On Saturday, outside of Los Angeles in picturesque Malibu, Ca., the Emerald Exchange convened for the first time since its inaugural session in August of this year. Produced by Justin Calvino, a Mendocino County cannabis farmer and founder of the Mendocino Appellations Project (a movement to get the region’s singular cannabis agriculture legally classified and protected in the same way as wine country), and Michael Katz, CEO of Evoxe Laboratories, (a company combining aromatherapy and sun-grown Northern California cannabis into high design vaporizers), the day-long event featured a curated cannabis farmers’ market; a timely, forward-thinking speaker series; cocktails followed by a three-course cannabis-infused dinner; and wrapped up with a dance party.
Yet the now regular affair is more than just a tasteful exploration and celebration of cannabis craft and culture—its organizers say it’s a way to introduce Southern California to the rich heritage and high-quality harvest of Northern California’s cannabis farmers, who now are seeking to tell the world their story as widening cannabis legalization gives rise to a wave of plentiful but inexperienced competition seeking to cash in on the Green Rush. MERRY JANE caught up with Katz and Calvino as they were preparing for the event to get their insights on Northern California’s essential role in a suddenly ballooning and evolving cannabis industry.
MERRY JANE: What made you settle on this type of approach for introducing Southern Californians to NorCal cannabis product and culture?
Justin Calvino: The Emerald Exchange came about from the idea that with a regulated market on the horizon, cultivators in Northern California need access to legal markets. With Mendocino [County], Humboldt [County], and the Emerald Triangle being the top-producing areas in California, and L.A. having the largest market share, introducing the two made the most sense. I’ve been hosting a dinner and farmers’ market series in Mendocino for a year, and decided that this was a great addition by actually bringing the market down to Malibu to create an upper-crust, elevated cannabis event.
Michael Katz: Well we felt that setting of Malibu, which is close to L.A. but also has a very natural vibe to it, would be a good meeting point. Honestly it can be unsettling, getting off the hill, for the cultivators—it’s like, they want to be farmers, they don’t want to engage in all of this necessarily, but they see it now as more of a necessity, so we wanted it to be a comfortable environment for them. We also wanted it to be an environment that people felt a sense of wonder and enjoyment from the space they were in; the cannabis element is really just part of it.
What do you think distinguishes Northern California cannabis from product grown elsewhere in the state or country?
JC: We grow the finest cannabis on the planet. We’re a culture that’s been there for 50 years. We have the ability to put a seed in the ground in March and grow world-class cannabis by October with very little inputs. The actual terroir of our land grows the best cannabis, along with our culture. Those two things mirrored, the cultural terroir and the environmental terroir, make our region second to none. You can grow cannabis in Lake Modesto, or Fresno; but if people are buying cannabis from Fresno, they’re buying cannabis that isn’t as high of quality, because they have to use so many inputs and go into greenhouses and do things just to match the natural environment of the place we live already. So it’s similar to growing wine—you want to pick your strains, pick your varietals, by the region, and it just so happens we also have fifty years of cultivation heritage from the Back-to-the-Land movement in the Sixties to piggyback off of.
Are you finding that consumers are expecting more detailed information about cannabis products than they have in the past?
JC: Yes, I’m noticing that budtenders are becoming more educated, and that brands are becoming more elevated. People are understanding the terpene; that the highest THC content doesn’t make for the finest cannabis—they say that if alcohol was the determinant for wine judging, then Mad Dog 20/20 would win all the competitions. We’re seeing people understand their own palate, and this is what’s great about the Emerald Exchange, because they actually get to meet the farmer. It’s the actual farmers here representing their product, educating on their growing practices, and this is a unique opportunity for people to have that experience.
MK: I think that the new batch of patients and cannabis consumers, now that AUMA has passed, are going to be way more concerned with pesticides and growing practices than they have been in the past. They’re interested in the benefits, but the benefits are hypothetical to them, and are also being considered with all these [supposed] detriments they’ve been hearing about for so long. We’re basically shifting from a model that has been largely subcultural, to one that is seeking mainstream acceptance. The needs of the mainstream audience are different than the needs of the subcultural audience, and it’s the brands, cultivators, and entities in the cannabis community who understand that which will successfully make this transition.
We’re aware that cannabis farmers based in the Emerald Triangle have been concerned about staying competitive in a marijuana market that’s rapidly expanding thanks to progressive legalization. How do you see the Emerald Exchange as part of that effort to create a visible brand for Northern California cannabis?
MK: That’s exactly what it is. The idea of the Emerald Exchange, more than anything else, is to elevate the cultivators and provide access between them and patients. People put this medicine into their bodies, and as the farm-to-table movement shows, we’re seeing now a focus now on pesticides and growing practices. These farmers don’t need to update their systems to stop using pesticides, they’ve never used them. This is the heart and soul of the cannabis community, and without this community there wouldn’t be a cannabis industry, so the Emerald Exchange’s goal specifically is to connect those Northern California cultivators with directly with their patients. We haven’t seen a lot of events that are really trying to do that. In this environment, combining this with music, art, food, and conviviality—it’s a full community experience and we’ve never seen anything else like it.
What can attendees expect to encounter that they likely haven’t seen at their local dispensary?
JC: The biggest thing is that you’re getting to meet the farmers. I handpicked these farmers to find the right fit, and we feel like we picked the best of the best. But for every farmer that’s here, there’s two or three farmers that aren’t, so I’m not going to say there aren’t others that are amazing. We really do focus on picking the best cultivators in Northern California to bring Southern California an elevated marketplace. We just don’t want anybody coming to these events; we want people with an educated palate, we want people that will understand the quality of organic; non-input; in-ground, very little supplemental light; sun, moon, and star grown cannabis.