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This article was published 10/1/2019 (280 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
From YouTube videos to crowdsourced review aggregators, the internet is flooded with cannabis enthusiasts who dabble in criticism, each with their own take on which bud is the dankest of all.
But success as a weed reviewer takes more than just a laptop, a bong and an opinion, according to Jake Browne, the former cannabis critic for The Denver Post and its cannabis website The Cannabist. Browne estimates he reviewed more than 100 varieties of cannabis between 2013 and 2017, a gig that pushed his writing chops to the limit.
"There's only so many times that you can describe the green hue of something before you need to start getting pretty creative," he jokes.
But creativity is just the beginning. Even though Browne's reviews drew on a thorough knowledge of cannabis genetics, breeding and chemistry, he says he always tried to write for cannabis neophytes, not just longtime users.
"They're probably the broadest audience in cannabis," he says.
Browne's reviews often explored the effects of different varieties of marijuana — a topic that's important to users (especially newbies), but is also highly subjective.
"I think that's what makes cannabis so fascinating to me, that there are such a broad range of experiences that people can have," he says.Advertisement
Feedback from readers (not always positive, he says) helped Browne fine-tune his approach to experiential weed reviews. He often tried to remind readers that cannabis affects everyone's physiology differently.
Other aspects of Browne's reviews were based more on observable traits of cannabis, especially odour. Smell is the key to forming an opinion of marijuana and determining whether it was produced properly, he says.
Nearly three months into legalization, no mainstream Canadian media outlet has launched cannabis reviews like Browne's, but Calgarian Brad Martin is doing it on his own, penning his own in-depth, exceptionally readable criticism of legal Canadian cannabis.
Martin, a medical cannabis user, started reviewing cannabis through Canadian weed website Lift.com. Now, he publishes reviews on his personal website Pancakenap.com. (The quirky name is "a lazy palindrome," he explains.)
Nobody pays Martin to review cannabis — it's a passion project that combines his love of writing with an interest in botany and cannabis. Since September, he's spent more than $1,300 buying legal cannabis to review.
"I hope consumers are using them to form their own opinions, and decide if it's worthwhile for them to spend their money on it or not," he says.
Unlike Browne, Martin doesn't judge the effects of the cannabis he's reviewing, because it's not quantitative.
"I talk about things that you can touch, taste, smell and see," he says, explaining his philosophy that olfactory information such as scent and taste plays a huge role in how people experience cannabis.
Martin focuses on flavour in particular, and usually tests cannabis with a vaporizer instead of smoking it.
"It's more clear, you can really get to know the orchestrations of taste, instead of the muted profile that comes through behind a combustion reaction," he says.
Like Browne, however, Martin taps into his understanding of cannabis genetics to explore the implications of a cultivar's origin. Reviewing cannabis without discussing its lineage is "like talking about the book, but leaving out the author," he says.
Martin is also the director of CannStandard, a cannabis data company that tracks and analyzes prices of legal Canadian weed. He uses that vast trove of data to make value for money a recurring theme in his reviews.
In Martin's opinion, Canada's legal weed market isn't quite ready for professional cannabis reviews on a national level since inventory and availability remain inconsistent across the country.
"People might be buying whatever they can get, still," he says.
Erstwhile weed critic Browne hasn't been to Canada since legalization, but says good cannabis reviews are "absolutely critical" in the Canadian context because legal Canadian cannabis is sold in sealed, opaque packages. (Marijuana dispensaries in Colorado generally let customers see and smell the bud they want before they buy it.)
For Browne, the best cannabis reviews adhere to the same journalistic standards as any other kind of product review. When he was reviewing weed, he never accepted free or discounted products, didn't review anything from people with whom he had a personal relationship, and disclosed any potential conflicts of interest to his readers, he says.
"You can have all the YouTube reviewers or podcasters talking about what kind of cannabis they recommend, but they're under no obligations or ethics rules that guide how they approach this," he says.
Browne's well aware that being a professional weed reviewer sounds like a dream job, and he still gets inquiries from people seeking career advice, but after years of rendering judgment on bud, Browne's not looking back.
"I know the other former weed reviewer in town, and neither of us smoke that much anymore," he says.
"At the end of the day, it's a fun job, but it's still a job. And ninety per cent of the people that I talk to that want to be a cannabis reviewer have no interest in writing. What do you think this is?"
Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 4:21 PM CST: Corrects erroneous word "qualitative" to "quantitative".