Rolling a joint for a solo session is one thing. How do Producers turn out pre-rolls for the masses? To find out, we asked Tweed, Carmel Pharms and Muskoka Grown about their unique pre-roll production process — from selecting the raw material, to milling and filling, to sealing and packaging.
Step 1: Picking and Drying
As with all cannabis products, the first consideration is the base material — the flower.
Some pre-rolls contain trim or shake (the small bits that break off larger buds during handling) while others, such as Carmel Pharms and Muskoka Grown pre-rolls, as well as Tweed Quickies, are made only from milled whole flower. Producers can also choose to focus on a single strain or use a mix.
“The input material drives the flavour and effect of the pre-roll,” says John Fowler, president of Muskoka Grown. “It’s like good ingredients — no matter how good the chef, the meal will disappoint if you don’t start with good ingredients.”
With the base material selected and harvested, it’s time to hang- or tray-dry the bud to achieve optimal moisture content. Next up is curing, which preserves the aromatic and flavourful terpenes. After that, the buds are trimmed of excess leaves and other unwanted plant parts and sent onward for milling.
Step 2: Milling the Flower
Consistency and texture is the name of the milling game, a process that breaks the dried flower down to a uniform particle size and removes any unwanted bits like stems that can ruin the flavour or poke holes in the rolling paper. This process can be quick or it may take a few days, depending on the type of machinery used and how much is milled at a time. Carmel Pharms operates a Super OG Shredder that does just 250 g per run. “Milling in smaller batches allows you to ensure a perfect mix consistency and to ensure optimal moisture content,” says Roey Fishman, company co-founder.
Tweed hand-selects its material for milling. “We use rotary-style milling machines to produce the ideal input material for our pre-roll machines,” says Keith Moore, head of pre-rolls at Canopy Growth, which owns Tweed. “When making our final selection, our operations team looks for a combination of density, particle size and overall look, feel and smell.”
Muskoka Grown mills 20 to 30 kg of cannabis before moving on to the filling stage. The whole process can take two weeks from start to finish.
Step 3: Filling 'Em Up
Once the flower is milled, it’s ready to roll — that is, to be loaded into the rolling paper. But before the filling begins, Producers have a lot of choices to make, from the thickness and type of paper (such as unbleached wood paper, hemp or organic) and filter (like non-bleached paperboard, or cellulose) to the shape of the pre-roll cone (tapered or slender? short or long?), all of which affect the quality of the burn.
How the pre-roll cone is filled and sealed also influences the quality and consistency of the final product. Some Producers use a fully manual process, some a semi-automated system (most often with a machine that holds a large number of cones and then distributes the milled flower between them), and others employ an entirely mechanical system that makes the pre-rolls from start to finish.
Regardless of the machinery or number of hands involved, the process is essentially this: The cannabis is loaded into paper cones, which are then tapped and tamped with a rod to remove any air pockets and ensure the material is packed neither too loosely nor too tightly, which could lead to an inconsistent burn.
Did you know?
“Canoeing” is what happens when a joint burns more quickly on one side than the other, causing the joint to take on a canoe-like shape.
“We use a Rocket Box to pre-fill, and then we tamp the cannabis using a stainless-steel rod and adjust weights by hand,” says Fowler. Depending on the size of the team, he says, Muskoka Grown can produce a few thousand pre-rolls a day this way. Carmel Pharms has a similar process. “We use a Futurola Knock Box and fill in batches of 100, where each cone is individually weighed and hand-finished,” says Fishman.
Step 4: Sealing and Testing
Just like you would at home, Producers seal their pre-rolls with a simple twist or a fancy dimple, where the paper is neatly tucked into the end. This step ensures no cannabis is lost in the package during shipping and that the pre-roll can be lit easily.
At this point, the finished pre-rolls are inspected and weighed to ensure they adhere to all the legal requirements. “Before moving on from the twisting process, the team performs several spot checks including looking for even compaction, similar lengths and an absence of crinkles in the paper,” says Moore at Tweed.
Strict and rigorous testing requirements are one key reason to buy legal cannabis, and pre-rolls are no exception. Testing — which includes verifying cannabinoid and terpene content, and looking for the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and microbes — can be done in-house or by a third-party lab.
“We test our flower before and after milling. We also validate this process by testing some rolled joints,” says Fowler. “This allows us to get accurate testing, while also reducing the time from rolling to sale, which means fresher products for our consumers.”
Step 5: Packaging Up and Shipping Out
Packaging of cannabis products generally focuses on two essential aspects: safety and quality. Tweed Quickies are manually packaged in child-resistant recyclable containers. Nitrogen can be added to the pouch, as Muskoka Grown does, to maintain freshness.
“We package our pre-rolls in a market-first glass tube with natural cork top. We selected this package in order to ensure our pre-rolls are as fresh as they were when they left our facility, and the glass tube is reusable,” says Fishman at Carmel Pharms.
Labelling requirements for pre-rolls follow the same rules as other legal recreational cannabis products in Canada. The outermost container will show details that include the cannabis symbol, brand name, THC and CBD content, health warning message, lot number, ingredients, “packaged on” and expiry dates, and bar code, plus the federal excise stamp, which shows the product is certified legal.
Could you roll your own joints? Sure. But when you’re looking for convenience and simplicity, pre-rolls are a great option, offering a no-fuss way to share safely with friends and try different strains from Producers across the country.