Step inside a cannabis dispensary to buy marijuana for the first time and it could get overwhelming. Unlike the days when the average cannaholic was forced to procure whatever trash stash their neighborhood dealer had to offer at the time, there is now a slew of high-powered strains to choose from, all guaranteed to knock you flat on your backside, and they all look good!
One thing a customer is certain to notice within seconds of perusing a dispensary display is not all weed is priced equally. Nope, a gram of one might cost an affordable $4 while a gram of another could set them back two kidneys and a liver. Rumor has it, in some cases, Satan actually emerges from the floor to facilitate the sale. The transaction is signed in blood. The customer is never seen again.
To the untrained toker, the sticker shock of some strains is ridiculous, even deplorable. To their naked, perhaps twitching eye, both strains appear to be relatively the same: They’re both green, magnificently odoriferous and have a comparable THC content.
So why is it that one strain is three times more expensive than the other? Was it grown in Narnia, perhaps fertilized by unicorn dung and magic? Or maybe, just maybe, the consumer is being had, scammed and exploited.
Expensive Weed: Price Gouging or Premium Quality?
Some of the avid cannabis consumers that we spoke to on the subject are of the opinion that the price gap associated with different strains is driven almost exclusively by supply and demand.
“On the granular level all strains and growing conditions produce different yields,” one man named Shawn told The Bluntness.
Others, perhaps the true believers in bud, argue that the customer gets what they pay for. These are the folks who think more expensive strains are of the craft variety, like an IPA, while the cheaper stuff is akin to Bud Light. It might not be fertilized with the droppings of mythological creatures, but rest assured, or so they believe, the strain was grown under special care.
“Those differently priced strains probably don’t look the same, or smell the same,” 38-year-old Colin told us. “There are probably large differences in quality of the final product that account for the price difference.”
Some people don’t buy into the craft cannabis spiel, not in the slightest. Corey, a 34-year-old dance instructor from Chicago, Illinois, claims the price difference is probably just a stupidity tax that some dispensaries impose to rip off toking tourists and other novices of the nug.
“The average person is exactly who dispensaries want coming through those doors because they can tell you weed will give you energy and you’ll believe them for some reason,” he declared cynically.
It might sound a bit paranoid to suggest that cannabis is being price-gouged just to squeeze an extra buck or two out of first-time buyers and inexperienced consumers, but it turns out the stupidity tax might be real.
What Are You Paying For, Exactly?
A former inventory lead for a dispensary in Denver, Colorado, who wishes to remain anonymous (so, let’s call him Keith), told The Bluntness that while quality was always a crucial factor in determining retail prices, so were other seemingly unimportant aspects of the product, like the popularity of the farmer. “Some growers get a name for themselves, and raise prices accordingly,” he said.
This means customers are at times paying more for the grower’s ego than the quality of their product.
“It’s all about the same things as prices in any other business: the profit they hope to gain based on what it costs them to have the product, and customer perceptions of what is worth that price,” Keith explained.
“And in an industry where a lot of people buy on hype because that’s all they have to go on, the latter leads to huge price differences in the former between relatively comparable products.”
Some cannabis experts agree that name recognition plays a role in pot pricing. However, they also argue that there is, without a doubt, a distinct difference between the cheap and more expensive pot products being sold in a dispensary.
John Kaye, co-founder of the British Columbia-based cannabis retailer Burb, says top-shelf cannabis (great weed) is typically priced higher for a number of reasons. “The nose (does it smell pungent/pleasant?), color (look for vibrant green buds with orange/red hairs), feel (is it sticky, dense?), burn (how clean does it smoke?),” he explained in an emailed statement to The Bluntness.
By considering all of those traits before making a purchase, the consumer can almost bet that he or she is getting a quality product, one worthy of the sticker price. “Besides that,” Kaye went on to explain, “you’re paying for freshness (packaged on dates matter), and like any consumer packaged goods the brand positioning usually ties into all the above and reflects the price point.”
And while that THC content printed on the label matters – dispensaries are certainly charging for it -- Kaye suggests that the sticker price goes deeper than just the presence of a single cannabinoid.
“It’s definitely still a game of THC/potency but moving more towards terpene profiles and overall quality rating based on the characteristics of the flower,” he said.
A lot of the legal cannabis game is trial and error. Just like with beer, wine or spirits, the consumer must sample different products to figure out what they like and what they don’t.
In some cases, you really do get what you pay for. Sometimes the body requires caviar funds, but the budget’s got them on reggie weed. “The cheap stuff ruins my throat. The good stuff ruins my wallet,” one man told us of his experience. “The fact that we can get it legally, though, is priceless.”
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