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Cannabis Retail, Consumption Trends And Genetics In California: A Chat With Jimi Devine, Writer And Hashish Judge

·13 min read

Via El Planteo.

Jimi Devine was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, has a degree in journalism and has been working in the California cannabis industry since 2009, as a contributor to world-renowned outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, High Times, Village Voice, LA Weekly and Leafly, where he writes about cannabis products and policy.

In addition, Jimi is a cannabis critic and has participated as a judge in cannabis cups such as the Emerald Cup, for him, "the Cannabis World Cup."

With stylized prose, he delivers in his columns a comprehensive description of the different genetic expressions and flavors that cannabis acquires under different growing conditions. He finds in chemistry, politics, economics, culinary arts, and literature, the words and concepts that clarify the complexity of cannabis and its industry.

Jimi Devine From Coast to Coast: Setting Foot In The Cannabis Industry

Jimi got a foot in the industry at age nineteen, in 2005, while working to help students with drug convictions who had lost their financial aid for college.

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"I was in New Hampshire, in college. I joined a cannabis club and was invited to go to a drug policy conference in Canada, where the hosts gave us an ounce of weed saying, 'hey, thanks for coming.'"

At that point in his life Jimi pondered his destiny, "This is my path, there's pot everywhere, I figured it out!" he said to himself.

Before his senior year, Jimi had a couple of internships in Washington D.C. "I would spend the day in the office with legalization projects and then at night I would make calzones for beer money. It was fantastic."

However, he felt his place was elsewhere. He looked for a job in California and that's how he got into one of the oldest dispensaries in the country: CBCB.

Jimi pauses. He does not forget about those who gave him a first chance: "Amigos in Latin America, come to CBCB in Berkeley, California".

Currently, Jimi divides his time between CBCB and journalism. That's why he can talk about cannabis the way he does. He spends his days between what he calls "the product" (dried cannabis flowers, concentrates of all kinds, vapes, cannabis edibles, etc.).

Back in California in 2014, Jimi had the opportunity to work with David Downe on his podcast, The Hash. One day, he was told "Jimmy, you have a journalism degree - do you want to write something?" Today, with a smile, he recalls, "It was the only thing I wanted, so I wrote. They were the first ones who gave me a chance to write about cannabis."

A Happy Birthday: The Transbay Challenge II

Between puffs of hash and flower, Jimi begins rolling up a blunt an inch thick.

"I'm about to smoke some Animal Khush from California Artisanal Medicine Camp. They grow some genetics that are 'fire'. I think Anna is one of the best growers on the planet and she specializes in strains like this, with gassy notes."

Jimi has constant access to the best cannabis flowers and extracts in the country, and probably the world. For his last birthday, he organized "a mini hash contest," which he called, Transbay Challenge II, alluding to the San Francisco Bay, an area that, according to Jimi, holds some of the best cannabis extracts and concentrates in the world.

"We had two categories of hashish, depending on the type of extraction: with and without solvent. The 20 competitors were fantastic and the winners are royalty," says Jimi.

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He adds, "Royal Key brought in a fantastic Grape Royale, a strain with a genetic lineage that goes back to historic growers like Mandelbrot, with those famous purple hints from up north, with a deep finish on the nose. Hyper exceptional."

"This rosin [pointing to a jar containing a sort of pure bee honey] is Yaki . Came in second place in the Challenge. Yaki has a very powerful effect, it's something unique in the world."

Regarding the notes and properties that a hashish judge looks for, Jimi answers without hesitation: "Potency and a complex flavor".

The Zoom call feels like a visit to a cannabis dispensary. Jimi loves his job and keeps pulling cannabis samples of all kinds from his desk drawers.

"Look, this is Honey-Strawguava from Hash and Flowers," he says, holding up a jar of rosin that he describes as "off the charts."

"It's from a phenotype that comes from Colorado and is characterized by terpenes that smell like banana and honey. Only Hash and Flower and a couple of others on the legal market have these genetics."

-What is the secret to unique hashish? Is it the terpenes? Is it the way the trichomes (crystals) are extracted?

