With the exception of the types of investment opportunities that now have access to the market, way fewer people getting locked up and taxes; nothing in cannabis has changed as much over the last decade as the highest echelons of the concentrate market.
Yes, hash had changed a lot over the decade. We’re still less than 10 years removed from when Rump Wax produced what until proven otherwise was the first decarboxylated slab of shatter. For the hash enthusiasts of that moment in history, it was like seeing color TV for the first time. And progress continued to help us preserve terpene profiles and enjoy every subtle note of flavor.
Whether the continuing progress putting hash at the cutting edge of cannabis technology or just the weight lifted off the chest of the best extractors knowing that permit on the wall means no prison time, everything continues to fly by the window at a breakneck pace. To wrap our heads around the constant moves that have got us to this point, and the best hash ever, we reached out to some of the folks at the top of the game right now. As we celebrate the holiday, it’s important to celebrate the success stories of those that made it. Because there are plenty who did not, despite being well-intentioned.
Max Lavine now runs the B2B side of things for Nug Labs and also serves as their chief copywriter, breaking down the constantly evolving products so the masses can understand the latest and greatest. With all the new diamonds, sugars and live resins we’ve seen in recent times, explaining what they are to the masses is ultra important.
But before Lavine’s new role, he was already deep in the world of fat dabs of great quality. He’d served as the concentrate buyer for one of the biggest shops in the state in Berkeley and was a regular on the sesh scene.
“Honestly, it’s hard to think about how fast things are changing in extraction; when I really focus on it it’s easy to feel like I’m going to give myself a stroke,” Lavine told L.A. Weekly, “We’re literally going from pre-industrial, clandestine economics to full-blown 2019 neoliberal commerce orgy in like…a decade? Two, tops. That’s completely insane.”
Lavine is not kidding. When it came to hash in 2009 you were basically looking at few options. Much of the top of the marketplace was Ganesh Crystals, a bit below was some trashy honey oil and sometimes exceptional full melts. Then finally, the first wave of above average waxes were starting to hit the market, absolute trash today’s standards.
Lavine has stayed on the cutting edge of hash during a seemingly nonstop transition period reinvigorated every few years with a new kind of product. “I got into closed-loop hydrocarbon extraction, which was pretty wild at the time,” he said, “A lot of people were open blasting, making poison when successful and bombs when unsuccessful. It was a pretty bum scene, but there were also a lot of people who realized that this was just the germ of something really big.”
Lavine thinks a lot of the people who were trying new things out back then have become successful today. “It may have been a fairly goofy, out-of-the-way scene, but the people who were really dedicated to dialing and scaling this stuff ended up paving the way into the future,” he said.
“It’s been so inspiring to watch people who I recognize from the old Facebook groups and forums where people would trade knowledge,” Lavine said, “It was a chaotic environment laden with needless ad-hominem attacks and some truly fire memes, but it helped form a body of knowledge that guided a dispersed community of extractors toward increasingly safe and reliable methods of producing high-purity extracts with light hydrocarbons.”
Dabbenport Extracts have been a popular option for glob enthusiasts around the state for years. First as regulars on the thriving sesh and Cup scene, and now as one of the more recognizable California extractors. Dabbenport’s founder Chris Phillips gave L.A. Weekly some insight on what the manufacturer has gone through in the age of regulation.
We asked Phillips how the company deals with the flood of cheap midsy distillates flooding the market from corporate cannabis. “There is a lot of trash because it’s big business. Just like Budweiser or Coors,” Phillips replied, “They are all about the biggest profit margin and that’s why the last two years, four or five years actually, we’ve seen a big boom in craft beer.”
Phillips believes he and the Dabbenport team find themselves in a similar situation to those craft brewers starting to take off. He says there is no difference from the craft beer to the craft extract in terms of the love the producers are putting in the process. Phillips’s believes the extra bits of love make the flavor of both products a little bit more extraordinary.
