Article by Piper Courtenay, The Georgia Straight
It’s time for Canadian home growers, licensed producers, and craft cultivators to put their money where their weed is.
American cannabis cultivation conpetiton, the Grow-Off, is heading north in the hopes of shedding light on the unsung backbone of Canada’s cannabis industry: the cultivators.
The contest started in 2016 and has since proliferated throughout legalizing regions in the United States. The competition aims to eliminate subjectivity of traditional “cups” by leveling the playing field for anyone interested in showing off their green thumb.
Founded by former Denver Post cannabis columnist Jake Browneand industry entrepreneur Samantha Taylor, the Grow-Off judges based on science, not subjectivity. Organizers provide entrants with genetically identical clones and guages the results based on certified lab tests.
A biotech firm based in Ontario caught wind of the work Browne and Taylor were doing in regions like Colorado and California and announced it had invested in a Canadian leg of the contest this week.
“We were impressed with how they work with growers across the states to effectively raise the bar with tangible scientific, non-bias proof of concept, as well as educating the community as to the work that goes into cultivation,” says Julien Morris, cofounder and chief product officer of Qualis Cannabis Corporation, on the phone.
“Bringing the event to Canada will be incredibly beneficial to the industry here because a lot of what we see is licensed producers touting the fact that they have the purest or the best, saying they’re the best in Canada…we hope this will help shed some light on that.”
Not all cultivation is the same—so why are the contests?
Both Browne and Taylor have spent more than a decade working in the cannabis industry and have judged a plethora of cannabis cups, contests, and products. Calling the Grow-Off the “first of its kind”, they say the contest landscape, when it comes to cultivation, is flawed and often doesn’t highlight the industry’s best.
“The first time I was invited to judge a Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, about one-third of the products had either mold or mildew issues I would consider so severe I wouldn’t feel safe smoking them,” Browne says to the Straight. The next year, when he tasked with reviewing the edibles category, he was afforded a weekend to consume enough weed to “tranquilize a large horse.”
“When we saw the final judging, it didn’t seem to line up with what myself and other judges thought about the submissions. We’re seeing this real disconnect,” he adds.
Most cultivation competitions in Europe and North America, thus far, charge companies a fee to submit product, then anonymously distribute their dried flower, edibles, and infused topicals to a series of judges. Then, those individuals are tasked with ranking the products in highly subjective categories—like the strength of the body buzz or prettiness of packaging.
Browne says he often found results of past contests would fail to align with the broad user experience and naturally favour companies with more capital.
Taylor adds that another issue with current competitions is the pay-to-play concept—primary investors or sponsors often walking away with the highest accolades.
“Over and over, we were seeing the biggest booths at a convention win the prize. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason. If you don’t win first, second, or third, you have no idea where you placed,” she says.
Anyone who doesn’t walk away with a podium spot usually leaves with virtually no feedback or evidence of contributions to the contest.
Avid fans of cooking shows like “Chopped”—in which all contestants start with the same basket of ingredients—Browne and Taylor set about applying a similar framework to the Grow-Off.
The two say it came to a head in 2016, when the High Times Cannabis Cup was kicked out of Colorado for failing to follow metric guidelines and State laws. With advances in the testing landscape, it meant the cofounders could conceptualize a competition that was both legally compliant and impartial.