As retail markets evolve and settle, little doubt remains that concentrates are leading sales trends. In Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California, according to BDS Analytics, concentrate cartridge sales leapt from $446 million in 2016 to $610 million in 2017.
That growth has been ascribed to the discreet, new-user-friendly nature of vaping. Under that umbrella of concentrate cartridges is a further consumer inclination: The higher THC content found in distillates is attracting more sales than the butane hash oil that has led certain market for the past few years, according to BDS Analytics. See the BDS Analytics chart for Oregon below.
Distillation takes classic extraction processes one step further. Refined hash oils are vaporized and cooled to isolate certain compounds in the plant’s chemistry, such as THC. In simple terms: Producers heat the oil to a temperature that boils a desired compound, then move that gas to a separate beaker or container and cool it to a solid form.
Cannabinoids boil at different temperatures, allowing those producers to identify exactly which compound they will isolate. THC vaporizes at 157 degrees Celsius (314.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The result is an odorless, tasteless extract that resembles translucent, golden honey. The clarity reflects the lack of leftover compounds, such as chlorophyll, or solvents.
As the cannabis industry bends more and more into a commodities market, this pure cannabinoid product displays nearly limitless potential. Distillate can be incorporated into the full spectrum of cannabis products on the market today—and unrealized concepts yet to be developed.
Much of the distillate and concentrate market comprises private businesses operating proprietary technology. For instance, one of the leading manufacturers is The Clear.
In late April, The Clear launched its product line in Nevada. With nine state markets on its budget books—and three more in the offing—The Clear has become a nearly ubiquitous concentrate brand in the U.S.
Justin Pentelute, CEO of EvolutionZ Consulting, says that The Clear has grown efficiently by harnessing the similarities of those state markets. “The Nevada market,” he says, “closely emulates the Arizona market. Whenever you have the political and regulatory framework consistent with what we’re already familiar with … it just makes it to where you can essentially cookie-cutter models that we already have.”
Through trial and error, The Clear has landed on a winning business strategy, Pentelute says.
And it all started in a basement in Long Beach, California.
A chemist, a salesman and an engineer teamed up in the early 2010s to find novel methods to extract cannabinoids from the plant. By refining their equipment and developing proprietary technology, “They created what most people today are calling distillate,” Pentelute says.
Once the three founders had the proprietary recipe nailed down, they formally launched the company in 2013. The team brought on a fourth partner, who was well versed as a flavorist. The Clear’s flavor line grew rapidly: The company now sells red apple and lobster butter vape cartridges, among others. (As a note to the distillate-curious: Because the process isolates a single compound, any amount of THC distillate will contain zero terpenes. Supercritical fluid extraction, which uses CO2, for example, may retain up to 10-percent terpene content.)
A few years later, Pentelute and EvolutionZ joined The Clear team and brought a more business-oriented angle to the company. They started licensing their products nationwide; now, you can find The Clear in more than 2,000 dispensaries, Pentelute says. “I think it’s very clear, everyone agrees that concentrates and vaping applications are and have been the fastest growing subcategory or one of the fastest growing subcategories in the industry,” he adds. “As the industry matures and the stigma lifts, more people are going to be compelled to buy this kind of product. It’s very discreet.”
And Pentelute insists that consumers (and manufacturing partners) think beyond the bounds of vaping. The Clear, he says, is built as a tool, essentially—an ingredient that can be used in any number of applications. Add it to your mise en place when cooking up dinner, for instance.
“Creativity is left to your imagination in how you can use this product,” Pentelute says.
Top photo courtesy of The Clear/Sara Dilley