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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: Exploring the Connections Between Cannabis and Wine

The experts at discuss the cultural impact of legal cannabis with Senior Digital Editor Jameson Fink. What are the similarities between how wine and cannabis are produced and enjoyed? And where does recreational use of cannabis fit in with wine?

Read the full transcript for “Exploring the Connections Between Cannabis and Wine”:

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Jameson Fink: Jameson Fink, Senior Digital Editor. Terroir is a term that’s discussed, talked about, somewhat controversial in the world of wine, but it’s the idea that the environment in which grapes grow has an effect on the wine that ends up in your glass. And I’ve talked about terroir a lot, I’ve read a lot about terroir but I had something new to learn about it when discussing cannabis. There’s actually terroir when it comes to cannabis and there’s a lot about cannabis that I didn’t know and that has a lot of similarities to wine. It’s something that I explored with not one, not two but three folks from, and we discussed everything from lifestyle, science and culture surrounding cannabis in a state like Washington where cannabis is now legal. So let’s explore some of the links between cannabis and wine, some surprising and some very surprising.

Will Hyde: Hi I’m Will Hyde. I’m a cannabis expert for Leafly.

Brett Konen: Hi, I’m Brett Konen, I’m an editor at Leafly.

WH: Leafly is the world’s cannabis information resource so we’re really here to help educate and inform people about safe legal access to cannabis as well as help them find dispensaries, locations, products and brands that will meet their needs as a cannabis consumer, everything from medical to recreational cannabis is covered. And we partner with a lot of awesome companies to help spread the gospel of cannabis.

JF: So Will, does cannabis have terroir?

WH: Yeah, I definitely think it does. I know that there are groups, especially in Northern California which is sort of the heartland of cannabis country here in the United States that are working on specific appellations for the regions that are known to grow cannabis and known specifically for growing cannibis. That said, I think the current landscape of the cannabis market sort of naturally creates some of this own regional terroir because the market is so fractured. Right now, we’re limited to only cannibis that is grown within the state that you are actually in. So here in Washington, we can only purchase and consume cannabis that is grown here in Washington. So the broken nature of the market that doesn’t really allow us to enjoy cannabis from any of these other places is sort of forcing these local regions to really emphasize their own local traits.

JF: For wine appellations, there’s sort of the idea that the soil, the weather, the slope, all that contributes to creating something unique and special. And maybe I just don’t understand how that happens or how that works in cannabis. Where are we at in sort of identifying like, “Wow this is really unique place for growing cannibis and it should be recognized in some distinct manner?”

WH: You know, I think we’re still pretty early in that. I do know that some of the groups that are working towards appellation are really starting to define that. I believe the Emerald Triangle in northern California which is known as Humboldt County, Mendocino County and Trinity County, they are specifically breaking their different areas up into I think like nine or more different appellations and sort of working to define exactly what those characteristics are and the differences that they present to cannabis. I think in general cannabis takes on a lot of properties from the external environmental factors that it’s grown in. The genetics present sort of a blueprint for what that strain can or should be, but that the actual content of the soil or whatever grow medium you’re using as well as the amount of sunlight or artificial light that it’s receiving and things like elevation and temperature and the actual climate of the region can really affect the end result of that flower.

JF: And Brett, when I think about states where it’s legal enjoying cannabis in a recreational manner, that it’s like my wine pals, we’re like, “Oh try this, I like chardonnay from here. I like cabernet or I like this brand.” And things like that. Are those the kind of conversations that people are having, like, “Oh you should try this,” or “I use this,” and that kind of thing. Is it just becoming more of like a consumer oriented, like, “I want to try this, you should try that,” word of mouth, social media type of stuff?

BK: Yeah, absolutely, so you’re getting a lot of and it varies. So a lot of people, now that cannabis has become legal in a few places for recreational use so recently, a lot of people aren’t there yet. They’re still trying to figure out what exactly they’re gonna feel from cannabis. Maybe they’ve never used it before or maybe they used it 40 years ago. But then you’ve got people, like Will and I obviously have those conversations, most anyone in the cannabis industry has been having those conversations for a while, and now we’re seeing consumers getting on that train too, where they’re interested in this as an agricultural product whereas before, they couldn’t know much about the farmers because farmers had to keep a low profile and now farmers are celebrating their growing methods. They’re celebrating the region they’re growing in.

