Where does traditional hashish fit in the modern cannabis industry?
If you looked at just the percentage of sales for hashish in the modern cannabis marketplace — a mere 0.2% of total revenue — it doesn’t really seem like much.
But you’d also be missing the point.
“The whole story is that it’s not something that everybody’s into, but there’s a group of people that are,” says Shawn Richards, co-founder and CEO of Sitka Hash House in Washington. “The guy that comes in the store that wants hash? He’s coming in for hash.”
“A true niche is something that has a built-in market,” he says, noting that for fans of the traditional concentrate, few other forms hit the same. “I don’t really smoke flower, just hashish.”
Other hashmakers — all of whom are fans first — agree.
“I’m drawn to hashish over other concentrates simply because it’s the most natural; it’s an unadulterated expression of the plant,” says Joel Cameron, founder and CEO of Greenery Hash Factory in Colorado.
“I can’t imagine not smoking hash as part of my normal routine,” says Zahra Kohl, chief financial officer of American Hash Makers in Washington. “Hash gives you the full body calm feeling that is really unparalleled to other extracts.”
“If you’re looking for a really great flavor and tradition, and a unique experience to add to your arsenal of cannabis products that you have at home, it’s one of those things you have to have,” says Nicholas Saad, co-founder and hashmaker at Sitka. “It transports you back in time.”
The Legend, Frenchy Cannoli
Perhaps no one is associated with the modern hash market more than the late Frenchy Cannoli, who spent eight seasons learning his craft in Morocco, Nepal, India and other places before taking his knowledge back to Europe and eventually the United States to spread the gospel of hash.
“He loved to travel, but he also loved hashish,” says Kimberly Hooks, who was married to Frenchy for 41 years before his 2021 death. Hooks is CEO of the Frenchy Cannoli Brand, a California company now dedicated to hash education. “He pretty much quickly realized that in order to smoke the best quality, you needed to make it yourself.”
Through speaking engagements, magazine articles, YouTube videos and in person, Cannoli, who eventually settled in California, helped kindle the spark for traditional hash wherever he went, in part through his “Lost Art of the Hashishin” seminars.
“Frenchy first came to California about 20 years ago,” Hooks says. “Many farmers were throwing their trim away or feeding it to their livestock. And he quickly pointed out the bounty that was there on the leaves of the material.”
Many of Cannoli’s students and apprentices still work in the California industry today, using his methods to produce hashish and teach others.
Born Didier Camilleri in Nice, France, in 1956, Cannoli first tried hash at 17 and found a sense of well-being he was missing.
“He used to say it made him feel like he was enveloped in a snuggly blanket in front of a warm fire, that it just was like this coziness, smoking traditionally aged hashish,” Hooks says.
At 18, he left home on what would become an 18-year journey to learn the secrets of hashmaking from masters around the world, including in the legendary and secluded Malana Valley of India, where he would sleep in caves or lean-tos during his time there. He gained his pseudonym from the way he would roll resin like the Italian pastry, a technique he showed in his videos and teachings.
According to Hooks, Cannoli became a bit disillusioned with the industry toward the end of his life, with its pursuit of profits over product leading to a spike in oil extracts instead of the traditional product he’s loved his whole life.
Cannoli died July 8, 2021, from complications during surgery. He was 64. But his name and teachings live on in the Frenchy Cannoli Brand, now focused on teaching Frenchy’s technique and helping both spread his love of hash and keep his name alive. Frenchy’s videos are widely available on the internet with the company working to translate them into as many languages as possible so others around the world can learn from the master. Hooks also hosts showings of the documentary “Frenchy Dreams of Hashish,” from filmmaker Jake Remington. She is also editing a book Cannoli was working on at the time of his death.
“Frenchy was very actively part of a renaissance of traditional hash culture,” Hooks says. “He had so much love for the plant.”
— Brian Beckley
But despite all of its unique characteristics and dedicated audience, the simple fact remains that hashish sales only total $14 million per year in the United States, according to data from Headset. It’s a tiny fraction of the $27 billion industry, making it primarily a labor of love for the handful of companies still producing thick bricks of a dark, gooey substance most still associate with hippies, the coffee shops Amsterdam or foreign lands, shrouded in mystery and conflict.
“The biggest problem is that hashmaking is not profitable,” says Kimberly Hooks, widow of hashmaker extraordinaire Frenchy Cannoli and CEO of the company that bears his name, which is now focused on education, instead of producing hashish.
“If we were making the same amount as the people who are making those vape cartridges, nobody would be smoking that stuff,” she says. “Everybody would be consuming the traditional hashish; the experience is so much better.”
Made by removing the trichomes from the flower and then using heat and pressure to form bricks, the history of hashish traces back to the Hindu Kush region, named for the mountain range that stretches from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to the western Himalayas.
Small, potent and highly durable, bricks of hash were easily packed with travelers along the overland routes from the old world, gaining popularity across the globe, particularly in Europe where it became a mainstay of the continent’s cannabis community, including the coffee shops of the Netherlands, where its tourists the world over flocked for samples.
“It’s made, basically, to smuggle,” Saad says. “You couldn’t smuggle giant pot plants around, (so) you just turn it into a concentrate and take those into Europe.”
In America, where there’s more open space to grow and fewer international borders to sneak through, hashish has always taken a backseat to flower.
“It was just easier to have flower here,” Saad says. “And that’s what everybody got used to.”
