Adam Orenstein spent years cross-breeding marijuana plants before arriving at his proud new strain, a tall stalky plant frosted with white crystally hairs prized by growers and smokers.
But before releasing it to the public, he and his partners toiled over one of the most crucial steps: giving it the proper name.
"It's like any other business. Branding is so important," said Orenstein, 48, a "master cultivator" for Studio City dispensary Buds and Roses.
They eventually settled on Super Strawberry, a nod to the group's last award-winning strain, Strawberry Cough. The new plant, they say, has the same fruity aroma but a more balanced high, aimed at lifting users off the couch and inspiring creativity.
"Super Strawberry just rolls off the tongue," said Orenstein, a former editor at High Times magazine who is better known by his nom de guerre, Kyle Kushman. "With the names, we're trying to be a bit more sophisticated and less stonerish."
Pot has always commanded an abundance of nicknames. But with legalization taking it out from the shadows, purveyors of the pungent herb are christening their newest strains with the care of commercial marketers.
Don't expect meetings in a boardroom poring over a dictionary, though. Finding that perfect name often requires help from friends, a brainstorm session and copious amounts of weed.
"So many times we've finally got to the end of a strain, and we have it right there and it's done, and we're like 'What do we call it?'" said one of the co-owners of DNA Genetics, a leading cannabis seed bank in Amsterdam. "And we sit there and we call all our friends and smoke. That's a brainstorm session."
Striking the right handle matters. A memorable name like Purple Haze or Maui Waui can resonate for decades. It can also make the difference in today's crowded field of expertly grown pot, where one high is often as good as another. All marijuana is derived from two parent strains: indica, which is associated with a sleepy body high, and sativa, which is believed to make users more energetic. Hundreds of hybrids now exist, including Orenstein's Super Strawberry.
"If people associate a good experience with a particular strain, they'll talk about it and look for it by name," said Cy Scott, co-founder of Leafly.com, a directory of dispensaries and cannabis reviews."The more clever the name, the more interest."
Consumers now have hundreds of catchy varieties to choose from, including recent hits like Tangie, L.A. Confidential and Girl Scout Cookies. Tags often evoke a strain's smell, taste or potency. Many slap the words OG or Kush onto their strains in homage to OG Kush, one of the most famous strains of the last two decades. The effect is not unlike labeling a product "premium" or "deluxe" — even if isn't true.
Some also resort to gimmicks. Actor Charlie Sheen was bestowed with his own strain after a well-publicized personal and professional meltdown several years ago.
"Feels like I'm falling backwards even when I'm sitting still," read a Leafly user review of Charlie Sheen OG.
When CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta extolled the medical benefits of cannabis last year, a Colorado dispensary named a strain in his honor.
A year earlier, a strain called Blue Ivy began appearing on dispensary menus to celebrate the birth of Beyonce and Jay-Z's daughter. A Michael Phelps OG was also making the rounds in deference to the once pot-smoking Olympic swimmer.
The outlandish handles are the residue of an irreverent drug culture that won't change any time soon, say the Southern California-born owners of DNA Genetics, the Amsterdam seed bank.
"Back in the day, you'd see a dope dealer selling a 20-pack [20 pounds of marijuana] and they'll say, 'I have the right to name it because this is my market, so I'm going to call it Cotton Candy Spunky' or whatever you want to call it," said one of the company's owners, Don, who declined to give his last name. "That mentality hasn't changed. They now have dispensaries."
Don and his partner, Aaron, are responsible for developing some of the hottest strains in recent years, including Tangie and L.A. Confidential. It takes as many as three years to ready a new strain of seeds for sale. Only 1 in 10 test plants makes it to market. Some of their winners include Kosher Kush, Holy Grail Kush and Tora Bora, an especially potent variety geared toward "high tolerant smokers," the duo say.
Aaron, a former bike messenger, grew up across from the Beverly Center. He and Don recently mixed Kosher Kush with Star Dawg and came up with Kosher Dawg, also known as Hebrew National.
Several years ago, they crossed a strain called OG Chocolate Thai with another called Cannalope Haze. They called it D Line because the test plant was labeled with the letter D. It drew no interest. So they renamed it Chocolope.
"As soon as we switched the name to Chocolope, it became our bestselling strain," said Don, 39, a former plumber who grew up in Corona smoking obscure strains like Martian Mean Green.
The two partners are now compiling records of their plants' genetic makeup. The goal is to one day trademark their creations internationally. The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office briefly allowed people to register cannabis in 2010 before abruptly halting the practice and saying it was a mistake.
More pressing to the industry than trademarking is the lack of laws that require labeling and testing of marijuana in California. That means no one can be certain whether they're actually buying a container of White Widow or Super Silver Haze — or if it's another strain entirely.
Chemist Jeff Raber examined 1,500 samples of marijuana in California and found little genetic cohesion between varieties of the same name.
"It's just all over the map," said Raber, founder and president of the Werc Shop in Pasadena, a lab that tests cannabis for contaminants and the natural psychoactive ingredient known as THC (those frosty crystals on Orenstein's Super Strawberry).
"I think most of the time the name is just for marketing," he said. "We've also seen names often changed. So one week I have on the shelf cannabis name A. It doesn't sell. So I'll hide it for a day, bring it out under name B. All of a sudden it's very popular."
That poses a serious problem for the credibility of medical marijuana, Raber said.
"If I am a patient relying on finding Blue Dream to help me go to sleep at night, for example, then I need to find the right Blue Dream," Raber said. "It's unfair and unethical to me if someone says, 'Here's some Blue Dream,' because you're going to buy it but it's not going to provide the right medical assistance. In a medical context, that's the worst thing I can imagine."
Of course, with strains dubbed Green Crack, Trainwreck, Durban Poison and Chernobyl, there's also a perception problem for medical marijuana.
"I have heard of places rebranding Green Crack to Green Goddess to make it sound more medicinal," Scott of Leafly said. "I would anticipate that with more regulation there will be more standardization, and those names will drop off."