BY CHRISTINA WONG of Baking With Chickens | Photos courtesy of Hall of Flowers
A sunny sense of enthusiasm and earnest excitement felt electric in the hot, dusty air at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, where California cannabis innovators and brands, new and old, gathered and seshed for the first time in over 17 months at Hall of Flowers. The two-day cannabis industry conference and trade show took place on September 22-23, 2021, in Northern California just the other week.
I walked all 300 exhibit booths, sampled all of the things, and talked to some of the most forward-thinking minds in the industry to find out what’s hot and buzzy in cannabis for 2021.
Big brands were showing off new products with “mind-blowing outdoor activations,” while multi-state operators entering the Californian market for the time made a splashy entrance. New startups debuted their brand and products to eager buyers at the mostly open-air, outdoor event. Several thousand attendees and nearly 300 exhibitors were required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours, and wear masks indoors.
Jim Belushi was even in attendance, promoting the Bhang and Blues Brothers chocolate collab, infused with flower grown at his own cannabis farm. Front and center was Raw Garden’s impressive outdoor General Store activation highlighting the brands’ farming-first philosophy with a Seed Library as a visual representation of their cultivation and commitment to genetics, an Aroma Bar to train our noses to identify terpenes, and display of their high quality live resin oils and concentrates.
Binske, one of the fastest-growing and most widely distributed cannabis brands in the world, made its California debut unveiling a line of impressive strains and products in whimsically designed stay-fresh packaging. There were also ancillary events and programing from various brands, including the “Talent in Cannabis House” hosted by cannabis recruiting agency Flowerhire, and Würk, a cannabis industry workforce management software company, at the Frank Lloyd Wright mansion just 2 miles away from the fairgrounds. The “Talent in Cannabis House” programming featured wake and bake yoga with Garden Society, social equity and diversity conversations, a seminar on functional mushrooms, and sunset sesh interviews with talented leaders.
Through the haze of smoke, sunshine, and good vibes, here are the top cannabis trends coming out of Hall of Flowers 2021, and what to look for when shopping for cannabis.
If you’re someone who cares about responsibly-sourced sun-grown cannabis, just like your food when you shop at Whole Foods or Erewhon Market, look for Sun+Earth certified farms and brands, which means that the cannabis is grown under the sun, in the soil of mother earth, without chemicals using regenerative methods, by fairly-paid farmers. There is also Sun-Grown Certified and Clean Green Certified but Sun+Earth is the first program of its kind that also addresses caring for the people who grow and harvest the cannabis.
According to the organization, “Sun+Earth certified farmers bring love and soul into their work, growing cannabis the way everything should be grown—with deep attention and affection for the health of their soil and community.” Sun+Earth certified brands and farms Include Brother David’s, Chemistry, A Cosmic View, Eel River Organics, Moon Made Farms, Sol Spirit Farms, Sonoma Hills Farm, and The Bohemian Chemist, to name a few.
There’s a movement to employ more sustainable and regenerative farming practices to protect the earth, and because some argue that it produces better quality cannabis. Flow Kana recently did a Sungrown Challenge where they invited 28 cannabis journalists, critics, influencers, and industry leaders to participate in a blindfolded smoke-off pitting indoor vs. outdoor-grown cannabis. How do you think it turned out?
Cannabis products with “solventless” on the packaging means that the cannabis extraction method was done without the use of chemical solvents. Solventless vapes cartridges made from live rosin or hash are the best-tasting and highest quality compared to CO2, distillate, and live resin cartridges and have been considered the holy grail for processors.
So what does that mean for consumers? If vaping is your preferred form factor, hurrah! The quality of vape cartridge oil is about to get better with new solventless vapes from Jetty Extracts, Blue River, and Alien Labs. Solventless vape carts are more expensive but the quality is worth it because this process preserves as much of the plant’s natural flavors and cannabinoids as possible.
Jetty Extracts’ new solventless collection—made from strain-specific live rosin and extracted using only ice, water, heat, and pressure—comes in THC Bomb, Papaya, Garlic Cookies, Tropicana Cookies, and Banana Creme vape cartridges, with live rosin and infused prerolls coming soon. Blue River solventless vape cartridges are made using dry sift hash that’s separated using sound waves and frequencies to separate the trichomes.
Hash is usually reserved for concentrates but there was a noticeable amount of edibles made with ice water hash and hash-infused prerolls at the show.
Ice water hash is a cannabis concentrate made by freezing the plant and sifting in ice water to break off the trichomes. The resulting hash is pure cannabis oil with no plant material with a clean, potent terpene flavor profile. It is the best quality cannabis in terms of flavor and solventless extraction method.
