How Pre-Rolls Lost Their Stigma & Became Everybody’s Fave

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Not to state the obvious, but pre-rolled joints are kind of having a moment. But that wasn’t always the case.

Though it’s hard to imagine it now, there was once a time in the not-too-distant past in which drinking rosé was considered gauche. Prior to the extended hot girl summer rosé has enjoyed over the last couple years, disdain for these sweet, young, delicately hued wines was pretty much unanimous: Rosé was for frivolous, unsophisticated women who didn’t know anything about wine. And the sentiment was so ubiquitous we could hardly distinguish the sexism and classism from a hole in the ground.

Anyway. I bring this up not to further contribute to the staggering number of think pieces written about the implications of pink wine’s glow up—or because I want to point out that everyone’s moved on to skin-contact wine now (a.k.a. “orange wine”)—but because the cannabis industry is presently having a return-of-the-rosé moment of its own with pre-rolled joints.

They’re good now, you guys. And don’t let some old school weed bro try and tell you otherwise.

To be fair, pre-rolls have a complicated history; their somewhat dubious reputation as bammer hot dogs is not for nothing. Prior to recreational legalization, many a medical dispensary would make pre-rolls out of the scraps they had no other use for, rolling up shake (the odd-end bits of cannabis that have fallen off the flower) and trim (plant debris such as leaves and stems that are lower in THC) and sticking it in a clunky plastic tube. These joints would then be marketed as either a wallet-friendly option or given away as promotional items, and it’s not unfair to say that during the heyday of medical dispensaries, the quality of a store-rolled joint could indeed be questionable.

But here’s the thing about joints, regardless of what’s inside them: If someone else has already rolled it, that means you don’t have to. And in the dawning era of recreational cannabis in which the demographic is expanding in every direction, convenience is quickly becoming queen.

“In the dawning era of recreational cannabis...convenience is quickly becoming queen. No longer relegated to the role of dispensary prize-wheel castoffs, pre-rolled joints have re-emerged in clever, well-designed packaging.”

Alongside the meteoric rise of discreet and easy-to-use vape pens, pre-rolls have struck a chord with customers who don’t care to roll their own joints or smoke flower from a pipe or bong, and the marketplace has responded accordingly. A 2019 BDS Analytics report placed pre-roll sales in California, Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington at $36.59 million—a number that only stands to increase as much uncertainty remains around vaping-related illnesses, and as former vape users (such as myself) seek a more analog, natural form of consumption. A recent survey conducted by Miss Grass found that joints were the preferred method of consumption for 50 percent of respondents.

Commence the golden era of convenient, premium pre-rolls. No longer relegated to the role of dispensary prize-wheel castoffs, pre-rolled joints have re-emerged in clever, well-designed packaging made to look like a chic pack of cigarettes or a cheeky tin of mints. But more importantly, there’s been a sea change when it comes to the quality of what’s inside a pre-roll; the days of Spam-like cannabis composed of shake and trim appear to be numbered.

Julia Jacobson, co-founder of Aster Farms, which specializes in sun-grown, sustainable flower and pre-rolls, puts it this way: “No pre-roll is top-notch unless it uses full flower only.”

The art of the joint

As anyone who has attempted to roll a joint for the first time will tell you, rolling the perfect doob is a lot harder than it looks. And while DIY joints can be a lovely, cost-effective ritual, the techniques brands have developed in order to produce pre-rolls at large scale have resulted in a premium product that’s pretty hard to beat.

“There is so much that goes into making a good pre-roll, and so much disparity between a bad, decent, and transcendent pre-roll,” says Imelda Walavalkar, CEO of Pure Beauty. “It’s much more science and art than you would think.” She emphasizes that the quality of the flower and the consistency of the grind is the “star of the show.”

Jacobson points out that in addition to the importance of achieving the proper consistency with the grind, it needs to be at the correct humidity: “The flower needs to be at about 10 percent moisture, and not too finely ground or else you won't be able to pull. It can’t be too loose or it will canoe and burn unevenly.”

Beyond that, there’s the actual filling of the joint itself, which Lex Corwin, CEO and founder of Stone Road, takes extra seriously; each joint is blasted individually with a handheld air compressor. “A lot of people aren’t willing to do that,” he says. “But if we’re not doing the very best we can, why do it at all?”

Not all pre-rolled joints are created equal

Despite this pre-roll renaissance we’re living in, brand founders are careful to emphasize that the marketplace’s transition from kitchen-sink joints to premium pre-rolls is far from complete; the attitude that garbage product can be pawned off onto novices who don’t know any better isn’t going to disappear overnight. And because you can’t physically see the flower that’s rolled up in a premade joint, it can be difficult to know whether or not you’re getting the good stuff.

“Go to a trusted shop with knowledgeable budtenders,” says Walavalkar. “Beyond that, obvious red flags include things like if it’s really cheap, that’s probably a sign. If it’s free with purchase, that’s probably a sign.” (And in fact, giving out free joints is also now illegal, which may mean that the dispensary you’re purchasing from may be sketch.)

Once you’ve found your pre-roll soulmate, Corwin recommends smoking it within five days, but adds that it’ll be good for a few months so long as you’re storing it in an airtight container and keeping it away from light. Jacobson notes that technically, cannabis doesn't go “bad,” but it loses potency over time and converts into CBN, which can have a sedating effect (and can serve as a useful sleep aid).

Keep it classic, keep it new

The broadening availability of all-flower pre-rolls means cannabis enthusiasts can double down on what we’ve always known to be true: Joints are pretty much the best. Aside from the aforementioned uncertainty surrounding vape pens, they’re arguably the most convenient and accessible and social form of fast-acting consumption.

“Joints are classic,” says Walavalkar. “You can't just casually bring your bong to the beach, though sometimes I'm honestly tempted. And for some, it's also a stylistic choice; while we think bongs are classy AF, there are many who will smoke joints all day but for whom bong rips are a little too dramatic or intimidating.”

“In many ways, pre-rolls are the best way to consume cannabis as a new user, because it puts you in control of your high.”

Jacobson points out that one also has more control over dosage compared to other forms of consumption. “You can control the dosage by taking as many or as few puffs as you want,” she says, “and you don't have to wait an hour to find out the effects like you do with edibles. In many ways, pre-rolls are the best way to consume cannabis as a new user, because it puts you in control of your high.”

For Corwin, joints harken back to eras of simplicity. “Vapes are so mechanical. I Juul’d for two months and I felt like I was sucking on a USB drive. I was doing this stupid pursed lips thing,” he says, laughing. “Joints are harkening back to that time where people would get around the campfire and share a fat doob and bond and laugh and have fun.”

It’s perhaps that sense of fun permeating these revamped pre-rolls that make them so exciting; in addition to flower and pre-rolls, some brands sell “cannabis cigarettes”—a product that differs from their pre-rolls only in an aesthetic sense. But it’s an important distinction to Walavalkar as far as the potential of pre-rolls’ place in cannabis culture goes.

“Although we personally are not tobacco cigarette smokers and are very aware of the dark history of the tobacco industry, we have always loved the form factor,” she says. “For us, the cigarette is objectively beautiful. It’s tactile. To take an archetypal shape out of context and reintroduce it as something else, there is an element of magic in that. We are redefining and reclaiming this for something that we believe in.” Same girl. Same.

Deena is the founder of Nouvella, an award-winning, independent publishing company. She was a finalist for the WeWork Creator Awards in 2017, and a recipient of the Girlboss Foundation Grant in 2015. Previously, she worked as an editor at Girlboss.