-The flowers, the material you use, have to be 'fire'. It's the basis of everything. And then there's a question of commercial viability, which comes down to how much actual hash you get from the flower when you process it.

GMO's highest yield, which someone mentioned to me this weekend, was like 8%, kind of awesome. Crazy, like anything over 3%.

This means if I put a pound of flowers in, I get 8% of that in hashish.

In the best-case scenario, a competition hash is from material that went through a cryo tunnel or it was harvested in a cryogenic cooler until some world-class extractor was ready to handle it. That happens about 1% of the time. For example, The Humboldt Terp Council has an impeccable technique.

Usually, the best hash comes from flowers that checked all the boxes. Other times, it doesn't.

California's Genetics and Hashish

When discussing flagship California genetics today, Jimi mentions "Cookies", "Gelato" and "Runtz".

"I saw Ridgeline Runtz before it won the Emerald Cup in 2019. I stopped at a stack of jars. And I said, 'oh, these Runtz are made by the guy who won in 2018 with the Green Lantern strain.' This was half an hour before they announced the winner. Getting the original Runtz is difficult. Genetic promotion is a beautiful task. But it's like forms of government: they're all beautiful until corrupt people get involved."

Jimi explains that these world-famous genetics are released by the best in the scene, who are looking to raise the bar in this cannabis region, and in the world.

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“Once they achieve that, they take the genetics out of rotation, because they are looking to be pioneers, and to make the genome crazy in order to get different results, new flavors, effects, etc.”

-Do you see any variety coming on strong for the next two years?

-Red Bullz. Oh, my goodness. It's one of the new strains from Compound's Genetics.

I went to a phenotype hunt with Compound. They had about thirty jars of the new stuff. They had five phenotypes of it. And I was like, what is this? It just changed my life. It's the strongest detergent-scented terpene I've ever tried. And it gets you so high. On my way back home I was having hot flashes in the uber. Intense.

This year I heard a lot of people predicting that there are going to be millions of pounds of Ice Cream Cake (an indica marijuana strain made by crossing Wedding Cake with Gelato #33). I think that will be the case.

These strains come along and people make crazy money. It happened with OG Kush in 2000. But there's also a lot of turnovers.

Cannabis and Biodiversity

-How is the relationship between biodiversity on the one hand and, on the other hand, with the trends dictated by the market?

-Biodiversity in cannabis. Well, actually that's a short conversation: all the species here come from Nepal, Afghanistan, or from an equatorial region like Thailand, Mexico, Colombia, and a little bit from South Africa.

-Ok, and in that process, in which the market narrows the genome, some cannabis strains that are left unexplored may be lost?

-Look, if you say 'let's grow whatever it is in an amateur way', you'll have a lot of mediocre flowers, for sure. But at a professional level, the bottlenecks in the genome, as you say, also produce very high quality. This is a mixed conversation, touching the genome doesn't mean the end of biodiversity. There are trade-offs that you have to take into account.

You gain and lose properties in the process of trying to get a terpene with a specific aroma out of a specific gene. You can always shrink the genome, but that doesn't mean that other people don't expand the genome.

If cannabis wasn't illegal, there would be more people growing crazy plants in their backyard and that wouldn't be as big a problem. But, in this environment with lots of licensing, how many people can't grow at home? These external variables also constrain the genome.

In general, if the cannabis genome is compartmentalized it doesn't mean it can't be diversified. But, you know, growing the best marijuana, with complex flavors and aromas to compete, may not contribute to that.

Mega-Farms and Craft Cannabis in California

Jimi was there when cannabis was legalized in California and vividly remembers the evolution of the industry over the past ten years.

"Before legalization. It was all 'underground and medical.' It's not that the clubs lacked stock, there was just a lack of clarity in the legislation and loopholes abounded in the law." Jimi recalls scenes prior to the regulation of adult use.

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"Cops would show up, the grower would have a binder of rules highlighted with a marker, and medical licenses hanging on the farm gate. Licensed or unlicensed, a lot of people in compliance with the law were arrested prior to the legalization of adult-use, in 2016."

