If you’ve walked into a dispensary any time lately and have been a bit overwhelmed by the menu, I can’t blame you. Five years after cannabis was legalized here in Massachusetts, the days of extremely limited selections and bare shelves in the vault are mostly behind us, as retailers now have to make sure their storage areas are large enough to store all the product they’ve accumulated. Nowadays, consumers are likely to be hit with paralysis by analysis, confronted with a litany of options that somehow makes the Cheesecake Factory’s menu look small in comparison.
Compounding this consumer confusion is the fact that it’s often difficult to figure out who exactly made the product you’re considering purchasing. While some dispensaries are operated by companies that also have their own cultivation and/or production facilities, many do not and rely fully on the wholesale market to stock their shelves, resulting in a number of different companies — many of whom sell their products under a number of different brand names — being represented on their menu.
You also have some products that are grown by one company and then processed or packaged by another. To make matters even more confusing, there’s a ton of brand and company names that are very similar to one another. “Wellness” is a word that pops up in a lot of them, and don’t confuse Nature’s Heritage with Nature’s Remedy or Nature’s Medicines, because they are three entirely different companies and brands.
If you look at some of the largest cultivators in Massachusetts (measured by canopy space on the Cannabis Control Commission’s website) and examine what companies seem to have the most shelf space at dispensaries, a pattern emerges: Many of them were companies that were already licensed to grow medical cannabis prior to legalization. Not only did these companies have the advantage of already having large, completely built-out cultivation sites before adult-use cannabis sales went live, the state also gave existing medical license holders a head start in being able to apply for adult use licenses before general applicants.
This resulted in these companies (a sizable proportion of which are large, national cannabis corporations) capturing a large share of the adult use market before non-medical companies could even get a seed in the ground.
The thing is, large cannabis companies don’t have a ton of interest in growing premium cannabis flower. There are some notable exceptions (I’ll highlight some large companies that are growing premium flower in a future column) but in general, publicly traded cannabis corporations that are operating in multiple states are taking the bet that as cannabis becomes more mainstream, new consumers are going to be more likely to gravitate toward edibles, drinks and vapes over the more traditional and somewhat stigmatized method of smoking.
This means their main focus is producing large amounts of low-quality cannabis that is destined to be turned into extract. So while there’s a shortage of reasonably priced premium flower in the market, there’s more than enough biomass and distillate to go around, which is good news for producers of products like edibles and beverages.
One such product manufacturer is Good Feels, a new cannabis beverage company that is based out of Medway and led by WPI graduate Jason Reposa. Good Feels product line of seltzers and beverage enhancers are due to hit shelves in a few weeks, but even in the relatively short time that Reposa has been in the industry, he’s witnessed prices for wholesale distillate that he uses to create his products drop significantly.
Data from the state suggests this is due to a large increase in the volume of plants being grown by cultivators; about twice as many plants were harvested this January when compared to the same month last year. This is nothing but good news for product manufacturers who don’t wish to spend large amounts of capital to build out their own grows.
As Reposa explained to me, “You wouldn’t build out a sugar cane farm to make cupcakes.” So while the wider availability and cheaper cost of distillate and biomass may not mean much for flower fans, it has been good news for the many locally owned product manufacturers that rely on it to make their products.
More small, independent cultivators and product manufacturers have come online as of late, but for now it’s still fair to say that a disproportionate part of the Massachusetts wholesale market is more or less controlled by a handful of large, well-funded cannabis corporations. So while consumers have plenty of options at their local dispensaries compared to years past, consumers who are looking for truly premium flower products — or who are trying to purchase products that are entirely produced by locally owned businesses — are still going to have to do a fair amount of research to track them down.