And so while even when cannabis was a black market commodity, you would have sellers saying things like, “Well this was grown in Humboldt” and that carried a lot of weight. It was hard to check out exactly whether that was true and how it was grown. You just couldn’t get that information and now you can and that’s really exciting. And so it’s definitely happening where people are saying, “Oh my gosh, you’ve gotta try this famous strain for this particular region,” it might be, or it might be just a strain that grows particularly well in the Emerald Triangle or in eastern Washington, wherever it is. Those conversations are definitely happening and I think it’s getting a lot of people really excited about cannabis whereas before it was just something to consume, something to smoke, something to reduce stress or use for medical properties. And now it’s something that you can get really excited about and really nerdy about, which is fun.

JF: I love getting nerdy about stuff, especially with wine, wine education like I can buy all these books, I can buy like the Wine Bible. I can buy a myriad of books about places all over the country and all over the world. I can take classes on seminars. I can see what people post on social media. How important do you think that education aspect is? Are people wanting to get educated, like can I visit, can I be in Washington state? Can I visit places besides dispensaries or how do I learn about cannabis? How do I educate myself?

BK: Sure, so there are a lot of resources to do that. Leafly is one of them. We actually have a book, kind of an intro, beginner’s guide to cannabis coming out later this year. There’s a lot of books already on the market. You can learn about different aspects of growing. You can learn about different strains. There’s a ton to learn. You’ll also see a lot of classes coming out, some more reputable than others for sure because we’re all kind of figuring this out together, but we’ve seen, actually earlier this year, I went over to Denver for something modeled after sommelier course called interpening, which is a class built after the methodologies used by sommeliers, beer cicerones, and coffee cuppers and it’s pretty intensive. This is a six hour course I think and it was followed by a one hour test and the pass rate I think was 10%. So super rigorous and so you’re seeing classes like that. And you’re also seeing more basic classes geared towards beginners. So there’s really an option for everyone.

JF: Do you see, I mean is cannabis tourism, is that something that’s happening in let’s say Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington? Are people like, “I want to go here because cannabis is legal,” and are people promoting that or are they just letting it happen naturally?

WH: Oh no doubt.

BK: Definitely.

WH: Tourism is huge for the cannabis industry, especially because there isn’t safe legal access nationwide or even globally so I think we’re seeing tourism really progress and sort of use it as a means of showing the mainstream what this legal cannabis can be and then being able to let the tourists take their experiences back home with them and share them with their communities and hopefully move the needle a little bit more in those other places.

BK: Yeah, and in places like Denver, which was obviously the first major US city where cannabis was legal recreationally, there are a ton of offerings meant just for people coming in from all over the country and all over the world. So you’ve got things kind of modeled after wine culture a little bit, so you’ve heard of paint and sip classes, now you’ve got puff past paint and similar things going on there. And I mean tourists just love them. When I was in Denver, I did a cannabis cooking class, it was geared for beginners, kind of geared at tourists.

And there was a family from Arkansas and it was a great grandma and they had come out because this little 80 year old lady was a huge cannabis consumer and believer and had used it medically for years, also enjoyed it recreationally and she was just having the best time. She was so excited, like she just kept kind of clapping her hands together and saying, “This is so cool.” And there’s just a lot of tourists that where they’re from, they’ve never seen anything like these sorts of classes. Like this legal culture is just kind of unbelievable compared to the illegal culture that maybe the live with.

WH: I think one of the biggest sort of limiting factors to cannabis tourism is the fact that while all these states and cities and places across our country are starting to legalize cannabis, most have not yet legalized a social use legislation that would allow cannabis to be consumed publicly in a social setting in the same way we can go to a wine bar or a nice restaurant and share a bottle of wine. We don’t yet have the opportunity to sit down and roll a joint and share it in a public setting like that. It all has to be done privately. And so as a tourist coming to these places, most of the hotels are not cannabis friendly. Cannabis friendly Airbnbs and other accommodations are few and far between. So I think as we hopefully see some movement in some of those areas, we’ll see tourism become even bigger and better in the cannabis space.

BK: Oh yeah. It’s gonna be huge.

JF: How do you educate yourself on what you’re getting into dosage wise so you’re enjoying it responsibly or safely and not getting in over your head?

WH: Yeah, cannabis is a little difficult in that regard. It’s such an individual experience. The consumer’s own body chemistry plays into it a fair amount. It can vary day to day based on how much you’ve had to eat or drink, so there’s a lot of external factors besides just what type or how you’re consuming the cannabis. It’s a very nuanced plant and it presents a lot of different chemical compounds that can affect the actual experience of cannabis, everything from the myriad of cannabinoids which are things like THC, CBC, CBN, CBG, all these various compounds that are created naturally in the plant that have either therapeutic or psychoactive properties or both sometimes.

