The strain selection display at Farma in Portland, OR.Farma

Walk into the average dispensary, and there will be at least a dozen strains of cannabis flower available for a variety of prices. There is typically a 3-tier breakdown, arranged by a more affordable option, a middle-of-the-road option, and the priciest top shelf buds. In Oregon, those prices range from about $4/g to $22/g. In California, a San Francisco dispensary sells a gram of GMO cookies for $26/g.

Is that $26 gram that much better than the $13/g grams in Oregon? If Oregon’s higher testing standards are considered, that $26/g is no safer. If “better” means more potent, that’s sometimes the case, but if a farm’s affordable prices are reflective of a cheaper, sun-grown farm that doesn’t have to pay the electrical bills of an indoor setups, that weed will be just as strong, and stronger in some cases, as flower priced much higher.

To help make sense of these elements that affect prices, I talked with Zoe Sigman, Director of Education at Farma dispensary and Science Editor at Broccoli magazine, about what the prices of cannabis flower mean, when the money is worth it, and how consumers have the power to support companies that build a better cannabis industry.

The labels from four different dispensaries showing detailed test results, as required by Oregon law.Lauren Yoshiko

You’re someone who worked behind the counter at a recreational shop, as well as earned an unofficial degree in cannabis science. In your experience, do higher prices equal higher quality?

ZS: Price points are a pretty terrible way to distinguish quality between farms. The Oregon cannabis market is so saturated right now that a lot of truly wonderful growers are just trying to survive, which has resulted in significant price depression. Depending on the growing methods, certifications, and general business practices of a grower, we can see a huge fluctuation in price points regardless of quality.

Is a particular gram of flower ever worth $24/g?

ZS: Usually, but not always, the higher prices I see have to do with the amount of effort a grower has put into growing a high quality flower. If they’ve pursued organic-like certifications (which are not cheap), highly value their employees’ time, or have spent a great deal of time cultivating a truly exceptional flower, the prices tend to be higher.

On the other hand, growers will sometimes cultivate a cult-like status and capitalize on that reputation to continue demanding high prices. Prices can also rise with higher THC percentages––something I’m inherently skeptical about. THC is just one tiny part of the insane chemical complexity of the flower. Regardless of the reason, flower that comes with a higher price tag is not inherently better.

A jar on display at Five Zero Trees. (2016)Lauren Yoshiko

So some $24 grams are worth the price, but some $4 grams are just as good?

ZS: Oh absolutely! There have been some phenomenal flowers at a super low price points recently. The market right now is absolutely brutal, so farms might be selling just to stay afloat, without taking home any profit. When something is super affordable, it’s always a good idea to learn more about the grower and their methods. There might be a good reason that they’re selling so low.

What questions should you ask when purchasing flower grown by a farm you aren’t familiar with?

ZS: First things first, ask to see the lab results. Are there terpene results? Does the flower smell and look as good as the lab results suggest? For the not-quite-as-nerdy among us, a good place to start is asking about growing methods and organic-like certifications. Have the staff met the grower or visited the farm? What did they think? Cannabis is very sensitive to its environment, so where and how it was grown is a great indication of the quality of the flower.

Finally, learning about how growers treat their employees can be a significant factor when trying flower from a new farm. It’s important that the people involved in every level of this industry are treated fairly, and price cutting can often reflect significant reduction in employment, wages, and benefits.

A field of green at Rosebud Farms.Lauren Yoshiko

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