Commercial cannabis is graded by the method used to grow it and priced accordingly. There are three ways to grow marijuana plants — outdoors, in a greenhouse, or indoors. Ultimately, what the cultivation grade does is predict how much THC will be produced. There are other factors involved, like genetics, but the less money you put into growing each plant, the less potent you can expect the finished product will be. Today we’re going to look at each of these methods, the telltale signs that will help you identify them, and what price point you can expect for each. Of course, you already know that Initiative 71 only allows gifting and not direct sales in Washington DC, so in this case we’re talking about what the cost of the flower would be if sales were allowed.
FYI the cultivation scale has long been the way that cannabis business operates, but simply growing weed a certain way does not guarantee the connoisseur-level quality that a Gentleman expects. I've experienced marijuana both sublime and terrifying at each tier of the cultivation scale. To put it another way, how the weed was grown is much less important than how well it was grown. Can you dig it, Gidget?
The Scale of Cannabis Prices in DC
I’ve seen prices as low as $150 an ounce and as high as $640 around Washington DC in recent years. These are outliers, though. I’d set the median range from $250-$400.
The cost of an ounce in DC also depends greatly on what type of service you use! Many DC storefronts are only gifting eighths with your purchases and don't offer scaled discounts as quantity increases. As competition among brick and mortar shops increases, I have started to see better discounts and scaled pricing emerge, but it's not yet standard practice. Most delivery services, however, do scale their gift amounts as you’d expect.
But $250-400 is a rather wide range of prices, right? Let’s narrow that down a bit with the cultivation scale we talked about earlier.
The bottom tier of today's cannabis cultivation scale is marijuana grown outdoors, under the sun, as God intended. We're not talking about the old, seed-filled bags of super-dry Mexican brick weed either, nobody's seen reggie in years. The reason outdoor, or sungrown, is the cheapest weed available is that it lacks the impressive trichome growth, and thus higher THC percentage, than that which can be achieved by skilled indoor growers. It all comes down to THC and, to a lesser extent, bag appeal. Buds produced outdoors grow larger, but their color will be very muted compared to indoor.
Since you're getting a single crop per year with an outdoor grow, it follows that outdoor growers are competing on quantity, not quality. This means that outdoor-grown weed is more likely to be roughly hand-trimmed or machine-trimmed, losing even more trichomes, and come out looking like Steve Buscemi at the end of Fargo. Careless bulk packing can damage these THC-packed crystals even further.
It is also more likely that unplanned pollination will occur when growing outdoors. Claims from outdoor growers that their plants were pollinated by other weed farms in the area are common. From a consumer perspective, seeds contain trace amounts of THC, which means they're dead weight in your bag. Plus the plant stopped concentrating on THC production when it got preggers, so in general, you can expect lower potency from outdoor-grown flowers.
Product safety and environmental damage are also fair questions when discussing outdoor weed available from unlicensed sources, as it’s well known that cartels operate guerrilla grows with unsafe chemicals that can leak into the groundwater. However, if a grower is skilled, knowledgeable, and diligent, you can get fantastic quality from sungrown cannabis. Some connoisseurs even consider the natural light of the sun a prerequisite for cannabis to be called "organic." Premium sungrown weed exhibits a broader spectrum of cannabinoid and terpene profiles that enrich the aromas, flavors, and overall effect.
The Gentleman would not be disappointed if he found outdoor at $35-40 an eighth. Anything sub-$50, really, though I suppose that's where you're getting into poor light dep. If you see zips for $250 or less, it's almost assuredly outdoor.
Greenhouse or Light-Dep
Greenhouse is the intermediate tier in the classic cultivation scale. Heavier trichomes can be expected with greater environmental control, but you're still using that lazy, do-nothing sun as your primary light source. What’s it even good for, I ask you?
You can also experiment with a number of different growing mediums stepping up to greenhouse (and indoor) cultivation- I'm sure you've heard the term "hydroponic." Years ago, that term was synonymous with "kind bud" (a.k.a. sinsemilla, or seedless) but all it means is that the weed was grown in water instead of soil. There's aeroponics, too, where you keep the growing room so misty that your cannabis plants draw water in directly from the air around it. Weed science is neat, huh?