BK: And one of the hard things too is that cannabis is such a young industry, the cannabis testing industry is also very young and it’s pretty tricky to do properly. So that’s why it’s hard to figure out exactly, particularly with edibles. A lot of people have a hard time, even products that are advertised as 10 mg. You know they’re usually pretty close, sometimes it’s 9 mg., sometimes it’s 11 mg. There is a little bit of margin for error and while that’s improving, that’s one of the reason why you want to start low and go slow as far as consuming and knowing your limits, particularly with edibles, ’cause edibles will take an hour or two to hit you and you start with one cookie, you don’t feel it. Then you have two, then you’re getting a little out of control. So yeah, it’s definitely something that mostly just takes some practice I think. People that consume cannabis frequently, they get to know their limits pretty easily and quickly with experience, so it just kind of takes starting slow and figuring out what’s comfortable with you.

WH: And to compound all that, potency in cannabis does not translate the same way it does with wine or alcohol. You can see a THC test result on the back of your cannabis package but that’s not an indication necessarily of how strong it is or how it’s going to affect you individually. It’s a very nuanced plant and the science behind it is really advancing day after day.

JF: What are some of the preconceptions and misconceptions that you come across in your daily life, working with cannabis? Like people still think it’s sixties hippies, those are the people who are using cannabis. Or what do you have to educate people on most?

WH: Oh man, there’s so much to educate people on. It’s really interesting because a lot of what we spend our time on here is actually sort of changing the perception of cannabis and really overcoming a lot of the stigma that’s been presented to cannabis based on the fact that it’s been illegal for so long. And I think that’s probably our biggest challenge followed by the science and the nuance of cannabis.

BK: And as far as stereotypes go, there are a ton out there. The stereotype of the lazy stoner is the most obvious one. And the stereotypes around cannabis have pretty much been shot done in areas where it’s been legalized and people can see how a real legal cannabis market works, who’s buying. It’s pretty much everyone and not necessarily just for kicking back and relaxing. I mean a lot of people use this as a creative boost. A lot of people use cannabis as something to boost their productivity. Different cannabis strands can provide a lot of energy, they won’t just knock you out and sit you down on your couch. So I think that is the biggest stereotype that we keep working to disprove every day.

JF: There was recently in California this wine and weed symposium and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately just reading people’s reactions to it. Obviously there was a huge interest in it and it sounds like we want to bridge sort of the world’s of cannabis and wine, just like we would say, wine and beer, wine and coffee. I mean you know this is not shocking news, a lot of people who use cannabis also enjoy wine. And a lot of the states where cannabis is legal are huge wine producing places. And from your perspective, what do you see as cannabis’ relationships with those worlds like beer and coffee and cocktails and food? Is it something where you’re going to see more things like that? More partnerships? Or do you think it could be sort of like robbing Peter to pay Paul as far as popularity of one at the expense of another?

BK: I think there’s a ton of overlap to be found and one of the most telling quotes that I heard in advance of the Wine and Weed Symposium up in Sonoma was this organizer, they said, “We’re excited about the overlap. There’s a ton of commonality in the enjoyment of cannabis and of wine.” I mean a lot of people will have a glass of wine in the evening to kick back and relax. Same as with a joint and some people will enjoy the two together and I don’t really know anyone that uses one exclusively just to fill in the place of the other. I think there’s room for both in most consumers lives. There’s definitely room in mine.

I came from wine first actually which was kind of what got me interested in cannabis. I think there’s a lot of similarities there. And I think there’s just a lot of similarities in the way that people are interested in learning more about kind of the story behind the products. Both of these are artisan products. There’s a lot of similarities in what growers and what farmers go through to get their products to market and the craftsmanship that’s there. Yeah, we’re seeing more and more fancy dinners that have both wine pairings and cannabis pairings and I think we’ll see a lot more of that going forward, that’s just something that’s really fun that people are excited about.

WH: I think the one real sticking point between the two is that the whole legalization movement has sort of championed the statement of cannabis being safer than alcohol for so long. And I think that’s sort of the one area where we have to find a balance because we’ve touted sort of the dangers of alcohol and what it can do to a family for so long, that if we just sort of free handedly engage with excessive alcohol intake which is another stigma that cannabis faces, then we sort of have to just find that balance between championing cannabis as well as being able to champion all these other agricultural and compelling and complex products and experiences.

JF: In the wine world, a big push now is about sustainability. How big is a issue of sustainability in how cannabis is grown and produced?

WH: Sustainability’s huge. I think the one benefit that cannabis has as a very young industry is that we’re able to build in a lot of these sustainable practices from the beginning as opposed to having to go back and sort of retroactively fix some of these issues. It’s undeniable that indoor farming is not the most sustainable practice. You have artificial light, you have excessive water especially in hydroponic gardens, although there are practices that allow you to recycle some of that water and things like that.

