What Is Exotic Weed?

Over the last five years or so, as the quality of cannabis in DC has improved, weed consumers may have noticed vendors changing their menu branding. What we used to call “top shelf” bud is now often referred to in buzzier terms like “designer” or “exotic.” 

“Top shelf” replaced “kind bud” when recreational legalization began. Kind bud had itself replaced “hydro” years ago, which was a step up from “beasters,” which basically meant mid-grade weed from Canada.

It makes sense to update the terminology for high-grade cannabis as the weed scene in DC blossoms with exciting offerings from elite growers. However, these newer terms for excellent bud don’t necessarily tell recreational consumers what, exactly, they’re buying and it can be hard to discern whether the “exotic” flower is actually worth your cash.

Label Shopping for Designer Buds

Many cannabis retailers and producers now offer “designer” flower packaged in colorful mylar bags with intricate designs. Like sugary breakfast cereals, many of the strains in these bags are almost indistinguishable from one another. Some are named nonsensical things like Key Lime Sprinklez Chimichurri (yes, this is a real name from a white label brand). What?! And because of the traditional market conditions in DC, consumers usually can’t see or smell the flower before taking it home, so they don’t know what they’re getting.

zaws runtz designer weed bag photo
Runtz was named the Strain of 2020 by Leafly.

If you look at a cross section of “exotic” flower offerings, you’ll find that a majority of them are different samples and expressions of the same Gelato (Sunset Sherb x GSC Thin Mints pheno) strain. Even Runtz (Zkittlez x Gelato), which was supposed to be the next big wave following Gelato, is thought to be a Gelato (33 pheno) bagseed with no Zkittlez-dominant expressions. Many of these cultivars are referred to as “exotic” just because they express a little bit (or a lot) of purple.

Is Purple Weed Better?

To understand why the expression “exotic” has become so desirable in retail cannabis, it’s important to understand what you should be looking for when procuring the highest-grade, most elite-smoking bud. In short, you want extensively bred genetics, grown indoors with a proper organic nutrient regimen. Enthusiasts and growers have long debated long about whether HPS or LED lighting systems are better, as well as hydroponic vs soil. However it’s grown, top-notch indoor cannabis should have a distinct bud structure, well-defined calyxes, strong size and density of cloudy-white trichomes, a distinct and familiar heady scent, and still be fresh. In the very best of the best buds, you’ll find no bent-over trichome heads, an excellent trim done by hand, and peak flavor. The purple expression in cannabis is sometimes a genetic expression of that particular cultivar, but in many cases is activated by lowering canopy temperature towards the end of the flowering stage. 

What does "premium designer cannabis" really mean?

In my mind, “exotic” is a misnomer — the biggest reason being that the most potent bud is often not purple or especially tropical-looking. In terms of genetics, many of the most outright potent strains fall under the Chem lineage, which includes Sour Diesel, Triangle Kush, OG Kush and other inbred lines and outcrosses. These strains hardly ever express in a way that evokes the modern “exotic” eye appeal. They usually have lime-green or neon-green calyxes, and an amorphous nug structure. They’re caked in resin, exceptionally pungent, and dense.

Exotic, Shmexotic

The designation of cannabis as “exotic” draws a comparison to exotic cars. It’s meant to elicit feelings of exclusivity and status. But there are two major issues with the branding strategy, as far as the DC consumer is concerned. First, the most elite bud — the true connoisseur smoke — is grown in small rooms and houses, not warehouses. It’s a legitimately exclusive product valued at dollar amounts that would make most people faint, monocles akimbo! $1000 an ounce is not unheard of.

Are the buds inside these Jungle Boys bags the real deal? You won't know until you pop the top.

Second, it’s easy to find bags from high-quality retailers online and put just about anything in them. A quick Google search of “Cali weed bags” led me to listings for bags from Cookies, Lemonnade, Backpack Boyz, Runtz, Cali X, Jokes Up, Jungle Boys, Cannatique, Dime Bag, Doja Pak, Insane, Connected and Alien Labs, just to name a few. It’s become something of a meme on weed Instagram that if you’re not careful, you’ll get scammed by a pretty bag with Ice Cream Cake light deps in it. This is why knowing the signs of counterfeited products is crucial for cannabis enthusiasts.

So pretty — on the outside, at least.

The truth is that it’s actually not difficult in most traditional markets to find imported flower from elite brands. Some of the biggest brands in North America have built up their reputation and customer base by distributing products on the traditional market. And some of the most reputable vendors in DC carry unbranded samples of the same flower sold at top retail stores in California. “Backdooring” flowers from retail stores for the traditional market is common practice. Following Instagram chains can help you figure out which vendors are working with which distribution operations, and which brands those operators are connected to. Usually the vendors with the highest-quality, most reputable products won’t hide their connections with the best brands, but they won’t showboat about it either.

The Takeaway on Designer Weed in DC

Obviously, it’s kind of ridiculous that the average DC consumer should have an encyclopedic knowledge of brands, strains, genetic expressions and bag designs in order to get the greatest cannabis there is. Hopefully consumers will also feel relieved that for the most part they shouldn’t have to do so to find the very best bud. Retail brands almost all produce cannabis in large warehouses with automatic processing, hundreds (if not thousands) of lights, and more hands touching the plants than the total number of people you’ve smoked with in your life. A lot of retail brands like to say that the love for the plants is scaled up, but flower packed tightly in mylar bags and shipped across the country couldn’t possibly be the same quality as flower you get directly from a small operation that carefully handles the plant every step of the way, and delivers it fresh for high-quality enjoyment.