The cannabis connoisseur: As legal pot grows more popular, gone are the days of simply ‘getting high’
Special to Tribune
The smell smacks your nostrils.
A cocktail of earthy, citrusy and skunky scents are swirling in a flowering room tucked inside a 27,000-square-foot factory planted in Sparks. Hundreds of green plants are lined in rows, standing tall and strong, each one identical in shape and color. Two people sporting teal scrubs, hairnets and ear buds are trimming the pungent plants.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon inside NuLeaf Cultivation, and cultivation director Ryan Schultz is gazing at the swath of marijuana plants basking under LED lights like a proud farmer surveying his field of immaculate corn at sunrise.
“All of the products, everything in here, we started with seed,” Schultz says, pointing proudly at the biggest green herbs in the room. “So all of these big plants you see on the outside are our mother stock. All of that stuff started from seed, and then we look for genetics that we like.”
Specifically, Schultz says, the facility is seeking out interesting terpene profiles — not just strains high in THC — for its products that will end up on shelves in the NuLeaf Tahoe dispensary in Incline Village and the NuLeaf Las Vegas dispensary.
“There are far more interesting things than to see how much THC can I get out there,” Schultz said. “I think people are starting to realize there’s a little more to (cannabis) than just ‘how high I can get.’ You might want to enjoy the experience; you might care how it tastes.
“It’s like when you drink whiskey or wine — there’s more to it than just the alcohol content.”
Indeed, with California and Nevada residents both voting a few years ago to legalize recreational cannabis, users in the greater Reno-Tahoe area are becoming increasingly more educated and interested in the intricacies of cannabis, according to those within the industry who spoke with Tahoe Magazine.
The smell of it; the taste of it; the science of it; the effects of it — from a couch-locked body high to an energetic head high — are enthusiastically inspected by cannabis consumers across the region.
To put it another way: Gone are the days of the THC-seeking pothead; the days of the cannabis connoisseur are here.
Just ask Amy Rodgers. She sees the uptick in enlightened marijuana users every day as a sales rep for Cannavative, a Reno-based cannabis producer. Which is why Cannavative, founded three years ago, offers every make and model of marijuana: flower, gummies, capsules, vape cartridges, pre-rolls, shatter, terp sauce, honeycomb, you name it.
“I think in the beginning, people were really uneducated,” Rodgers said. “They’d come to dispensaries looking for really high THC. I started out as a budtender and it became a running joke between budtenders that everybody just wants the highest THC. But we’re really starting to see that slowly change. Now they’re starting to understand things like other cannabinoids and terpenes.”
INSIDE THE PLANT
For those uninitiated, cannabinoids are the chemical compounds secreted by cannabis flowers that provide relief to an array of symptoms (from inflammation to anxiety). THC and CBD are the most commonly known. Terpenes, meanwhile, are aromatic oils that give each strain its unique smell and taste (from berry to pine) and enhance the effects of marijuana by influencing how we process cannabinoids.
NuLeaf, for example, has roughly eight different versions of its Mandarin Cookies strain, each one holding its own distinctive terpene profile, Schultz said.
“You can take one that has a certain terpene profile and another one that has a vastly different terpene profile,” Schultz explained. “And even though they both have the same THC level, you’re going to have vastly different effects from those two products.”
Rodgers, for one, said she started appreciating the elements of cannabis and honing in on the effects of different strains two years ago after she lost a job.
“Cannabis really helped me with that,” she said. “I was able to pick through some of the terpene profiles and pick one that made me laugh, or at night pick one that helped me sleep. So I was able to get over that weird depression hump and go out and apply and do interviews with confidence.”
THE REC EFFECT
There’s no way to pinpoint exactly when the shift from stoned slackers to cannabis enthusiasts took place. An educated guess, at least for the Reno-North Tahoe area, would be July 1, 2017 — when recreational marijuana was legalized in Nevada.
“There was a lot of excitement when rec went legal,” said NuLeaf General Manager Eli Scislowicz, sitting inside his office at NuLeaf Tahoe in Incline Village.
The North Shore’s lone dispensary initiated recreational sales in August 2017.
“We see upwards of 400 people on a busy day during the summer,” he said. “This is a huge growth from when we founded NuLeaf in 2016 — during that time we were seeing about 100 people a day.”
Just hang out inside NuLeaf Tahoe, or any regional dispensary, for a few minutes, and the diversity of the clientele jumps out at you — millennials buying joints, Gen Xers buying vape pens, Baby Boomers buying edibles.
“You’ve got 50-year-old businessmen rolling up in Range Rovers to 22-year-olds and everything in-between,” Schultz said.
Down on the South Shore, Tahoe Wellness Center has experienced similar exponential growth, said owner Cody Bass. Founded a decade ago in South Lake Tahoe to serve medical cannabis patients, Tahoe Wellness was first able to sell recreational marijuana in April 2019 after settling a two-year-old lawsuit with the city of South Lake Tahoe.
“It was huge,” said Bass, noting that “local political cronyism” is what kept the dispensary from being allowed to sell recreational marijuana for a year and four months after adult-use sales were legalized in California. “It was very exciting, not just for me, but for the whole community. There were many people that were driving up and over the hill to Carson City or driving to Incline Village in the middle of the craziest winter last year to get cannabis.”
Since opening to recreational users, Bass said the “energy is extremely positive” regarding the cannabis culture on the South Shore.
“The industry is in a very creative time right now, and it’s super exciting,” he continued. “People are very stoked that they can buy cannabis that’s labeled to a point that they know exactly what’s in the package, and it’s consistent to a level that it never has been before.”
‘CANNABIS HAS COME A LONG WAY’
The same can be said on the North Shore, across Reno-Sparks and throughout the greater Carson City-Carson Valley region, where cannabis consumers are reading and studying labels like never before. They’re finding their favorite flowers, terpenes of choice, or go-to THC-CBD ratios, whether they’re smoking, vaping, eating or applying the product.
“People are finding they are getting different experiences from different things,” reiterated Schultz, who likened it to the craft beer movement in the region (and country). “It’s exactly the same. You’re in it for the appreciation more than, ‘am I going to get drunk?’ If you want to do that, you can just drink Miller Lites.”
Between NuLeaf Cultivation’s two vegetation rooms and 10 flowering rooms, the facility cultivates roughly 30 unique strains and houses up to 13,000 plants. Operating seven days a week, the cannabis factory employs around 50 people.
Quite simply, a time and effort goes into each and every marijuana product being perused by informed cannabis consumers.
“You can tell a lot about how this stuff was cared for or how well it was handled throughout its process by how high some of those terpene numbers are,” Schultz said. “If you’re able to maintain that all the way to the shelf, you’ve probably done something right. “I’m glad people are more interested in that, not just interested how much THC there is. Cannabis has come a long way.”