The process to get to that point where Phillips feels comfortable comparing himself to those successful craft beers has been a tricky path. From the challenges of regulation to shady business partners, Dabbenport has seen it all. But in the end, they were able to do it themselves without the help of others, still retaining complete control of Dabbenport.
“Fuck all these other people. We can do it ourselves,” Phillips said, “We’re contracted to run other people’s facilities, but when it comes down to our brand name it’s 100 percent ours. We will never release that. There is no dollar amount in the world that can pay us for this. We’ve been thrown in jail for this name. We’ve been criticized. We’ve dealt with a lot to be proud of our name. Selling out is not the way to do it.”
A lot of people have sold out their name according to Phillips, just to move on from the now legal industry. “Because they’re just done with cannabis, and not sure what the future entails for themselves so they’re scared and bouncing,” he said.
The biggest surprise to Phillips has been that California doesn’t have its track-and- trace METRC system together yet. “All these other states had no problem getting METRC introduced and getting regulations going,” he said. Phillips says the further they are able to move away from the grey/black market via the checks and balances of METRC, the better he’ll sleep at night.
Phillips said he wondered where the permitting fees are going. He sees all these raids going after the black market as he and his legal extractor peers wait for the state to shine as much light on them as possible. We asked Phillips if he was surprised the raids have been targeting private parcels and not those destroying national forests. “Yes, 100 percent,” he replied, “As legalization came people started snitching on each other to gain some kind of clout or just get a little bit ahead of someone else. It’s sad. That’s probably the biggest disappointment and it’s turned this community to shit.”
In the past Dabbenport was hit with some legal troubles they eventually were cleared of, but in the process, Phillips spent some time in handcuffs. We asked how his personal history, and that of Dabbenport as a whole, makes him react to people turning on their peers for personal gains.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he replied, “We all had to make money to survive, but at the end of the day it was for the patients.”
Few have left a void in the dab market quite like Royal Key Organics. In 2017 they shot to the top of the game as if they were catching a ride with Elon Musk, but the perils of regulation would set them back a lot.
The thing that made Royal Key special was the single source for the flowers they were turning into hash then. In 2017 they curated a lineup of 19 small batch extracts made from flower phenotypes they’d selected in-house. Previously during harvest season 2016, they made the first batch of their juicy terpene-soaked live resin. By July 2017 they found themselves with a seat at the table when discussing the best concentrate companies in California.
The hype would not die, but the challenges the company faced in the regulatory process and fundraising without giving away the heart of the soul of the company added up quick.
Royal Key’s founder Josh exclusively told L.A. Weekly folks could expect to see the famed owl back on shelves this fall.
“The cost of becoming compliant is what slowed us down, local and state regulations and taxes, not to mention we lost our bank account four times,” Josh told L.A. Weekly, “Each new regulation comes with new costs you have to raise funds for.”
Royal Key refused to let brand they had built go downhill while the process continued. We asked Josh if that was to protect the reputation they’ve already built in the community. “Exactly,” he replied, “We know the bar we’ve already set for ourselves and won’t accept anything less.”
While waiting for their stars to align on the live resin side, Royal Key launched Suprize Suprize. The new effort is a collaboration of Royal Key and some of California’s best visual artists and breeders. They launched the effort at the Emerald Cup and it included some Papaya Punch from one of the state’s best breeder/cultivators The Village, who can regularly be spotted on L.A. Weekly’s best pot of the moment lists. They also found themselves working with Cannabis Cup destroyers Alien Labs, winners of L.A. Weekly’s Coachella Smoke-Off. Josh made sure to emphasize they have some special projects planned with Biovortex.
That launch weekend at the world championships of outdoor pot Surprize Surprize destroyed the shatter batter category taking first, second, and third. At the time their new lab had only been open five days so they didn’t have time to prep sauce, so they whipped up some batter and swept the podium. Make no mistake about it, that’s wild.