I think that in general, the cannabis industry is very, very sensitive to sustainable aspects of their business and the way they run their farms, including like advancements in LED technology, allowing us to grow indoors with much less energy draw than traditional high pressure sodium or high intensity lighting would require. There’s also a lot of movement towards finding ways to capture your own rain water, recycle your water at your garden. Then the other part is just what you’re actually doing to the soil and to the land around you, especially if appellation is so important to you then how much are you letting the region’s dirt speak for itself when you’re repeatedly influencing it with salt mineral nutrients and other additives.

BK: Yeah, and I think that one of the interesting things about cannabis still technically federally illegal is that no one in the cannabis industry is allowed to label anything as organic in the same way that food can be labeled as organic and so the cannabis industry is kind of looking for creative ways to solve that. There’s been development of a lot of terms that are unique to the cannabis industry to try and indicate those sustainable growing practices. So I think as we move toward nationwide legalization, I think we’ll see improvements in that regard too where farmers are actually able to use traditional organic certification processes and I think that’ll make a big difference. Thanks a lot.

JF: Thanks Brett. Thanks Will. [crosstalk 00:20:38] Yeah, take care. Bye bye.

WH: Okay, bye.

Dave Schmader: Hi, I’m Dave Schmader, senior editor at Leafly and author of the book, Weed: The User’s Guide.

JF: So David, I was reading a bunch of stuff about your book actually and a bunch of interviews with you and one of the things I was thinking about was that whole idea of with cannabis being legalized in Washington, this whole idea of a green rush, that it’s less of a culture and it’s more of an industry. That seems a little too gloom and doom for me but I was just wondering. How has legalization changed the culture around cannabis in your experience in Seattle and maybe beyond in Washington?

DS: Well, it’s really opened up the conversation where people can openly acknowledge that they enjoy cannabis. And I’ve always been someone who did that. I had worked at an alternative news outlet for a long time so I was allowed to talk openly about it, even when it illegal. But I had friends who are just the type of people who don’t like breaking the law, they’d rather not break a law if they have the option. I grew up gay so I grew up knowing that some law were bunk and not all laws deserved honor. But that’s the big change is like lawyers and people who just don’t like breaking the law can now both enjoy cannabis and say out loud that they do.

JF: It was interesting when I was talking to a couple of your colleagues, we’re trying to talk about how wine culture can resemble cannabis culture and vice versa. But the one thing, it’s kind of a duh moment for me, but there’s wine bars and you can order a glass of wine in a restaurant and all that stuff. But there’s no cannabis bar or a place where people can just like smoke a joint together. How is that hampering or hindering development of cannabis culture, even though it’s legal, it’s like you can just get together in a public place and smoke a joint?

DS: That’s such a good question because it’s a real bite into the idea of cannabis tourism, where you can travel to a place and you can buy it and it’s legal but there’s no place legal for a visitor to smoke it. You can’t smoke anything in a hotel room. So the cannabis lounge, the idea that there would be a place where you would be able to smoke your legal cannabis or imbibe it in any way, it’s on the horizon. Denver is the first place that has set out guidelines and it’s a lot about how close to something you can be, how close to anything that is frequented by children, that kind of thing. But I had a really interesting experience with this up in Vancouver which has a really thriving gray market kind of cannabis lounge scene.

And I went to one and it was just so wonderful. It was kind of themed like an old ice cream shoppe, like soda fountain and bright lights and really lovely. And the big thing is it’s not a one to one with a bar. Alcohol makes you want to talk to strangers, make you want to dance with strangers and cannabis is not that same experience. It can be very internal and it’s also very smokey. And I visited a crowded and thriving cannabis lounge and it was kind of a TB ward, it was just coughing, coughing, smoke-filled air and it was not an appealing thing. So it’s not a one to one with a bar, we’re gonna have to figure out, I imagine it involves HVAC systems similar to what nail salons use, just a kind of serious recycling of air to make it a welcoming space. But it’s a big thing on the horizon. It’s like we need a space where you are allowed to imbibe your legal cannabis legally.

JF: I was having lunch with a couple colleagues and one of the points that someone brought up was now that cannabis is legal in many states, what kind of cannabis education is there gonna be? Like it’s legal so is there gonna be education in schools? What would you like to see as far as education? What would you want kids to be taught about marijuana?

