to come out of Oklahoma, Michigan, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts as the quality of cannabis in those states increases, and wholesale connections develop. Washington State and Oregon also used to (and to some degree continue to) exist as popular markets to import bud from, but they have fallen out of favor as products become more difficult to get out the backdoor, and diminished in quality, due to corporate consolidation. Colorado is generally not a popular destination to wholesale flower from because the altitude almost always results in delivery of dry flower.
Breaking Down the Pricing Markup
Something to keep in mind is that in almost all cases the flower price of an ounce is twice what it is broken down from a pound (or unit). For example, if someone buys a unit for $4800, you should expect them to sell it for $550-$600 per ounce. If you see flower that goes for $300 an ounce, it likely costs between $2200-$2600 per pound wholesale. In legal retail markets, you’ll see prices for the highest-grade bud available for somewhere between $220-$320 per ounce (this is based on prices in Maine and Oklahoma). The 2x rule of thumb still applies here because the price of the unit is augmented by the bulk bought on wholesale. Legal retail stores and brands buy high-grade products wholesale that are worth $1800-$2500 and get price breaks for buying anywhere between 10-100 units.
On the flip side, there are some products and some flagship options that are only sold in packs of 3.5 grams (a.k.a. eighths). These are usually from elite brands like Backpack Boyz, Doja Pak and Connected, though Connected and Alien Labs also package buds in 7g jars. If you add up the cost of an ounce’s worth of retail jars, that should reflect the wholesale price of a single pound of that flower with a 2x price markup.
How Much Does Outdoor Flower Cost per Pound?
Outdoor flower, which is mostly extracted or infused for edibles, usually costs somewhere around $800-$1200 per pound. Part of the reason why outdoor flower is so inexpensive is because of the scale at which it’s produced. An outdoor cannabis plant has no ceiling (literally!) and if grown full-term can yield as many as 10 pounds per plant if it’s cropped properly. Multiply that yield by tens or hundreds of plants, and you get a truly insane amount of weed. We’re talking enough weed to make Snoop Dogg tap out of a sesh. Outdoor plants are also at the whim of the environment more than any other grow method, so you won’t get the expressions that are considered high-quality, and therefore worth more.
What’s the Price of Mixed-Environment Flower?
When it comes to mixed-environment flower, two types of grows come to mind: light deprivation (deps) and mixed light, which uses both sunlight and artificial light. Many large-scale California cultivators believe the future of cultivation is in indoor facilities with retractable roofs. These allow cultivators to control their crops’ environment as they would in an indoor warehouse grow. It also gives them an edge in sustainability by allowing UV waves and sun intensity to hit the canopy, thus saving on energy costs.
The quality of mixed environment-grown cannabis varies wildly; some are high-quality enough to pass as indoor-grown, and some are so low-quality that they’re just called outdoor. Deps and mixed light typically fall in the $1000-$1900 per unit range, with the price directly correlated to quality. One thing to be wary of with deps that fall in the lower end of wholesale rates is low-quality illegal grow operations out of California’s Emerald Triangle. The risk of poor handling practices and unknown toxic inputs such as dangerous pesticides, nutrients containing heavy metals and salts, and mold and mildew is higher with bud coming from these unregulated grows. States like Michigan, Maine and Oklahoma, which are relatively undeveloped recreational markets, have not built up the same reputation as California and Oregon for toxic bud. For the last 25 years or more, California and Oregon have been the most hospitable for outdoor growers; toxic, uncared-for plants are sometimes the result of those environments.
How Much Does Indoor-Grown Cannabis Cost?
Looking at indoor flower, you see prices start to rise dramatically. At certain times, when the market is especially saturated — like during the autumn harvest season (a.k.a. Croptober) — you could find a unit of something new-school like Gelato in the low $2000 range. That same crop can go for between $4000-$7000 at other times of the year when it’s more difficult to harvest good examples of most strains. With indoor wholesale, genetics are a huge factor in the price. Up and down the East Coast, you see growers and enthusiasts enjoying strains from the Chem, Sour and OG lines, which peak at $3200/unit at the quality ceiling, but normally sit around $2400/unit. These classic strains don’t necessarily offer the same sweet flavor and slap-in-the-face potency as a newer Cookies cross strain, so the demand is generally lower. If you look at the average indoor 2009 Cookies cross (Cereal Milk, Biscotti, Animal Cookies, Gelato) near the quality ceiling, these examples tend to hit the $3600-$4200/unit price point. Genetics that fall in between old-school and new-school (Papaya, LA Kush, Forbidden Fruit, OJ) usually fall around the $2600-$3000/unit price point.
Exotic Flower Tops the Price Charts per Pound
A notch above indoor-grown flower, you hit “exotic” weed, which is generally exclusive flower grown in limited quantities. These are runs of cuts that might only yield a total of 10 units for the entire world. It includes things like unbranded small-batch grows of elite strains like Black Runtz, Point Break, Oreoz, Gary Payton (and anything crossed with Zkittlez) from across the country that fetch $4200-4800/unit prices. Cookies’ signature strains such as their London Chello and their Gelatti from elite cultivators are in the $5000/unit range. This year’s Cup winners like The Ten Co’s Blue Zushi or the newest release of Doja Pak’s Zoap sit around $6000-7000/unit, and the releases of those are so limited that distributors often won’t sell a full unit of the most hype strains unless the vendor buys five or more units of other, less-hype stuff. Historically, we’ve seen cuts like Hash Plant #13 that went for today’s equivalent of $12,000/unit (around $8000/unit back in the year 2000) because they’re so closely held — hoarded, even. Today, operators like Elephant’s Growth and NorCal Nemo are so small-batch that they don’t even sell full pounds of anything they produce. If they did, the price would sit somewhere around $15,000 per pound for Elephant OG and close to $18,000/unit for Nemo’s Butter Pecan or Guava Gas.
How Does Prohibition Affect the Price of Weed?
Despite the average price of flower being about $2200/unit for all legal markets nationwide, it’s key to remember that the price doesn’t reflect what wholesale flower costs at the quality ceiling. It also doesn’t necessarily apply if you intend to just buy one pound of flower. Due to prohibition constraints, consumers in the DMV market pay the highest average price per ounce anywhere in the country. (DC, Maryland and Virginia’s medical cannabis programs are not affected by I-71 constraints.)
The biggest effect of the prohibition condition is that, even when the average I-71 vendor is at their busiest, it’s impossible for them to scale up to the same level of buying power held by larger legal operations. Most retail stores move 100-200 units of flower per week. Even the largest vendor stocks pale in comparison to other markets in legal states.
How Can I Get My Weed for Less Money?
If you want your flower to be cheaper, here are three things the average consumer can do:
1) Grow your own. This is probably the easiest method for lowering the price of your flower over time, but the starting cost can be high. At the end of the day though, if you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!
2) Support your local growers. Directly supporting them can help them scale up to the point where producing biomass is cheaper and their operations are big enough to support more production.
3) Advocate for equitable licensing practices, including caregiver programs. These protections give the average consumer easier access to locally grown fresh flower. The ultimate effect of bringing more legal options to the table are higher quality ceilings and more higher-priced bud, but also more room for middle and lower-quality production that could be used for extracts, edibles, and affordable medicine.
Looking at wholesale flower critically, there truly are options for everyone. However, not every market has room for all those options. Currently the DC market is more like to California in the sense that it’s easy to find an $80 eighth, and less like Oregon, where you can find an $18 eighth. Ultimately, we all want to pay less for weed — but if you’re in DC paying $50-$70 per eighth, you should sleep easy knowing that the vendor you purchased it from put in some effort to find really good weed from a trusted source.