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Opinion: Let us smell the legal cannabis for sale, dammit! – Leafly

January 31, 2020

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smelling cannabis before buying

The nose knows: Legalization must include the right to sniff. (contentdealer/AdobeStock)

Comedian and commentator Ngaio Bealum hosted the smash-hit Netflix show Cooking on High,  and currently hosts the cannabis trivia app Daily Bonfire. A cannabis journalist and world traveler, Bealum opines on the missing freedoms of legalization. 

Leafly welcomes op-ed contributions from industry and political leaders on a range of topics related to cannabis.


“Follow your nose.” This has always been rule number one for finding good weed.

Before people even knew what a terpene was, before THC percentages were printed on the side of the jar, before regulations made finding quality cannabis an unnecessary gamble, the “follow your nose” principle has helped good people find good cannabis.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to follow this one simple rule now that cannabis is legal. Cannabis overregulation in many states has removed the time-honored tradition of opening the baggie and taking a good whiff. This has to end. We need to bring back the deli counter-style cannabis dispensary.

Smelling is medically important

This isn’t just emotions talking. This is science. Terpenes are aromatic compounds that give cannabis its flavors and effects. Different terpenes have different aromas. There’s a reason for that, and the reason is that weed loves us and wants us to be happy.

Your budtender can give you good advice—especially if you have taken the time and effort to find a budtender whose taste in cannabis resembles yours. But a budtender will never know you better than your own nose. Never ever.

Sure, there are states that pay lip service to cannabis commerce’s oldest ritual. But even in states where regulations allow “sniffers”—as the industry calls it—all too often the selection is stale or limited.

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In places that let you smell, legal cannabis consumers have to attempt to sniff the eensiest bit of dank aroma from a tiny hole in a jar. It doesn’t work. You can’t smell the weed! It’s a frustrating waste of time.

You know the feeling you get when you open a big jar of cannabis and the aroma just explodes through the room?

Where the people standing next to you, or sometimes 10 feet away from you, start to smile?

Maybe someone says something like, “Da-yum! That shit is LOUD!”

We need to bring that back.

Cannabis is like wine, cigars, or fruit

Many regulators in legalization states want to treat cannabis like cigarette tobacco, where the brand is the brand. A Marlboro is a Marlboro everywhere you go.

But weed is way more like wine or cigars: If you give two different cannabis growers the same plant, the weed they grow will smell and taste different. There will be similarities, but the differences will be noticeable. Think of it like a Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich versus one from Chick-Fil-A. Still chicken, but waaaaay different. It’s the same with weed.

A Blue Dream grown outdoors in Mendocino has a different aroma and flavor than one grown indoors in Palm Desert. And just like wine grapes can have “off” years, the same weed farmer can grow the same strain twice and get two different results.

Perhaps I am belaboring the point. But you get the gist. There is only one way to know which strain is likely to be one you really enjoy.

(OK: Two ways—but regulators won’t let dispensaries allow people to fire up free samples any time soon).

You got to LET PEOPLE SMELL THE WEED BEFORE THEY BUY IT! For the love of all that is holy. Is this too much to ask?

There is nothing you can say to make me change my mind. “The Pursuit of Happiness” is listed as an inalienable right in the Declaration of Independence. Well, I pursue happiness by finding great-smelling cannabis flowers.

No smell = Misallocated resources

How can I find a bargain if I can’t smell the weed? How do I know if that top-shelf, $70-a-freaking-eighth bud is worth me working 10 hours at federal minimum wage, if I don’t know what it smells like?

A farmers market will let you taste a cherry or two before you buy it. The fancy Cigar Shop will let you twirl umpteen different Maduro blends under your nose until you find the one you want. But I can’t stick my nose in a bag of weed? It’s almost Unamerican.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. I’m old enough to remember when “bag appeal” was a prime selling point. Some traditions are too important to let go of.

Please, regulators. Please. Look into your hearts, and bring back the deli-style cannabis club.

Deli-style cannabis: Yay or nay? Share your perspective in the comments below.


Where is ‘deli-style’ adult-use cannabis shopping legal?

  • California—Banned
  • Washington—Banned
  • Oregon—Allowed
  • Colorado—Banned
  • Illinois—Banned
  • Massachusetts—Allowed
  • Alaska—Allowed

—compiled by David Downs


Loud houses: selected US dispensaries serving cannabis ‘deli-style’

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Ngaio Bealum's Bio Image

Ngaio Bealum

Ngaio Bealum is an American comedian, musician, writer, actor, activist, juggler and publisher. He hosted the Netflix show Cooking on High, and hosts the trivia app Daily Bonfire. He writes columns in the Sacramento News & Review, and Cannabis Now, answering questions from readers about marijuana and the politics of legalization.

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