STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Now that marijuana is in the open in some places, so is marijuana marketing. Dispensaries across California sell medical marijuana. Pot sellers promote their product as providing better highs and shorter lows. One dispensary even sells a variety that it promises will not get you stoned. The advertising is the latest focus in our series, The New Marijuana. Sarah Varney reports from member station KQED.
SARAH VARNEY: The doors have just opened for the day at Harborside Health Center, a pot dispensary in Oakland, and dozens of customers line up to look at the marijuana neatly displayed behind a glass counter.
INSKEEP: Unidentified Man #1: What's the best ones that you've got?
INSKEEP: The best Kush I have today is the pineapple Kush.
VARNEY: Weed aficionados say the pot bred in 2010 is far more powerful than the skunk weed baby boomers might remember from their college dorms. Still, marijuana users, like wine connoisseurs, contend that different strains of cannabis - however strong - have their own unique taste, aroma and euphoric experience.
STEVE DEANGELO: Have you ever seen the CannaBible?
VARNEY: Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside, opens a gorgeous book with luscious, arty photos of cannabis varietals. The descriptions read like something out of a Robert Parker wine review.
DEANGELO: Lush and spicy, she is reminiscent of Kali Mist, yet fatter and with a little more body. The high is up and giggly and long-lived as well. I was baked for four hours after smoking some.
VARNEY: Marijuana advocates say more aggressive efforts to brand and market cannabis strains is a sign their movement is gaining legitimacy. But they say if California becomes the first state to legalize and tax pot, the day is not far off when multinational companies and their Madison Avenue advertisers will compete for market share.
FRANK LUCIDO: Well, I see a lot of people positioning themselves to try to be the next Seagram's.
VARNEY: Frank Lucido is a family physician in Berkeley and a vocal advocate in the medical community for cannabis.
LUCIDO: You know, just as before Prohibition fell, a lot of people that were selling, you know, alcohol illegally were trying to get the market share that they either already had or would get.
VARNEY: Not everyone is happy with the newfound attention. Harborside Executive Director DeAngelo says efforts to brand and market cannabis products defile the movement's reputation.
DEANGELO: It would not be a good idea for us to put cannabis into the hands of companies that are going to spend 20 times as much money creating a market on promoting the product as they do on actually producing that product.
VARNEY: There are no state consumer protections for those who shop at marijuana dispensaries, and even the same strain of cannabis varies from batch to batch. So the dispensary recently began sending samples of its inventory to a chemistry lab down the street in Oakland. The lab was founded by two former pot growers.
DAVE LAMPACH: You would put a sample into the machine in a sterile bag, and then you would just turn it on.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE)
VARNEY: The lab's president, Dave Lampach, says Steep Hill tests marijuana from all over California for potency, mold, even pesticides.
LAMPACH: Well, it's important to know what's in the products you're consuming.
VARNEY: For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney.
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