What I love about this trend of ice water hash in edibles is that the quality of cannabis edibles is expanding beyond using distillate and isolate. With ice water hash, the natural terpenes found in cannabis strains can be highlighted and paired with other ingredients to create delicious and interesting edibles. As a foodie weedy who enjoys the natural flavor of cannabis, I LOVE this! Traditional edibles made with isolate and distillates are flavorless and meant to hide the weedy taste—but me? I’m all for celebrating the natural flavors of cannabis strains rather than covering it up with sugar.
Rosin is also a high-quality solventless extraction method that uses heat and pressure, instead of ice water, to create a sticky cannabis concentrate.
Keep an eye out for premium hash and rosin-infused edibles from Space Gems, Mammamia, Leune, A Cosmic View, Rose Delights, Wonderbrett, Kiva, and Papa & Barkley. Papa’s Select Ice Water Hash Gummies are my current favorite because the gummies are flavored with natural cannabis terpenes from the ice water hash and sugar. That’s it. It’s the best expression of the cannabis plant in gummy form. I’m actually tasting the Garlic Cookies strain rather than a sugary fruit flavor. Incredible. More of this, please!
Seems like our tolerance increased in 2020 and 2021... anyone else? I’m seeing lots of infused high-potency prerolls alongside the usual flower, so before you smoke that joint, double-check to see if it was infused with live resin, diamonds, ice water hash, or rolled in kief. These high potency prerolls, often greater than 30% THC, are significantly stronger than a regular preroll between 20-28% THC and can knock you on your ass. Read the label carefully so you know what you’re smoking before you end up in a puddle on the floor. Or if that’s what you’re looking for, cool. Know your dose.
Plenty of infused prerolls on the market but my favorites from the show include Stone Road, Binske, Space Coyote, Pure Beauty, Jetty, Loud and Clear, Lola Lola, Biscotti, Sitka, and Lowell Farms’ new hash-wrapped prerolls.
I ooh'd and ahh'd at all the beautiful, gorgeous packaging—but let’s also acknowledge that there’s an abundance of packaging waste in the cannabis industry from single-use joint tubes to boxes-within-boxes for that serotonin-inducing unboxing experience. The good news is that more brands are making conscious sustainable choices to reduce waste and become more carbon neutral in all areas of their business.
There were beautiful and practically designed reusable flower jars from Rose Los Angeles and Binske. I was extremely impressed with the paper compostable packaging from Rose Los Angeles as part of the company’s goal to eliminate the use of plastic or excessive single-use materials and commit to zero waste by 2022.
In addition to reusable, recyclable, and compostable packaging brands are making sustainability part of business operations. Aster Farms released a 2020 sustainability report that highlights the farm’s commitment to sustainable farming practices and the impact they made this year. Pure Beauty and A Golden State designed energy-efficient growing facilities to offset their carbon footprint. As the first carbon neutral cannabis cultivation in the country, A Golden State’s production facility is run on hydroelectric power, and water is sourced from snowmelt and natural water runoff from Mt. Shasta.
I was stoked to see representation from women-owned, LGBTQ+-owned, and POC-owned brands on the exhibit floor and on the conference speaker lineup. Definitely looking forward to more minority trailblazers continue to carve out space in the cannabis industry in the near future.
At the “Educating The Consumer on Social Equity” panel, moderator Mary Pryor from Cannaclusive reiterated that “inclusion is a choice." She was met with cheers from the audience while business owners chimed in to concur that social equity has been good for their business because customers support the local dispensaries and buy from brands that are like-minded and community-focused.
Buy weed from women and support minority-owned brands like Pure Beauty, Biko, Stone Road, Sonder, A Cosmic View, A Golden State, Drew Martin, Tsumo, Luchador, Leune, Moon Made Farms, Garden Society, Space Gem, Proof, Mellows, Dose of Saucy, WAMM Phytotherapies, Pinkies, SF Roots, and House of Saka, to name a few.
With half of Americans struggling with pandemic-related sleep issues who are looking to cannabis as a sleep aid, it makes sense that new products designed and marketed for sleep are popular right now. Most effect-based sleep products highlight CBN, a minor cannabinoid that helps improve sleep, or botanicals like chamomile and lavender to aid in rest and relaxation.
But does it work? These companies seem to think so. Papa & Barkley’s new Sleep Releaf collection includes tinctures, capsules, chocolate, and gummies formulated with CBN. Also, try Wyld elderberry CBN-enhanced gummies, Plus cloudberry and lychee-flavored sleep CBN gummies, Dosist blackberry lavender 5:1 THC:CBN gummies, Care By Design peach chamomile gummies, Protab Lights Out, and Space Gems' new 1:1 CBN sleep belts. Nighty-night, sweet dreams!
A boutique industry around cannabis hospitality and tourism is blossoming and I am here for it. Some of those Sun+Earth Certified farms are also becoming travel destinations where visitors can frolic, dine, relax, and sleep at working cannabis farms.
