There’s nothing worse than opening a package of cannabis flower that you’ve just bought — dreaming of those sweet, aromatic terpenes and anticipating the first delicious puff all the way home — only to be greeted by a dry, dusty heap.
Licensed Producers agree. Ensuring that flower is still fresh when it gets into consumers’ hands after growing and processing at scale, moving through legally mandated testing and analysis, and shipping to multiple markets, is no easy feat. An industry this young doesn’t have an existing playbook of best practices to pull from. That’s why teams of growers, scientists and experts are writing it themselves.
“We want our consumer to experience the fruits of our labour and for them to experience that aroma that fills the room when they pop open a jar,” says Mikky Hasch, director of cannabis at Rubicon Organics.
From how it’s harvested in the field to how it’s cured and packaged, here are some of the innovative ways Producers are making sure their flower stays fresh.
From the grow room to the curing room
Ensuring dried flower remains at its best is something that Producers bake into every step of their process.
“We’re a flower-first company,’” says Rob Baldwin, vice president of cultivation and greenhouse operations at Pure Sunfarms. “We pay very close attention to every step. If you’re just growing for extraction, you don’t care as much what the flower structure looks like or how it’s processed.”
One of the things that helps ensure Pure Sunfarms’ flower is as fresh as possible, says Baldwin, is that, rather than doing a few big harvests a year and storing the product, they do many smaller plantings and harvest a little bit each day.
They also use a cool and slow drying and curing process to ensure a targeted moisture content for the magical moment their cannabis gets packed up to move to its forever home. “We’re laser-focused on targeted freshness at time of packaging, when it matters most,” he says. (While a general rule of thumb is to aim for flower that has 55-65% relative humidity in its final container, the best way to get there is a hotly contested topic.)
Rubicon Organics’ Simply Bare is an organic flower-forward brand. (The company’s practices have been certified organic by the Fraser Valley Organic Producers Association in British Columbia, where Simply Bare grows.) They cold cure their product over a long period of time to let the terpenes (the compounds that impart cannabis’ unique flavour and aromas) continue to develop.
“To me, one of the biggest things is our attention to detail,” says Hasch. “One of the things we’re most proud of is our soil that, along with the eight months of sun a year we get out here, imparts amazing flavours. We feed the soil, not the plant.”
Packaging with a purpose
The containers cannabis is sold in are one of the most important elements of delivering fresh, flavourful flower. The packaging — be it glass bottles, Mylar pouches or pre-rolls that are sealed nice and tight — has to keep out light and oxygen (both of which cause degradation) and keep optimal moisture levels in. With too much moisture you risk mould; with too little you end up with dried-out bud.
In the case of whole dried flower (as opposed to pre-rolls) that you roll into a joint or pack into a vaporizer or pipe, the packaging should protect the bud so it doesn’t get banged up in transit or while sitting in stock rooms. Damage can degrade the potency or, at the very least, degrade your experience of the full aroma profile of your cannabis. Just like with coffee, there’s nothing like freshly ground.
Many Producers are taking their packaging to the next level in order to maximize freshness. Kyp Rowe, the director of procurement for Shelter Cannabis (a brand of Agro-Greens Natural Products), says Shelter is all about using innovative techniques. All of their pre-rolls are blister sealed using an exclusive piece of technology and then sold in pocket-friendly tins. They’ve also switched their craft cannabis line packaging from glass jars, which are heavy to ship and use up more fuel, to nitrogen-filled Mylar bags.
“Filling the bags with nitrogen pushes out oxygen,” Rowe explains. “It also pressurizes the bag like a little pillow to keep the buds from being damaged.”
There are many options for helping keep cannabis packaging out of landfills. Here’s what you need to know about recycling cannabis packaging.
Truro Cannabis also makes use of a nitrogen push to prevent yeast and bacteria from getting at their flower, but their solution was to partner with Nitrotin, a Canadian packaging company. The Nitrotin system uses premium food-grade cans, a blast of liquid nitrogen, and a hermetic seal, instead of the more common practice of including a moisture pack to maintain humidity. (Moisture packs don’t combat any residual oxygen that may be remaining in the package.)
“It’s a machined seal on pressurized tins,” explains Truro head grower Matt Casey, “so it’s guaranteed to be 100% airtight.”
A tin also means there’s no risk of bisphenol or phthalates — chemicals found in many plastics — leeching into the cannabinoids and trichome heads. Each Nitrotin also comes with a secondary, resealable lid that’s child resistant but also smartly designed so that adults who have limited manual dexterity can open it. Bonus: both the tin and lid are reusable and 100% recyclable.
Trust and transparency
There’s a trend towards growing transparency about exactly where your cannabis is coming from, when it was packed and when it was actually harvested — another way that Producers are holding themselves accountable to a freshness standard.
“If I’m a large player in the industry,” says Jenn Ayotte, CEO and head grower at Maricann Inc., “I’m also bringing in products from other suppliers, so the packaged-on date might be a month ago, but the product may have come out of a greenhouse a year ago. A lot of consumers are really becoming troubled with that and they’re noticing that crumbly, non-fresh lack of appeal and a lack of smell.”
Maricann has launched an online batch tracker for each of the cultivars they produce. Consumers can enter the batch number found on their product package to find out information about the cultivar, including the harvest date. The company has also doubled down on what they see as one of the advantages of being a smaller producer — their ability to respond quickly to consumer demand. “We’re promising our customers that our product will be farm-stand fresh and that they’ll have it in their hands four months from harvest,” says Ayotte.
Fans of Pure Sunfarms’ flower can also look up the batch number of their cannabis by checking its COA (Certificates of Analysis) on the company website, which will tell you about the moisture level in your dried flower, the absence of unwanted chemicals and microbials, and the cannabinoid content (potency). It also provides a detailed breakdown of terpene profiles and the release date of each harvest. Shelter Cannabis is going one step further and putting harvest dates right on their packaging.
Of course, Producers can do everything in their power to make sure their flower is fresh, but if consumers don’t take care to store it properly after opening the packaging, it’s all for nought.
Too much moisture can cause mildew and light exposure may reduce potency, so dried cannabis should be kept in a cool location, away from light, in a dry, airtight container. Use a moisture pack or humidifying stone to keep moisture levels optimal. (If you suspect your dried flower has become mouldy, avoid consumption and contact OCS customer service.) For more information on how to keep your flower fresh at home, read our guide on how to properly store cannabis.
Remember to keep it far beyond the reach of kids and pets, as well. It’s a good idea to use lockable storage containers.