Over the last five years or so, as the quality of cannabis in DC has improved, weed consumers may have noticed vendors changing their menu branding. What we used to call “top shelf” bud is now often referred to in buzzier terms like “designer” or “exotic.”
Over time, words for ‘good weed’ have changed. “Top shelf” replaced “kind bud” when recreational legalization began. Kind bud had itself replaced “hydro” years ago, which was a step up from “beasters,” which basically meant mid-grade weed from Canada. Much of the time, new lingo was describing improved cultivation techniques. Recently, it’s become about chasing the latest trends in smell and flavor rather than looking for bud that doesn’t have seeds or smell like hay.
With the abundance of high-grade cannabis, it makes sense to update the terminology for the weed scene in DC as it blossoms with exciting offerings from elite growers trying to one-up the competition. However, these newer terms for excellent bud don’t necessarily tell recreational consumers what, exactly, they’re buying and it can be hard to discern whether “exotic” flower is actually worth your cash.
There’s also a few ways that people use the word exotic. Usually it refers to a brand name or strain, but the cultivation style and overall quality often come into play as well. In the end, the word may take on several meanings, but for the DC scene, we’re gonna talk about the brand names and exotic strains you might find from local vendors.
Label Shopping for Designer Buds
Many cannabis retailers and producers now offer “designer” flower packaged in colorful mylar bags with intricate designs. Like sugary breakfast cereals, many of the strains in these bags are almost indistinguishable from one another. Some are named nonsensical things like Key Lime Sprinklez Chimichurri (yes, this is a real name from a white label brand). What?! And because consumers usually can’t see or smell the flower before taking it home, it can feel like hoping that Apple Pie Toast Crunch is somehow gonna blow your mind once you get tired of the original Cinnamon.
Runtz was named the Strain of 2020 by Leafly.
If you look at a cross section of “exotic” flower offerings, you’ll find that a majority come from different samples and expressions of the same strains. The same Gelato (Sunset Sherb x GSC Thin Mints pheno) strain can be found in many strains including Gelatti, Jealousy, Heavy Fog, and more. Even Runtz (Zkittlez x Gelato), which was supposed to be the next big wave following Gelato, is thought to be a Gelato (33 pheno) bagseed with no Zkittlez-dominant expressions.
There’s nothing wrong with a new twist on a classic favorite, and even before “exotic” strains, elite cannabis breeders used the same legendary strains over and over to make their new strains. But back then, top dollar was generally reserved for things that did something totally different, and people still paid good money for strains that were familiar as long as they were done well. Today’s market demands new varieties almost every month and “exotic” breeders opt to put out new flavors of the same ‘cereal’ instead of spending 5-10 years perfecting crosses for long-term stability and health.
For example, many of these cultivars are referred to as “exotic” just because they express a little bit (or a lot) of purple. All in all, it’s the same strain with a different look and a new name. Strain hunters, like sneakerheads, may see the value in these varieties, but the average toker is unlikely to notice a difference.
So what are you really paying for when you buy “exotic” weed?
Is Purple Weed Better?
For consumers that grew up in the days of seedy brick weed, beautiful purple cannabis is a sight to behold, sure to set you salivating. But does that mean purple weed is better? Sometimes! The purple expression in cannabis is sometimes a genetic expression of that particular cultivar, but in many “exotic” strains it’s activated by lowering canopy temperature towards the end of the flowering stage. That’s a lot different than some of the legendary strains like Grandaddy Purps or Purple Kush that brought entirely new flavor and effect profiles to go along with their color.
What does "premium designer cannabis" really mean?
In my mind, “exotic” is a misnomer— the biggest reason being that the best or most potent bud is often not purple or exceptionally vibrant in the color of its buds and pistils. In terms of genetics, older varieties still produce many of the most outright potent strains. Top-notch examples of the Chemdog lineage (which includes Sour Diesel and OG Kush) don’t always express in a way that evokes the modern “exotic” eye appeal, but they can still be caked in resin, exceptionally pungent, flavorful, and dense.
To understand why the expression “exotic” has become so desirable in retail cannabis, it’s important to understand what you should be looking for when procuring the highest-grade, most elite-smoking bud. In short, you want carefully bred genetics grown in perfect conditions that include an ideal climate with proper nutrition. Enthusiasts and growers have long debated whether HPS or LED lighting systems are better, as well as hydroponic vs soil, and many other factors. However it’s grown, top-notch cannabis should have a distinct bud structure, strong size and density of cloudy-white trichomes, a powerful scent, and still be fresh. In the very best of the best buds, you’ll find trichomes intact (if you look through a magnifying loupe, you won’t see any bent over), an excellent trim done by hand, plus mouth-watering flavor.
The designation of cannabis as “exotic” is meant to elicit feelings of exclusivity and status. But there are two major issues with the branding strategy, as far as the DC consumer is concerned. First, the most elite bud is grown in small rooms and gardens, not warehouses, and that often makes more difference than using the latest strains. The true connoisseur smoke is a legitimately exclusive product valued at dollar amounts that would make most people faint, monocles akimbo! $1000 an ounce is not unheard of.
Are the buds inside these Jungle Boys bags the real deal? You won't know until you pop the top.
Second, it’s easy to find bags from high-quality retailers online and put just about anything in them. A quick Google search of “Cali weed bags” led me to listings for bags from Cookies, Lemonnade, Backpack Boyz, Runtz, Cali X, Jokes Up, Jungle Boys, Cannatique, Dime Bag, Doja Pak, Insane, Connected and Alien Labs, just to name a few. It’s become something of a meme on Instagram that if you’re not careful, you’ll get scammed by a pretty bag with Ice Cream Cake light deps in it. Just like buying designer clothes, knowing the signs of counterfeited products is crucial for getting the best product.
