Respecting cannabis cultivar names honours original breeders

Respecting cannabis cultivar names honours original breeders

by Adolfo Gonzalez on December 11th, 2019 at 4:09 PM

What’s really in a name? Well, when it comes to cannabis, many Canadians still believe that the answer is: very little. Names like Blueberry, OG Kush, and Amnesia Haze are still widely perceived as baseless marketing ploys made up by “street dealers” with little understanding of the true ancestry of their plant. Today, as the dust settles on legalization and companies scramble to own the world’s most sought-after cannabis genetics, many are realizing that there may be more to the story.

A big part of the problem is too much focus on blanket names like “indica” and “sativa” that do not specify genetic inheritance, breeder, or place of ancestry. Having specificity and consistency in the genetic background of the cannabis one regularly consumes is, despite popular belief, a key tool in reliably predicting the unique effect a particular cultivar will provide.

When names are consistently applied to specific types of genetically distinct plants (as most reputable growers have been doing since far before the age of legalization), names actually matter a lot.

Could you imagine if wine companies questioned the value of telling their consumers the specific type of grape used to make their wine, choosing instead to opt for a generic “red” or “white” labelling? There is little debate that Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes truly exist as distinct grape types and that those grapes were bred and processed by highly specialized wine cultures that understood quality. Cannabis, on the other hand, is still mistakenly viewed by many as coming from a cultureless void, and this perspective truly does stand to be corrected.

The truth about this industry has always been that if you look closely, you will find some real masters at work: farmers, breeders, and seed junkies with boundless passion and, in some cases, a rigorous scientific approach. Today, many of the more established breeders work directly with laboratories in order to map the genome of their plants, establishing a clear record of the genetic relationship to other mapped cultivars as well as noting the unique biochemical and morphological traits of each variety as expressed in a particular environment.

To those of us who have dedicated our lives to this plant, cannabis names encrypt a whole host of technical and cultural information into a single word that maintains the bond between a particular plant and its breeder, seed collector, or place of ancestry. Further, names like Blueberry, Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies, and Congolese are forever bound to certain expected flavour profiles and growth characteristics in the minds of those who bred, grew, and/or enjoyed these names time and time again.

Getting rid of names assigned by the original breeder or seed collector ultimately deprives experienced consumers of reconnecting with the legendary classics they love, but perhaps even sadder than that, it creates a marketplace where having a rich cultural and sensory experience that goes beyond simply “getting high” is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Let me put it this way: Blueberry is a masterpiece, like a good movie made long ago that we have all enjoyed many times, with few ever knowing who wrote and directed it. D J Short’s work was truly foundational to the future of cannabis breeding, demonstrating what could be achieved when trait selection was focused on flavour rather than purely aiming to increase potency or productivity.

As a flower or concentrate vendor at any level of the distribution chain, you do not want to sell some “Blueberry” knockoff—you want to rep the real thing by its true name or risk being called out by influential tastemakers as another clueless cannabis producer/vendor.

Calling Blueberry anything other than Blueberry would be a disrespect to Short, the consumers who love his work, and the culture of cannabis breeding and growing as a whole. Truly, this would be a violation of the rites of passage that the underground cannabis community has held sacred for so long.

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), and terpene readings alone—like the terms indica and sativa—are, in the end, insufficient pieces of information to know if a particular cultivar will match an experienced consumer’s preference. Cannabis names as used by the established community of breeders and growers actually provide the most precise and relevant language to refer to specific cannabis cultivars that are already well-known by consumers. Period.

Cannabis names, despite how odd they may appear, should actually mean more, not less, as we move further into legality, with each officially catalogued name clearly tying back to a specific breeder or seed company that can verify authenticity and demonstrate knowledge of the specific ancestry and expected traits of the plant. Names may sound funny, but—trust me—they all mean something to the person (or people) who created or collected those seeds/cuts, as well as to the consumers who have come to know and love the qualities of that particular cultivar.

In the old-school underground cannabis community, when a classic black-market variety like OG, which has many different versions, is being re-created by a particular breeding group, it is customary to add another word to identify which specific type of OG is being referred to, as in the case of Raskal OG, Emerald Triangle OG, or DeadHead OG, each of which is constituted out of distinct parent varieties. Because, yes, it matters which OG it is—and someone out there cares.

The sooner we all wrap our heads around this, the closer we will be to living in the globally recognized cannabis mecca that Canada should be.

Adolfo Gonzalez is a cofounder of CannaReps.


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