Starting in 2010, Jimi saw a shift in the California cannabis scene, hand in hand with the opening of dispensaries like Harborside and Sparc, "big and open, they offered a service and consumption experience along with cannabis. At the time, Sparc was considered the first of its kind. When it opened, we said, 'okay, this is something new.'"

In his chronicles, Jimi covers the reality of the small cannabis growers of the Emerald Triangle in Northern California and the mega-farms of the Central Valley region. In effect, two images of the same industry.

While he is happy about the 2016 legalization, he confesses that he had hoped the barrier to market entry would not be as high as it is today.

According to Jimi, licensing requirements, taxes and costs block the progress of small producers in Northern California. Still, he believes that "once the U.S. is a giant cannabis market, there will be a lot of room for family businesses, because people are going to know the difference between a family business and a business that is throwing thousands of pounds a month."

Jimi envisions a cannabis market based on two cultivation methods: indoor, (targeting exclusive niche markets), and light deprivation or "deps", which allow for shorter cultivation times, for the mass market. Which, he says, "doesn't mean that family businesses can't get a piece of the pie".

Devine believes that the future of family cannabis businesses will not depend so much on access to technology, but, rather, on access to land and the limited productive scale they can achieve, being surrounded by national parks. "Unlike the mega-farms in the pristine desert of the Central Valley. They have a lot of other crap to deal with in the desert, there is dust, and the heat, the heat is... But they have this big flat area that they can load up with infinite plants. It's very hard to appreciate the scale of these mega cannabis farms."

People’s Question Roulette

We asked our community to reach out to us with questions for Jimi via Instagram and these are some of the concerns that came in:

-What is the story behind Girl Scout Cookies (GSC) genetics?

-It is a genetic originating from San Francisco, refined by Jigga and made famous by Berner. O.G. Kush ruled the world from 1996 until Cookies came along. It was good enough to knock O.G. off the podium for a while until Gelato came along.

Gelato won strain of the year, twice in 2014 and in 2018. No other strain did that in the 2010s. Of course, you can go back to less competitive times, like the 2000s, and be amazed by Super Lemon Haze, but we're talking about the present.

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In the Bay Area, the terpenes with notes of caramel, syrup, and cotton candy are unique, and that's why these are internationally famous strains. It's a completely different flavor profile, Dessert strains are a true trademark of the region.

-What is your favorite strain of cannabis for infusing food?

-Honestly, once it hits your liver, it's all the same. I don't have a preference. Let me clarify that. There are edibles of a specific strain. But that doesn't mean the oil in them is sativa or indica.

-What genetics ever have strong pest resistance?

-Anything bred on the Mendocino coast will be more resistant to mold. It's foggy there all the time. So strains bred for the coast in the Emerald Triangle, they're able to withstand a little bit more. That was one of the reasons Royal Kush became so famous in the first place because it did so well on the coast.

-If people visit Los Angeles, where should they go to buy world-class cannabis?

-Honestly, the best flowers and extracts are many times in the same places in L.A. Go to Jungle Boys, Cookies, or Green Dragon. But, personally, I think people should look for themselves, take the time to contact the people who make the best product. Send them an email and ask them where you can find it. Ask the world champions. Invest your time in this, before you come to Los Angeles.

There are no recipes for finding the best. The key is to educate yourself and learn from others. If you come hunting for the ultra-elite hash, ask the people who make it where to buy it, because sometimes they only work with a couple of stores. For example, the best chocolate in California is only available at six stores. They won three of the top ten spots in the Emerald Cup: Buddy's Chocolate House.

You know, your question sounds like "give me a list. Just tell me where to go." But it's not that easy.

I understand many tourists have limited time. If they're seniors or have reduced mobility, and they don't want to go to a dispensary, Hyper Wolf is probably the best home delivery service for exotic cannabis products.

-What do you have planned for the future?

-Right now I'm writing a report on light deprivation cultivation in different counties in California. I'm going to the Sierra Nevada region soon. At the same time, I'm working on hash rounds for Leafly. And I'm organizing the Transbay Challenge III: Sacramento versus the Bay, on October 30, in Isleton.

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