Ladybug Herbal Sanctuary Co-op owner Nathan Whittington packages a container of OG Kush in his Ferndale home Nov. 5. Whittington is one of 15 cannabis business owners in Humboldt County participating in a pilot track-and-trace program now being eyed as a potential model for the statewide track-and-trace program set to come online by 2018. Jose Quezada — For the Eureka Times-Standard)

Business

Branding Humboldt: Cannabis market seeks to cash in on region’s recognition

Eureka resident Kenny Gregg was trekking through the Himalayan Mountains in Pakistan and walked into a remote town. Upon meeting the village elder in the bazaar and telling him he’s from Humboldt County, Gregg watched as the man smiled and mimed smoking a joint.

“That’s on the other side of the world,” Gregg said in an interview with The Times-Standard earlier this year. “Depending on who you are, I’m either from Eureka, or I’m from Humboldt County.”

Humboldt County is known throughout the world for two very different kinds of trees: redwoods and cannabis.

And the cannabis industry has wasted no time in taking advantage of Humboldt County’s recognition as a cannabis cultivation center and using it as a branding tool — even if the product isn’t from the area.

“There’s a Humboldt dispensary in Colorado,” Humboldt County cannabis cultivator and True Humboldt brand operations manager Chrystal Ortiz said. “… There are people using our history and cultural experience and background as a brand.”

But after the passage of new marijuana laws in California over the past two years, Humboldt County marijuana will now have nearly the same protection from misbranding as a Napa wine.

Weed regions

Under Proposition 64 and the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, it is illegal for marijuana products to use the name of a California county in the product’s labeling, marketing or packaging if the marijuana was not grown in that county.

These types of appellation of origin rules are used for the wine industry, but will likely have some differences in the cannabis market.

The state is now tasked with developing the specific rules for appellations of origins, but there are discrepancies between the state’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — also known as Proposition 64 — on how to do that. Under medical cannabis laws, the Department of Food and Agriculture has the ability to work with growers to create the appellation zones for medical cannabis. Under the recently passed recreational marijuana laws, the Bureau of Marijuana Control is also required to develop appellation zones for recreational cannabis.

“At the current time, the bureau is working on regulations for medical, while also starting to lay the groundwork for adult use regulations,” bureau spokesman Alex Traverso said. “It’s a large task, as you can imagine and we just don’t have a lot of specifics we can share at the current time, other than we’re continuing to listen to feedback from all sectors of the industry as we craft regulations.”

Being Humboldt

Humboldt County’s marijuana market may become flooded with businesses using the county’s name as branding tool. At least 72 people have registered their intent in Humboldt County to create businesses that tout names like Simply Humboldt, Humboldt Homegrown, Humboldt’s Own, Raised N Grown Humboldt, Humboldt Heals, Humboldt Healers and Mamba Humboldt Logistics to name a few.

For Joseph Stepp, products that use Humboldt County’s name should represent the region’s values as well.

“Personally, if we’re going to put out the Humboldt brand to the world, it should be Humboldt through and through — grown, sold and operated in Humboldt County,” Stepp said.“We know that reputation is there for producing some of the finest cannabis in the world. What they don’t know about Humboldt is the commitment to the environment and sustainability. That’s what we’re trying to infuse in the Humboldt brand; that it comes from a place that cares about the environment, the water, plants and trees.”

Stepp is the CEO of Humboldt’s Finest, a Redway company that officially launched its product line of eighths and six-packs of joints at the Emerald Cup in Sonoma County this month.

Humboldt’s Finest farmers are all based in Humboldt County and are held to strict standards such as only producing sun-grown cannabis and not using fossil fuels. Their packaging is also compostable. Stepp said farmers are also held to rain-grown standards, meaning that all the water used to grow the cannabis comes from stored rain water rather than diverting from creeks and rivers.

“It’s not just about stoney pot,” he continued. “It’s about a place you should come and visit and we’re trying to help protect it.”

“Hmbldt”

One Humboldt County cannabis company, hmbldt, recently received national recognition after being named in Time magazine’s top 25 inventions of 2016 for its specialized vaporizer pens.

The company’s president and co-founder Matt Seashols is also the founder of several technology companies in Southern California such as LCN Technology, Landmark Global, iGoals and Urban Tag. But the company makes its cannabis extracts using marijuana from 250 farms in Humboldt County.

“The best cannabis in the world and the best genetics come from Humboldt County, so all of our partner farms are in Humboldt County,” he said. “The idea is to take the best starting material in the world and use science to isolate a very specific amount of the cannabinoids and terpenes at a very specific, targeted benefit and then use technology to deliver those compounds with the highest level of efficacy in a very specific amount.”

The company’s product line includes four vaporizer pens, which have the names “bliss,” “sleep,” “calm” and “relief” depending on the desired effect. The product is currently available for medical patients only, but Seashols said they plan to expand into the recreational market.

“It’s really just quality of life,” Seashols said of his product. “Our bliss product is really just to bring happiness, to make you feel a little bit happier and light on your feet. Easier to smile and laugh. Is that recreational or medical? It sounds like a little bit of both.”

Track-and-trace

With cannabis likely going to be produced throughout the entire state of California, ensuring appellation laws are enforced will require an extensive tracking system.

Humboldt County is currently testing its own track-and-trace system on a micro-scale, which will allow regulators and consumers to scan a code and know exactly what farm the product comes from.

“In a free market system, Humboldt County will have to compete with all these other jurisdictions in California that plan to have these programs,” Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf said in a recent interview with the Times-Standard. “Given that name recognition and the importance of that, we wanted to give (farmers) a chance to get out in the market and compete before these other economic forces come to bear on this industry.”

The state is currently working to develop its own track-and-trace system, with Humboldt County’s program being eyed as a model.

Ortiz, the True Humboldt operations manager, said it will be important for Humboldt County to take advantage of its edge in the marketplace as soon as possible by establishing businesses early.

However, as Oakland and other areas throughout the state work to expand their grip on the market, Ortiz said Humboldt County won’t be able to compete if there is no room for the market to grow — especially for storage, distribution and manufacturing facilities.

“The business community should recognize that we are at a huge disadvantage due to our location and distance from the marketplace,” she said. “… If we can keep that momentum as a main producing region, we do stand a chance of keeping those jobs here.”


This article was first published at Times-Standard.com.