So pretty — on the outside, at least.
If you know what to look for, it’s actually not difficult in most legacy markets to find imported flower from elite brands. Some of the biggest brands in North America have built up their reputation and customer base by distributing products on the legacy market. And some of the most reputable vendors in DC carry unbranded samples of the same flower sold at top retail stores in California. “Backdooring” flowers from retail stores for the legacy market is common practice. Following Instagram chains can help you figure out which vendors are working with which distribution operations, and which brands those operators are connected to. Usually the vendors with the highest-quality, most reputable products won’t hide their connections with the best brands, but they won’t showboat about it either.
How to Identify Fake Mylar Bags and Packaging
So you found the plug. Everything seems to check out. But is it the real deal? It’s not as easy to tell as you might think. We’ve compiled some resources to make it easier, including the official web pages for each brand and their product verification pages when available.
As a rule of thumb, assume anything that comes in a designer bag In DC isn’t the real thing, even if it has hologram stickers (they’re cheap!). Keep in mind a local or unofficial grower may have access to the same strains and you might even end up with better quality than if you go chasing designer bags.
If the legitimate vendor uses CannVerify, that’s the most fool-proof way to authenticate your product. If not, look for a printed sticker label on the mylar bag. If there’s no printed sticker, it definitely wasn’t processed by a licensed brand. Good fakes come with stickers and holograms, though, but many of them don’t look exactly the same as ones printed in stores, and most of the time fake stickers won’t list a real retailer or producer.
Here are some examples of the most popular brands to help you sort things out.
Product authentication: CannVerify
Jungle Boys remains one of, if not the most recognized cannabis brands worldwide and it’s easy to find products in bags labeled with their branding. Yet, they only have five official retail partners, all in the Los Angeles area. In other areas like Washington and Nevada, they’ve licensed their strains and production model under the name ‘Exotikz’, albeit with a hands-off approach. (for example, there have been some cultivation challenges with their Washington State facility and the Jungle Boys no longer offer consultation for the local operators).
Legit Jungle Boys packaging
Since 2019, they’ve provided CannVerify authorization with their products, but counterfeiters are quick to come up with ripoffs that look the part, so it’s important to scan the codes and see what turns up. They switched to white bags in 2021, so unless the product is older it shouldn’t be found in one of their black bags.
Product Authentication: No
Cookies frontman Berner is quickly becoming the world’s biggest weed celebrity, and unlike Jungle Boys, official Cookies merchandise can be found in many states including California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, Cookies doesn’t use a product verification service so you’ll have to do your own investigation and try to track down whether it came from one of the licensed retailers listed on their website. Check the label for specific information about the locations and licenses involved and compare it to other packaging from that state (each state has different labeling laws).
Product authentication: No
Lemonnade is the Cookies brand with ‘sativa’ offerings that officially operates out of California, Oklahoma, and Colorado. You can also find their products licensed in Arizona but they don’t have branded Lemonnade retailers there as of yet. This packaging is legit:
Just like with Cookies products, the best way to verify their authenticity is to look for information that identifies the producer and retailer. You’ll notice that in this case the fake bags below come with a sticker that shows the real Maywood dispensary, but the format of the label doesn’t match the real thing.
Product authentication: No
Runtz comes from an independent group that was acquired by Cookies, so it’s similar to the above. Tons of fakes, and in this case, no good list of official retail outlets. If you see any packaging with the Wonka hat, there’s no chance it’s from a Cookies affiliate. There’s also a number of decent White Runtz fakes but the font for ‘white’ is wrong.
Authentic White Runtz
That being said, the strain is grown across the country by licensed producers that use their own packaging. When it comes to this strain, you’ll have to judge whether the label shows the real producer and retailer you think it came from. If it’s a local or underground grower, do your best to judge the quality and don’t worry about the bag or stickers (but stay away from fake bags if you can).
Product authentication: No
Alien Labs is now owned by Connected. Their flower generally comes in jars, not bags, but you can find counterfeit stickers fairly easily.
This Alien Labs chronic is legit.
Connected is officially available in California and Arizona. Flower comes in jars. High quality counterfeit packaging isn’t easily found online, but it’s still smart to be careful!
The Connected jar is easily recognizable.
Back Pack Boyz
Product authentication: No
Back Pack Boyz has a cult-like following, but verifying their products isn’t easy. As of now they have one officially branded retailer in Los Angeles, but their website isn’t available and there’s no official list of licensed resellers. Like many designer brands you can also find their products at Cookies dispensaries and a handful of other dispensaries, like House of Dank in Michigan.
This seal denotes this Back Pack Boyz as authentic.
Product authentication: No
Doja Pak started as a Weedmaps delivery service but now, Doja has facilities all over the Sacramento metro area and Humboldt County. They recently held an event in DC and you can see some of the gifts available in our review. The Darwin Farms brand procures a good portion of Doja-grown ganja to sell under their own label, too. So, what were we out to taste name-brand Cali exotics in DC? A whopping $90 for the 1/8th!
We picked up some real Doja Pak at an event!
The Takeaway on Designer Weed in DC
Obviously, it’s kind of ridiculous that the average DC consumer should have an encyclopedic knowledge of brands, strains, genetic expressions and bag designs in order to get the greatest cannabis there is. Hopefully, consumers will also feel relieved that for the most part they shouldn’t have to do so to find the very best bud. Retail brands almost all produce cannabis in large warehouses with automatic processing, hundreds (if not thousands) of lights, and more hands touching the plants than the total number of people you’ve smoked with in your life. A lot of retail brands like to say that the love for the plants is scaled up, but flower packed tightly in mylar bags and shipped across the country couldn’t possibly be the same quality as flower you get directly from a small operation that carefully handles the plant every step of the way, and delivers it fresh for high-quality enjoyment.