Too Much of Their Own Medicine

As more boutique cannabis creations hit shelves, is it possible we’ve gone too far?

In a Portlandia sketch, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein play entrepreneurs whose business consists solely of their ability to pickle anything. From cucumbers and eggs to used Band-Aids and parking violations, Armisen and Brownstein proudly declare, “We can pickle that!” These days, it feels like the cannabis industry is taking a similar approach.

Whatever your taste buds crave, there’s now a version with a dash of THC waiting to be found at your local dispensary. From coffee beans to tinctures, the palette of edibles is expanding to cater to boutique tastes that require a more refined delivery system than whatever’s found in the Safeway baked-goods aisle.

Of course, the intersection of sweets and cannabis stretches back to the days before medical marijuana, thanks in part to the science that easily binds cannabinoids to butter, thus making cookies and brownies the ideal confections for anyone who wants to eat their medicine.

But even the iconic brownie is rudimentary today.

Ask for one, and your local budtender will likely need you to be more specific. Did you want it vegan? Gluten-free? Do you prefer dark chocolate, or something lighter? These infinite options are a blessing for those with dietary restrictions and health conditions that leave many “standard” edibles off-limits. But at what point does the quantity of new products outweigh the quality?

Take, for example, one of the latest entries to hit the market. Hi-Fi Hops is an “infused sparkling beverage” concocted by Lagunitas Brewing Company in partnership with local cannabis manufacturers CannaCraft. Essentially an elevated club soda with both THC and CBD variants available, Hi-Fi Hops reflects a current trend in the cannabis industry to find whatever products are popular in the grocery store and re-create them with an extra ingredient.

I confess to drinking my fair share of LaCroix, but the appeal of this so-called “millennial soda” is that it’s a refreshing counterpoint to sugar-spiked colas and heavy beers. For those suffering from profound nausea or otherwise in need of a gentle way to consume cannabis, it’s hard to see why a carbonated beverage would appeal more than sublingual strips or droplets of tincture.

Simply put, why does Hi-Fi Hops need to exist? And why aren’t we asking this question about more products, more often?

Since California stumbled into the age of legalized cannabis, it’s been tough for even seasoned consumers to keep track of the products and brands they enjoy. An antithesis to the McDonald’s ethos of finding the same menu — and tastes — at every location, dispensaries are now a veritable jungle of possibilities. Your favorite spot may have the granola you like, but you’ll need to go across town for the THC cotton candy you tried last week at a friend’s house.

Such travails are hardly significant when compared to real-life hardships, but they serve as harbingers of a business model so focused on staying relevant that it allows consistency to be tossed aside. Establishing customer loyalty is all-important for dispensaries across California, but it’s going to be difficult to retain friendly faces when people are expected to indulge in a scavenger hunt across the Bay Area to cross off everything on their shopping list.

Part of this stems from the creation and promotion of specialty items like Hi-Fi Hops. While Lagunitas and CannaCraft shouldn’t be faulted for their efforts to seize a unique corner of the market, what the industry really needs is to establish staple offerings. The cannabis industry has, in essence, leapfrogged the boring yet necessary step of defining its essential offerings, instead moving straight into the “limited-edition” realm of craft brewing.

What the market needs are the Tides and Kleenexes of cannabis: things we know we can find at any drugstore, regardless of size and location. Long before Nabisco ever decided to make horrendous concoctions like Candy Corn Oreos and Cinnamon Bun Oreos, it gave the original version about 90 years to lay claim to the title of milk’s best friend. No one expects today’s cannabis companies to perfect a brownie and wait a century, but it may be time to give serious consideration to letting customers try all the options out there before flooding the market with more.

If people want an alternative to the brownie, that’s fine, but let’s not forget that the vast majority of cannabis lovers weren’t complaining back when the only choice they had to make was how much butter to add. Now, times have changed, and should you be so inclined, a 12-ounce can of Hi-Fi Hops awaits. In fact, its subtle notes of citrus and cucumber followed by a mellow high are honestly delightful. Dammit — one more for the shopping list.

Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly. |  @zackruskin

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