Long before states began to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, California was building its reputation for primo weed. Today, it’s as engrained with the state’s culture as Hollywood and Disneyland. Critics who wonder if the reverence bestowed upon California’s cultivars is deserved are instantly silenced after their first taste of the Emerald Triangle’s world famous export. Some may sing the praises of Amsterdam’s coffee shops, others are suckers for some Afghani hashish, but in the end, everyone ends up belting out, “I wish they all could be California buds.” It’s fitting that the Golden State would turn green to gold with an almost supernatural Midas Touch (Mendocino County alone is raking in an estimated $1 billion in annual weed sales), but there’s a more interesting set of reasons behind California’s green gold rush than simple Hocus Smokus. So why is California cannabis consistently the best in the world?  

The First Generation of Emerald Triangle Growers

While cannabis is grown all over the state today, most of the product that earned California cannabis its sterling reputation comes from the Emerald Triangle, a region of Northern California so named for its tendency to produce unbelievably great bud. The Emerald Triangle encompasses three counties that are legends in their own right: Trinity, Mendocino and Humboldt.  But this area didn’t become the famous Emerald Triangle overnight. Long before medical cannabis was even being considered by California, graduates of the Summer of Love were settling into the region and using its seclusion to grow their own stuff. But these originators weren’t just hobbyists… they already had techniques. And as they gained a better understanding of the unique climate, growing conditions and rich soil of the region, those techniques evolved. Esoteric knowledge about cannabis cultivation was passed down the family lines of these pioneers for generations with many of today’s farmers of the Emerald Triangle being direct descendants of that first wave of green thumbs that settled into the region in the late ‘60s. 

High Pressure Leading to Green Diamonds

But it’s not just storied techniques that make these growers so special. There’s a unique set of traditions to which they religiously adhere and a type of passion that only comes from prizes that are hard fought and hard won. These farmers weren’t just living peaceful lives honing their cultivation techniques in seclusion. They were embroiled in a constant, often bloody and always senseless war with the U.S. government. In the War on Drugs, cannabis was (and continues to be) classified as a Schedule 1 substance, bafflingly putting it in the same league as heroin. So, not only were these farmers evolving their cultivation techniques over the years in brilliant ways… they were doing so under wartime conditions.  

How is the Emerald Triangle Farmed Differently? 

While these innovators of cultivation aren’t going to give away their trade secrets, it’s public knowledge that the Emerald Triangle’s farmers have scrutinizing knowledge about strain genetics and have driven California cannabis to be the best in the world. They’ve adapted their own unique methods of pest control, crop logistics, and working with the micro-climate instead of trying to dominate it. They know how to deter the diseases that ravage cannabis crops including rot and mold. They even understand how to balance the environment with the crop for a symbiotic, sustainable relationship that promotes a lifecycle instead of the constant straining pull on the land enacted by irresponsible farmers. 

The Ultimate Collaboration

For some readers, this may just sound like the standards of cultivation. But you’ve likely never worked with a land as rich as that in the Emerald Triangle. Just as arid desert environments are so integral to the characteristics of certain landrace Afghani strains, the micro and macro-climates of Northern California are forever entwined with the essence of California cannabis. This respect for the land is sacred in the Emerald Triangle; a bond that transcends industry and community and runs deep into culture. Most farmers would agree that the land sets the rules and that their techniques are methods of respectfully communicating with it… honoring it even. In this way, the signature of the Emerald Triangle itself overshadows the farmer with the cannabis produced being a collaborative effort between man and nature.

The Dawn of California Cannabis Appellations 

California cannabis is special but, as of 2020, this isn’t just an opinion. This was when California made history by passing appellation laws for cannabis, a distinction previously reserved primarily for wine. Napa Valley, somewhat of a neighbor to the Emerald Triangle, provided a guide of sorts for cannabis appellations, but the most instantly recognizable example of appellation law would be that of France’s Champagne region which holds the exclusive right to call their product “champagne” while everything else is simply sparkling wine. But appellation offers more than a copyright. It’s an unbiased acknowledgment that a product is dramatically distinguished in quality and character by the region in which it was produced as well as the practices used to produce it. 

Authenticating the Terroir of the Emerald Triangle

Appellations, whether they be for wine, chocolate, cannabis or anything in between, are largely dependent on a region’s terroir; a term that, to put it in a simplistic way, encompasses the character of the soil, climate and topography of a specified region. The California Cannabis Appellation Program allows small batch craft cannabis companies to apply for appellation for their product which will basically come in the form of a symbol on the cannabis packaging. This official symbol affirms that the cannabis in question has met the discerning standards required to represent the terroir of a particular region (in this case, the counties of the Emerald Triangle). It adds an authenticity that the farmers of the Emerald Triangle have been hoping to establish for years in an industry that often seems stuck between regulations and, to stoke a cliche, the Wild, Wild West.   

The Nexus Point That Makes California Cannabis Possible

So, what exactly makes the Emerald Triangle such fertile ground for California cannabis? Sometimes, even just looking at the cannabis plants grown in the region can indicate that the area is special. Some farmers even boast looming plants nearly triple their height, too monstrous for your standard growhouse. But it’s not just one factor that lends to the unparalleled growth of cannabis in this verdant terrain. A nexus of several auspicious influences facilitates a quality of cannabis that the rest of the world can’t possibly match in the foreseeable future… if ever. In the Napa Valley, the wine owes its flavor nuances to the region’s unique geology. But in the Emerald Triangle, it’s a combination of Pacific marine fog adding a robustness to a climate similar to the Mediterranean regions. The terroir of the Emerald Triangle, combined with the seasoned knowledge, esoteric techniques and almost spiritual philosophy of veteran cannabis cultivators combines to make California cannabis a product without match. 

The High Price of Quality 

If you’ve purchased authentic cannabis from the Emerald Triangle from your local California weed shop, you’ll likely remember that the higher quality comes at a significantly higher price than weed grown elsewhere in the Golden State. Land in the region has been skyrocketing in value dating back at least as far as 2016 as a direct result of the burgeoning cannabis industry. It seems like a product that demands as much as it gives, but this cycle remains vital to the farmers of the Emerald Triangle. In fact, many would love to see cultivators outside of the region adopt sustainable methods that honor and cherish the gifts of the land. But the Emerald Triangle seems to be its own mysterious realm seasoned with rules and traditions that make their otherworldly crop more than a product of terroir. 

Established by the historical legalization of medical cannabis in 1996, California’s status as the mecca of cannabis was called into question when Colorado led a bevy of other states in legalizing recreational use until California finally followed in 2016. Will appellation laws find the Emerald Triangle leading California to an undisputed all-time championship? The future’s never guaranteed but as it stands, California cannabis remains the best the world’s ever had and it only seems to be getting better.