Light-deprivation, a.k.a. light-dep, is a specific type of greenhouse growing that uses precise angles and blackout areas in its construction to maximize solar efficiency. Light-dep techniques can produce crops year round just like growing indoors, but with higher yields (some manufacturers claim as much as 25-30% higher, but I expect YMMV on that). The point is that it’s much cheaper than growing indoors, more eco-friendly, and still benefits from the increased cannabinoids and terpene profiles that indoor sungrown cannabis enjoys.
Which is all fine and dandy, so long as it's coming in around $50-60 an eighth for fresh, well-manicured greenhouse-grown buds in the DC metro area, or around $280-320 per ounce. Word on the street is that some folks around town are trying to pass off greenhouse for indoor prices, which is a totally uncool thing to do. So how can you tell the difference?
The gap between greenhouse and indoor is closing as technology advances, but greenhouse-grown cannabis will not result in the lush, robust trichome production that marks premium indoor weed. You should expect deeper green and purple hues with greenhouse bud. Not as dark as sungrown, but achieving those really bright, vibrant colorations require indoor cultivation techniques. Most greenhouse buds won’t get as plump as indoor, either. If your buds look a little flatter than what you were expecting, a little more dull, and with smaller trichomes, you probably got yourself a bag of greenhouse buds.
Indoor is the highest tier in the cultivation scale. When you find bud with massive, shaggy trichomes, you know they could only have been grown indoors using precisely-timed high-intensity bulbs and delicate environmental controls. We brought up environmental impact when discussing outdoor, so it's only fair to point out that the problem with indoor cannabis cultivation at an industrial scale is the enormous amount of power required for each crop. Light technology is improving rapidly though, as more states legalize and every newly-licensed cultivator wants to get their massive electric bill down.
Indoor growing also thumbs its nose at the concept of seasons, allowing cultivators to grow weed constantly throughout the year. Unknown pollination vectors are removed as a risk, so you're far less likely to end up with hermaphrodite plants than growing outdoors. Marijuana is a hardy plant that has thrived in closets, basements, and garages throughout its prohibition, so long as its basic needs for light, soil, wind, humidity, and nutrients are attended to, and you sing to them every morning. Bob Marley for preference, but they also enjoy some ABBA on occasion.
I'd expect indoor-grade cannabis to come in around $65-75 an eighth, but I wouldn't pout at $80 if the trichomes and bag appeal are truly impressive, and I’ve seen higher than that. An ounce of premium indoor weed will go for $350-400 around DC, and beautiful buds could easily fetch $450.
I hate to break it to you, but in most cases, designer weed is indoor that you overpaid for. With legalization has come a wave of celebrity growers and breeders whose flowers can fetch premium prices. These designer flowers are typically packed in soft-touch mylar bags with beautiful graphics boasting the newest, headiest strains inside. The most ubiquitous of these across the country has to be Berner's super-popular Cookies brand, which started in California but has license agreements in a growing number of recreational and medical markets (including Culta in Maryland).
Designer flowers aren’t bad, necessarily, they just cost too much at $85+, especially considering they’re only as eighths with no scaling — not even at delivery services or pop-ups. Too many times has the Gentleman opened a designer bag only to find nothing remarkable about its contents. In some cases, the fault likely lies with unscrupulous individuals buying the pre-printed packaging online and putting whatever buds they want inside. Speaking of, have you noticed how those sleek bags don't have a window? Yeah, that's not a bug, it's a feature. Once they've been heat-sealed, there's no way you can check out what you're buying up front. As a consumer, that’s not the way I want to do business.
That is why the Gentleman's advice is to avoid designer flowers unless you get to inspect them first. I’m expecting heavy trichomes, unique hues, and enchanting aromas at this price point. In fact, if you give me that, I don’t really care whether it has a brand name or not.
But My Guy Says...
We're not talking about the prices you get from your buddy, guy. You get bangin' indoor at $150 a zip, nice. How does that help anyone without your private connect? We're talking about business prices, which are higher, but don't require me to know anyone. Which also means I don't have to waste an hour on some weirdo's couch making uncomfortable small talk while his iguana stares at me before I can buy a bag and be on my way. Nothing against iguanas or weirdos, I’m just busy. Playing Ratchet & Clank, but busy nonetheless!