In January, Kiara Lanee Malone, a 31-year-old boutique clothing shopkeeper from Missouri, was pulled over at Heathrow Airport and questioned by officers from the UK Border Agency after she’d stepped off a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles. She told them she was travelling to have cosmetic medical procedures.
They found 27.5kg of weed in her luggage – enough to get a large town stoned, we reckon. She pleaded guilty to importing Class B drugs last week and will be sentenced next month.
Seven days later, two more people (Barrington Walters, 24, from Los Angeles and Mandy Silowka, 34, from New Jersey) were also caught in similar circumstances. After being pulled over and questioned by the National Crime Agency (NCA), they were found to have luggage containing 33kg and 26.5kg of cannabis flower, respectively. Walters was sentenced to 10 months in prison and Silowka got a year at Isleworth Crown Court last week. The NCA claimed the estimated combined street value was of more than £1.7million (although the weed aficionados at leafie suggested it was closer to £1.1 million).
In total, nine Americans were arrested in the span of a week last January, suspected of importing the Class B drug through Heathrow Airport. “The convictions follow a spate of arrests involving seizures made from flights from the US,” the NCA said in a statement. “Cannabis grown legally in America attracts a premium price in the UK.” For years people in the UK have been going increasingly wild for weed imported from California (known as “cali”).
But while there’s a lot of genuine cali around, there’s also a stream of charlatans passing off any bud as cali. Confusingly, some people have simply started calling any top-shelf weed cali. To make it even more confusing, some people talk about “UK cali”, which is grown in the UK and has genetics associated with the legal Californian market. But “UK cali” doesn’t exist: it’s a contradiction in terms because cali is meant to mean imported from California.
For some, cali has just become a synonym for any good cannabis flower. But actual cali, that’s genuinely imported, can often go for anything from £70 to £100 for 3.5g. It’s a premium, almost designer product – the Dom Pérignon of weed, let’s say. To put that into context, the going rate for 3.5g of weed grown in the UK is around £30. To drive sales, the loose imported weed is often branded once it arrives in the UK using bright, excitable packaging featuring American health warning labels.
“Consumers are happy to part with cash for cannabis they believe to be grown to exacting standards by brands they know and trust,” says Kevin Dinneen, co-founder of leafie, who has written extensively on the topic. “Unfortunately, they have no way of knowing if their imported £70 eighth [3.5g] is the real deal or grown in a warehouse in Salford.
“It also indicates that many cannabis consumers in the UK aren’t massively clued up on the market, either because they don’t have access to sensible cannabis sellers or they lack the experience,” he continues. “Most people who have been smoking for years know that they don’t need to pay £50 to even £100 and over for an eighth [3.5g]. It could also be due to the ‘Instagram generation’ being blinded by the marketing and truly believing that you have to pay that much to get the best quality.”
“The world has gone absolutely nuts and not in a good way,” an old-skool weed purist in his 40s tells me. He worries that the cali trend is driving the cost of all weed up. “I got some [cali]. It was bagged up in fancy bags they called ‘cali packs’. I picked six different style bags but they all had the same weed in them. The people who are paying so much for cali are probably the same people who queue up for a bottle of PRIME.”
A dealer in Manchester started selling “cali packs” in 2020 at £70 for 3.5g. But the trend still perplexes him. “People passing weed off as cali when it isn’t is happening a lot,” he told me. “You can get stuff delivered from California, but if [the weed] is in the packets, people just think it’s dead legit.”
“You can import a cutting from California,” a source familiar with the grow scene in the UK told THE FACE. “But most cali weed in Britain is not cali weed. Most cali weed in Britain isn’t even cali genetics. Most weed in Britain isn’t what it claims to be.” But for the connoisseurs who do get hold of the real deal, it’s about more than the gimmicky bags. It’s partly about having weed that’s properly cured, flushed of nutrient buildup and not containing traces of heavy metals.
Are people becoming more discerning when assessing the quality of their weed?
“Thanks to the internet, consumers now have more choice than ever,” Dinneen says. “Around 20 years ago, most people bought weed from a guy who sold weed. The idea of having a menu of strains was the stuff of dreams, but now UK consumers are exposed to innovation and new products online, and they want to access those sorts of high-quality products here even though cannabis is still illegal.”
If quality assurance is a luxury only afforded to those who can pay loads for it (even for legal, medical cannabis patients in the UK who can only get private prescriptions), that’s evidence enough that the UK needs a regulated market. For now, though, save your pennies and ditch the cali weed. Chances are, you’re probably being ripped off.