It's got to be organic, and if you're not using an $800 vaporizer to inhale...

JULIA MCKINNELL

Where wine is concerned, there is much to know. Even the actor Paul Giamatti, who played a wine connoisseur in last year's hit movie Sideways, reportedly didn't know that the chianti he ordered at lunch during filming would be red. Legions of drinkers pore over the subject as if fact-gathering itself were the addiction. And so it is with another of the world's most popular intoxicants: marijuana. The average pot smoker may not know or care what type of weed is in the dime bag, so long as it gets him lit. But others can't stop obsessing over every detail of the subject from, say, how to produce kick-ass bubble hash from plant debris (don't throw away those sticks!) to questions about the Linnaean nomenclature of the subspecies cannabis indica.

Chris Bennett is a Vancouver-based producer at Pot TV and an expert on the history of cannabis. Not only can Bennett differentiate by scent pot strains such as Blueberry and Timewarp, he has a very particular preference for the type of buzz he's after. And we're not talking potency here (i.e. whether it's weak in THC or, at the other end of the mind-blowing spectrum, one of the so-called polio pots one grower describes as "vegetative heroin, so strong you can't move"). No, what Bennett cares about is whether the buzz causes a "high" or a "stone": two very different things. Bennett describes a "high" as a "bubbly situation brewing up with lots of thoughts and ideas," and in general arrived at by smoking the cannabis subspecies sativa. "A good working daytime thing," says Bennett. This, as opposed to a "stone," a more "meditative, focused, stiller mind," most often achieved by smoking the subspecies indica. Bennett prefers to get stoned. More specifically, he likes a strain of stone-inducing pot known as God Bud, which, incidentally, did Canada proud at last year's 17th annual world Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, where in years past Bennett has acted as a celebrity judge in the category of hash. Indeed, a God Bud from British Columbia took top honours, and reigns supreme as the world's best indica bud until this year's competition, from Nov. 20 to 24.

But to each his own -- sativa or indica; high or stoned -- the subculture of pot is opening up like never before. Pot connoisseurs are excited. "It used to be all we'd get was this really dry Mexican shit with lots of sticks and seeds," remembers a Vancouver grower, who's talking over the phone as if he's high but who claims, in fact, to be stoned. "Dan" started smoking pot in the '70s, before the notion of grow-ops and seed banks, and before he realized he could grow for himself a strain of indica so glistening with resin the bud looks like a "crystal ball" and sells for $2,000 a pound. Dan is passionate about growing. Get him going on genetic variation, and he sounds like a botanist. Get him going about the time his Green String took third at the Cannabis Cup and, well, he sounds a bit fried. He can't remember the exact year, but, whatever, it was a thrill.

Dan doesn't want his real name revealed because growing is illegal, but among non-growing pot connoisseurs, there is a surprising willingness to speak on the record. Michelle Rainey speaks with pride about her own recent addition to the pot festival circuit. Toker's Bowl in Vancouver is a four-day event in July that operates like a Cannabis Cup North, except more hands-on and intimate for the participants, says Rainey. Participants are given pot samples when they arrive and then have four days of organized bus tours, cruises and parties at which they sample the strains, take notes and ultimately grade the varieties. "It's just a wonderful event so that people can understand how marijuana works," says Rainey.

As with the importance of terroir in viticulture, pot connoisseurs care deeply about how their bud is grown. Dan, the Vancouver grower, explains that "hormonal and enzyme additives affect the taste, and it doesn't burn properly." Once Dan made the mistake of applying too much of a certain additive and the entire crop turned into a kind of non-burning "fire retardant." "A lot of people are growing B pot," he says. "If you're concerned with volume, there are a huge number of compromises. But if a person wants to have the best-tasting, the best-smoking, the triple-A pot, they've got to go the organic route." Dan uses indoor five-gallon pots under a maximum of eight lamps, eight being what he figures he can get away with before the hydro bill looks suspicious.

Then there's the question of how to smoke it. Oenophiles swear even the lowest-quality wine improves when sipped from Riedel stemware. By the same token, Bennett contends you're missing out if you're not inhaling from a vaporizer. A vaporizer costs around $800, weighs about six pounds and looks like a metallic volcano. "It forces hot air up through the marijuana, causing the resin to melt and turn into vapour. It tastes better, and there's no carbon or smoke, so the health dangers associated with smoking are removed." But wait. Whatever happened to the trusty bong? "I don't like bongs," says Bennett. "Bongs are a European thing, nothing the Canadian connoisseur would use."