Add these must-visit destinations for your next weekend getaway: The Madrones from The Bohemian Chemist, a boutique hospitality experience, winery, cannabis farm, and herbal apothecary + spa in Anderson Valley, California. Sol Spirit Farm retreat, a rustic glamping adventure on a cannabis farm. Sonoma Hills Farm, a craft cannabis farm and culinary garden hosts chef events and is about to be the first cannabis destination on Airbnb experiences.
Drew Martin’s botanical low dose prerolls made with sun-grown cannabis flower and botancial herb blends are perfect for when you want something light, fun, and breezy—designed as the ideal social joint. They also launched a cannabis perfume collab with Heretic Parfum: “The Herbalist,” a plant-based eau de parfum with scented with cannabis, hinoki, lavender, and bergamot that smells divine. I'm officially obsessed with this bodacious botanical brand.
Sativa Preservation Society by Space Coyote is on a mission to preserve and share true landrace Sativa strains that have not been hybridized. Most of the Sativa strains currently available in the market have been cross-bred over the years, so enjoying a true Sativa is rare. According to their site, “Rather than giving you a heavy-lidded feeling, these true Sativas will peel your eyelids back and make you energized.” If you’re a Sativa lover, give Sativa Preservation Society flower a try.
Pure Beauty announced new menthol cannabis cigarettes in sleek electric green packaging and launched a new artist/brand collab series of “5 pack” mini joints, featuring artwork from Yu Su, Hassan Rahim, Sterling Ruby, Purity Wine, and Sneeze Magazine. Each artist collaborated on the packing, and proceeds will be donated to Dream Corps Justice Federal Prison Closure Campaign.
Binske is coming to California and I’m excited to see how their lineup of flower, edibles, concentrates, and topicals with eye-catching whimsical packaging does in the golden state. I tried one of their Matzo Ball Soup hash-infused prerolls and was immediately transported to the warming comfort of Canter’s Deli. As the largest multi-state operator, the brand has already made a splash in Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware, and Maine.
Garden Society, known for their delicious chocolate and prerolls, launched wine country-inspired gummies in Sparkling Strawberry Rosé, Peach Prosecco, and Tart Cherry Pinot Noir flavors. Made with nano-emulsified full-spectrum cannabis, these are fast-acting edibles that you’ll start feeling after 15 minutes, rather than the usual 60-90 minute standard with edibles.
A Cosmic View’s award-winning balms, tinctures and honey sweets are magical but what has me most tingly and excited are her hand-crafted honey lollipops made with strain-specific regeneratively-grown Serpentine rosin from Moon Made Farms, roasted Meyer lemon, Tahitian vanilla bean, and Dark Horse furikake. I really like fancy, artisanal weed candy.
Mellows gourmet hand-crafted infused marshmallows infused with solventless single-origin Red Congolese sativa hash gives these fluffy clouds their signature weightless euphoria and elation. I’m partial to the Brown Butter Sage flavor, but I also love the Black Sesame and Peanut Butter Pretzel. A Mint Chocolate Chip flavor is coming out for the holidays.
Hervé, luxury Parisian infused macarons in Raspberry, Birthday Cake, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate flavors. With a swipe of edible gold on top of each one, these delicate cookies are made with distillate so there is no cannabis flavor, just almond flour, egg whites, sugar, and a cremeaux filling. Given the popularity of regular macarons I have no doubt that these will be a hit.
Kiva keeps on crushing it, this fall they’re launching tart and chewy Camino Sours in Citrus Breeze, Watermelon Spritz, and Orchard Peach flavors. The holiday season flavors include Camino Holiday Punch and a new Terra Bite Peppermint Pattie infused with Nasha Wedding Cake cold water hash.
I predict 2022 will be the rise of Savory Cannabis. Gummy fatigue is real and I’m craving other ways to eat my weed without the sugar. Potli’s Spicy Shrimp Chips are an inspired hit, and newcomer Tsumo Snacks cheese puffs and tortilla rounds dosed at 10mg per bag is making it hard to keep my hand out of the snack bag. Excuse me while I wipe neon orange cheese dust off my chin. In addition to savory snacks, I find myself seeking out flower with savory strain profiles because a gal needs more variety beyond cookies, cakes, gelatos, and fruit.
Binske’s Matzo Ball Soup preroll smells and tastes like Bubbie’s chicken soup, a jar of Sol Spirit Farms Donny Burger tasted shockingly like hamburgers, and a Revolution Gorilla’d Cheese joint I had in Chicago was the smokable cheese plate I never knew I needed. Who will be the first to cultivate pizza weed? Am I high? Yes, most definitely.
Until next time! Hall of Flowers’ Southern California show is in Palm Springs from December 6-7.
Christina spent over a decade in the food & restaurant industry working with well-known chefs and restaurants in Los Angeles. A creator, baker, and creative consultant, her work won a Clio Cannabis Award in 2020. She bakes infused culinary cannabis creations at Baking With Chickens, and hosts a culinary cannabis cooking show "BAKED With Chickens" on YouTube.