You can find reviews of just about anything online, in the newspaper, or on TV. Craft beer, wine, restaurants, music, electronics ... the list goes on. But there's one thing that almost nobody is reviewing professionally, even as the media seizes upon any opportunity to talk about it: cannabis.
There are no weed reviewers at any major newspapers in Canada, nobody judging what is good and bad, and nobody teaching consumers how to navigate the at-times confusing market of legal cannabis. Instead, reviewing cannabis is an online Wild West, where consumers are left to sift through what is credible information and what isn't.
Almost no media outlets provide consumers with information that speaks to whether certain cannabis products are good. And because of retailing restrictions, consumers have to buy cannabis without seeing or smelling the product. This means that every purchase, especially if it's something that the user hasn't tried before, amounts to a guess based on branding and the name. Without anybody critiquing the weed that's available to Canadians, nobody knows what to avoid.
Brad Martin, director of the marijuana market research firm Cann Standard, writes strain reviews that focus more on the tactile, material qualities of the marijuana in a blog called pancakenap. Martin is prolific with his reviews; he uploads a review just about every weekday. It is a hobby project, the kind that starts and stays small, but one that punches above its weight. When people talk about cannabis reviews in Canada, more often than not pancakenap is the first name that gets brought up.
In the early days of legal marijuana in Canada, Martin's site is one of the few sites dedicated to reviewing different strains available in the recreational market. And while he largely focuses on how well producers are growing their cannabis, Martin's blog is one of the few places that anyone can go to get a sense of the quality of any specific brand or strain of cannabis, including notes about its flavour, strength and (Martin's main focus) whether it was grown and harvested well.
“Thanks to opaque packaging, you get to buy this sight unseen. Pig in a poke, indeed,” one online reviewer, who goes by the handle BuzzDankyear, told Weedmaps News.
“When I first started out, I was really looking for what's in there, is this cultivar something that I think is cool — that's really the gravity that motivated the purchase,” Martin said. “Now that I'm seeing some of the more shocking conditions of the product, I'm restructuring more to an objective review, especially when it's negative.”
Those observations can cast some of Canada's largest and best-marketed producers in a far more negative light. His blog is like a cannabis hall of shame, where seed- and stem-filled strains are studied and exposed. He sees cannabis that's poorly grown, badly cured, and dried out. And he doesn't pull punches, either: In one recent review, he wrote that “most of what we've seen from this producer has been compromised, forgettable junk.”
Mainstream Media Start Covering Weed
Since legalization, many of Canada's publications have ramped up their cannabis reporting. The Globe and Mail produced an infographic on Oct. 17, 2018, the first day of national legalization, on how to roll a joint; the National Post offered an etiquette guide; and Maclean's rolled out its “Weed to Know” collection of explainers.
Most media outlets are providing information on how, when, and where you can smoke weed, but nowhere in Canadian media will you find anyone to tell you what to try, what to buy, or whether what you're smoking is good or bad.
The type of role that could fill that gap — the cannabis critic — has yet to appear in the Canadian mainstream journalism outlet. Instead, the grunt work of reviewing falls to bloggers like Martin, or anonymous reviewing services like Lift.
Some media outlets see no real need for these types of reviews. During an appearance on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) segment “The Investigators,” the Winnipeg Free Press' cannabis reporter Solomon Israel said that the paper “talked about the idea of maybe doing reviews after legalization,” but that he ultimately decided, “I'm not personally sure that I have the palate for that kind of thing.”
“There's a need for trusted reviews, in my opinion,” BuzzDankyear said. "Without any media coverage over these issues, good luck to a customer.”
Martin agrees, and sees room for the industry around reviewing and assessing cannabis to grow. “There's just a wealth of taste, and it's really one of my favorite parts of the review, is to taste the variety and try to write one or two sentences to try to describe how lovely it is,” Martin said. But could that growth mean a mass market appeal for cannabis?
“It depends,” Martin said. “I probably do [think so]. It depends on how long it is. You write a little blurb about something in the corner, I think that attracts people.”
But while the industry figures all of that out, the question of quality still goes unanswered. For consumers, this means that whatever they open when they go to smoke is a bit of a mystery.