Colorado's cannabis laws used to force dispensaries to grow the majority of the pot they sold, but those days are long gone. That process, known as vertical integration, connected a dispensary to the flower it sold. Now that growers are no longer tied to stores, they're the ones gaining the attention and loyal followings. And this year, one of the growers we've been following closely is Cherry.
Winner of the Best Wholesale Cultivation award in the 2021 Best of Denver, Cherry has been hard at work as a wholesale provider for several years, but it started asserting itself on a branding level in 2020, bringing in East Coast rapper N.O.R.E. to name one of its strains, Super Thug. The collaboration was fun for 2000s hip-hop fans and birthed a helluva OG cut.
Cherry's plump, icy takes on strains like Oreoz, MAC, Runtz, Grape Pie and Kush Mints continue to blow away our lungs and tastebuds, so we sat down with two of the company's leading growers, Jason MacLean and David Crowley, to learn more about their view of the industry and what Cherry bombs they're working on now.
Westword: How have you seen strains progress from ten years ago, just in terms of their potential and trichome production?
David Crowley: We've noticed over time that breeders’ first priorities were to get a plant to grow indoors, with every strain focused on getting the potency up. Nowadays, everything is strong, and breeders are selecting for palate, smell, bag appeal or other unique characteristics. There are subtle, distinctive differences in personal preferences today.
What about the way users view strains? Which characteristics are they looking for?
Jason MacLean: There is a big market of people who only look for potency. Then there is the more educated smoker, who looks for the terpene profile.
David: Hype strains are huge. Consumers are interested in the look, the color, the names, different phenotypes and the taste. Marketing is a big part of the game.
Do those characteristics always line up with the qualities the growing staff likes?
David: Certain strains are easier to grow, which are popular with the grow team. A lot of the boutique strains are more challenging to grow and require a higher level of skill, attention and an extremely stable environment to make them work.
Jason: Usually the higher-yielding and easier-to-grow plants are not the best to smoke. There is an inverse relationship between quality and yield.
How secretive are commercial growers nowadays? How much do the techniques really differ?
Jason: I would say the business owners would like to keep everything secret. The biggest secret in this game is application. You can tell anyone the secret, but are they going to apply it perfectly day in and day out, harvest after harvest?
David: The home-growing community is more tightly knit and collaborative, whereas the commercial market is more competitive and secretive.
We're seeing more branding and individualism involved with growers now that vertical integration isn't required. Do you feel like growers have more power and control over strain/flower popularity and quality as a result? Or was that always there?
Jason: It was there in some degree, but with the market now, the growers have a lot of power and control if they can create the hype and back it up with the fire. Dispensaries come looking for the grower. Before, the grower was looking for the dispensary.
David: As a shopper, instead of going to a dispensary that has good reviews, you go to dispensaries that carry your favorite grow.
Does Colorado weed have a more challenging time with dryness and moisture than other places? How do you deal with it?
David: Everything we do is indoor growing, so we're able to control the elements from start to finish.
Jason: The biggest challenge is not letting the flower dry out once we deliver it to the dispensaries. Every state has its different challenges. You just have to be prepared to go through the seasons.
When you're starting a new growing operation, what's the most important factor?
Jason: Proper investment, stable growing conditions and great genetics.
David: And a good business plan with a standard operating procedure in place, as well as a dedicated team.
How do you go about finding genetics? How hard is it to find or make good ingredients nowadays?
Jason: A lot of our genetics are trades throughout the licensed Colorado market. We recently created our own genetics company, Coool Beans, so we are able to create our own genetics in-house.
David: It takes special skills to reverse a plant and go through the pollination process and pheno-hunt the winner. A good strain takes about a year from start to finish to stabilize and bring to market.
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