We simply can’t wait to see Royal Key back on shelves soon.
While it may sound tough following Royal Key, we bumped the mystique up a bit for our last expert on how it’s all gone down since California’s grand legalization experiment began, Brandon from Moonshine Melts and 3rd Generation Family.While some would claim the Macho Man hat and shades, frequent rants on leg lifting in reference to marking his territory, and his general enthusiasm for the game are a pinch off the wall, they’d sure love to have his trophy shelf. All of the various awards, whether plaques, medals or pipes, look like the sample case at a trophy factory. This dude has more wins in the last decade than Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady.
Brandon was kind enough to provide us with his take on things from the “terp of the mountain,” a reference to the terpenes everything he touches is soaked with. Speaking on the times, Brandon said, “I do got to say we beat to our own drum. We’re not in a race against anyone else.” Brandon said he’s got a kick looking online and seeing people with “40 licenses in their name.”
“That’s cool,” he said in a tone suggesting he didn’t have much thought to give those super factories producing low-grade marijuana eventually ending up in even lower grade oils because it’s easier to trick people into buying.
“I’m proud of the licenses I’ve attained and the licenses we’re attaining,” Brandon said, “And the prices we’ve been getting [for his Emerald Cup winning products] are pretty cool.”
Like Royal Key, Moonshine Melts single sources everything. The flowers from 3rd Generation Family being processed are championship quality as we’re reminded a few times a year. At the last medical-only Emerald Cup, which some called the end of an era, 3rd Gen would take home second place overall and the Breeders’ Cup amongst hundreds of flower entries.
The winning ticket was Roze, Zkittlez’s most famed offspring at the time but Watermelon Zkittlez is nipping at its heels quickly. The results that year for Moonshine Melts included winning six out of the top 10 places in the solventless hash category and four in the rosin category including first place.
Brandon emphasized they’d got to this point by doing it themselves, his family retains complete control of the companies. They now have the permit for Moonshine Melts manufacturing facility, another for a nursery, and one more for their mixed light grow.
“Everybody is playing their part, but right now above everything I’m proud of what I have done with the people around me,” Brandon said, “I hate to say I, I, I. Because it’s more like a team and everybody is involved. I have an accountant now bro!”
Brandon says one issue is the fact every few months there is a new piece of paperwork to deal with. “And so every time you come back with I did this, I did that, they’re like, “well we have a new form for that,” he said. Brandon admits he’s not the most schooled person, and the constantly changing regulations on top have provided for some stressful days. “I’m from the hills of Mendocino County. You try and make all these people up here do this, it’s just crazy to me.”
We asked if he thought his peers were sold on the idea prior to Election Night 2016 that things would be a bit easier. “I’ll tell you this, it was sold to us as you sign up, you pay the taxes, you’re good, it’s hunky dory. Some of that is legit, but then they made it hard.”
Brandon said the most surprising thing of the last 18 months is the fact the quality of concentrates has dropped a lot, but prices have remained the same. “One is quality control in handling the product for a long time, these people at dispensaries don’t know what they’re doing. You have to walk them through it and make sure they’re not ruining your name,” he said.
Brandon expects prices to drop with the higher-end brands as was always to be expected as they exited the black market and the risks that came with it.
“I feel very fortunate, and I don’t want to sound cocky, but I feel like I’m one of the only hash guys left still standing,” he said, “All my other homies are still on the other side of the fence [the black market] and it doesn’t look like they’re coming over. Maybe they’re going to trickle in.”
According to Brandon, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with consultants who were learning the regulations on his dime. “They were learning off my buck and I lost a lot of money, time, and missed out on a few permits,” he said, “now they’re out there making big dollars, while I have to go fix up what they left behind.”
We asked Brandon where he sees the market in another 18 months, three years into legalization. “When I got my license they said anyone who makes it three years is going to be in there, that’s what you got to last. Here it is two years in some of these. If you can last another year or so you’re in like Flynn, bro.”