DS: My hope is that by removing prohibition, we’ll be way more likely to have a situation more like with alcohol where young people understand there’s a point where you cross a threshold and this adult pleasure is available to you. Whereas with the prohibition scenario that I grew up in, there was a sense that it was illegal, it would always be illegal so take it when you can get it. And if that meant when you were 13, you did when you were 13. There was no feasible deadline you could wait for and say, “Then I can have my sensible cannabis.” And there’s so many horrible myths about cannabis. But one of the things that’s said about that is true that is bad, is it’s not good for developing brains and we do need to keep it out of the hands of people under 21. And we strive to do that with alcohol and I really hope that we can do that with cannabis. I’m not sure what kind of education kids get in school about alcohol. Oh yeah, you get to see those terrible car crash videos.

JF: Right, yeah, exactly.

DS: And cannabis should be run through the exact same gauntlet that alcohol does. That’s kind of the big aim is we just want equality with wine and spirits.

JF: Another thing I was reading in an interview that you did, just talking about your book and the goal for it was that people are interested in weed but may be wary and they want to explore. And that struck me because that’s pretty much you know what I think people who know a lot about wine want to do, is there are people that are interested in it but they’re a little weary because they don’t understand it or there’s so much out there or it has a certain stigma or association about it. So I was kind of wondering when people read your book and talk to you about it, what kind of questions are you getting? What are a lot of the misconceptions about cannabis that you’re having to debunk?

DS: Yeah, I want to go back to your first part because a big dream of the book was to have it be like a guide to Scotch, just a responsible guide to an adult pleasure without kind of counter culture persona or naughty stoner, just like we’re all adults here. Here’s a life enhancing pleasure, very much like wine, that you can get as involved with as you like. And the questions I get are mostly about kind of what you had just asked me about what do we do about keeping it out of the hands of kids and we just talked through that. I mostly get people really grateful to have a normal-ish person talking really openly about how cannabis has enhanced their lives. It’s mostly been a lot of commiseration about I’m so glad we’re allowed to talk about this now and lawyers and surgeons and people who have benefited just socially from cannabis for years are now feeling the possibility of comraderie now because we’re allowed to talk about it in legal states at least if you don’t work for the federal government while living in a legal cannabis state.

JF: What would be your ideal cannabis bar or like one that would seem to fit Seattle’s ethos if you could kind of open one up and have it be your dream place?

DS: Oh, okay what popped into my head was the Twilight Exit which is half bar and half patio. You definitely something with some open air and I think karaoke would be hilarious. It might be a nightmare. We might all learn a terrible lesson but I would like to see it at least once, cannabis karaoke. Everyone would probably do lot of [Bonnie Veran 00:27:26].

I mean the best one I’ve been to is this kind of ice cream shop themed one in Vancouver and they had Slurpees, they had a Slurpee machine and real tidiness because the situation with the ones I visited are you bring your material and you pay $5 to stay for an hour and they’ll bring you any device you would like to imbibe your material so they have dab rigs and bongs and the best place was just like perfectly tidy and they had table service, food so definitely the food and music and just the sensual pleasure seemed key. That’s my main connection to cannabis is just it makes everything I love slightly better, movies, art, food, so incorporating as many sensual pleasures as you can into your public consumption situation would be my dream.

JF: Yeah, the whole idea is just like blowing my mind. I was just wondering what writing for Leafly and being a senior editor there, what are some of the big issues, kind of newsy issues, what’s the culture that you’re seeing that are really important that you think people should be paying attention to?

DS: The big one, the US is in the middle of humongous opioid epidemic, it’s killing way more people than AIDS did. It’s our national problem and cannabis has many ways of helping and there’s a lot of new research coming out on this and it’s very exciting. I just did big interview with a researcher, Philippe Lucas, about the various ways that cannabis can be used to combat opioid addiction and it ranges from having cannabis as a prescription option for doctors so you don’t even have to certain people with chronic pain don’t even have to go down the road of opioids, they can maybe start with the much safer cannabis.

But then there’s also if you do need opioids that doing conjunction treatment with cannabis can keep you on a lower dose and keep you from having to keep upping your dose of opioids. And it’s also an exit drug for people who are in treatment for opioid addiction. It can help people off in a way similar to methadone but way less dangerous. There’s this point where like, what does cannabis have to do to get full across the board support because it has great promise with cancer, it has great promise with the opioid epidemic. Does it have to rescue a baby from a well? What does cannabis have to do? It does everything.

JF: It probably does. Well first I guess it has to be not scheduled, it’s a schedule one, right?

DS: Yes.

JF: That’s probably the thing. Yeah it probably does literally have to a giant bud rescuing a baby from a well, I think that’s what it will take.

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