But many who get a taste keep going back, like Saad’s business partner, Richards, who remembers getting hashish in Vermont in the early 2000s, when the conflict in Afghanistan provided a conduit for the product to get back to the states.
“The product is so different in its effect,” Richards says.
Richards sold hash back in his East Coast days, but when they decided to go into the cannabis business, he and Saad were not at all focused on making hash. They turned to it when the machine they were using to make cannabis cigarettes would jam, which it did constantly, and left them with a surprising amount of kief, the key ingredient for making hash.
“One day I said, ‘Selling dry kief is for people that don’t know how to make hash,’” says Saad, who remembers first trying hash as a rare alternative to bud in the 1990s. “So I just took it upon myself to learn to make it.”
Many other modern hashmakers also got started because they simply couldn’t find it elsewhere.
“Hash has been one of those things that people couldn’t get a hold of in traditional markets and was kind of a rare product that our circle was really fond of,” says Andrew Kohl, founder and co-owner of American Hash Makers. “So we started making it ourselves for our dispensary.”
In Colorado, a similar problem led Cameron to found the Greenery Hash Factory in 2017.
“We only started making it to sell in our dispensary because we couldn’t find it anywhere on the wholesale market,” he says, adding that he always saw the solventless side of the concentrate market growing as consumers learned more about how their products were made. “Traditional hashish has been made and consumed safely for thousands of years, but before The Hash Factory came along, it wasn’t possible to purchase real hashish in Colorado legally.”
Processes and modern mixes
There are multiple ways to make what is classified today as hashish, though every technique starts with a solventless extraction method.
Many hashmakers today — including the late Cannoli — favor the “bubble hash” method in which water is used to shake free the trichomes. The Greenery Hash Factory, however, uses a traditional, dry-sift method of making its hash.
“We stay as true to tradition as possible; both the Moroccan and the Lebanese start with dry-sieved kief,” Cameron says, adding that with the Moroccan, the kief is heated to decarboxylate the cannabinoids, making them active, before it is hand-rolled into dark, musky 1-gram balls. The company’s Lebanese hash uses only heat and pressure to create the traditional bricks that people remember — dark outside, blonde inside with a brighter flavor. “Smokers can tell the difference.”
Andrew Kohl has a long history with hash; he says his mother used to smuggle it from Iran to England back in the day. He first learned to make hash from a friend who learned the process in Kabul in the 1950s, using a small club to beat sacks of cannabis flower like a drum in order to remove the trichomes. And though American Hash Makers still offers the traditional “hippie hash,” most of its hash products use ice water to break open the trichomes.
The Kohls understand the allure of the old world, but are proud of their methods and chose their company’s name in part to highlight the updated product form they offer, including selecting and creating strain-specific hashish, advertised with the slogan “old school meets new school.”
“It’s not Lebanese hash anymore, it’s not Moroccan hash anymore, because we made it here,” he says. “It may be an old-world style, but it’s really a new-world market.”
Saad, whose heritage is Lebanese, turned to the internet to learn the basics of hashmaking, but has since perfected a proprietary method that still begins with a dry sift, but blends in some fresh kief and “offers the broad spectrum of flavor and terpenes” while retaining the color and texture associated with quality hash.
Sitka has also updated its traditional offerings, creating a product called “Cascade Cream” in Washington and “Coastal Cream” in California, where the company also operates. Saad created these products by mixing the company’s traditional hash with a concentrate found in abundance locally — rosin in Washington and live resin in California — to create a new product with hash-like characteristics but a unique local flavor.
“It’s a little bit of a throwback to stories on it from the hippie trail,” says Saad, refencing the route used to transport hash from the Middle East to Europe, “where people would get different types of hash through their travels, that would have certain spices or flavors mixed in with it from the general region.”
Because the hash market is small, it is sometimes difficult to convince dispensary owners to allocate shelf space for hash products — though when they do, many hashmakers say their products find loyal customer bases that often come back again and again.
“I would say the biggest reason hash doesn’t move is because of the disconnect between us and the customer,” says Zahra Kohl. That means budtenders need more education about the positive characteristics of hash, including its solventless production technique, so they can, in turn, better educate shoppers about hash and know what to recommend when someone comes in looking for something different.
Hash in Canada
Perhaps due to its closer ties to Europe, the Canadian market for hash outpaces the U.S. market by a healthy margin.
According to Headset, hash had made up 0.2% of total sales in the United Sates from January through August 2022, but it is about six times more popular north of the border, making up 1.2% of total Canadian cannabis sales.
Within the broader concentrates category, hash is also much more prominent in Canada than in the U.S. Hash products make up 31% of total Canadian concentrate sales but only 2% of concentrate sales in American markets.
Breaking it out by individual market, Ontario’s cannabis customers take the crown as the number one hash fans, with 1.6% of total sales and 44.3% of concentrate category sales going to hash products.
The average pre-tax price of a gram of hash is $24.43 in the U.S. and $15.31 in Canada.
She also notes that younger consumers are often looking for more “bang for the buck” and seek out the newer forms of concentrates with higher percentages of THC than hash usually provides.
“The difficulties can be summed up with two words: potency and dabs,” says Cameron. “But when people smoke our hash and experience the complexity that can come from a solventless, full-spectrum extract, they become regular smokers.”
Cameron, who initially began producing hash just to keep in stock at his dispensary in Durango, Colorado, says he eventually began offering it to other cannabis retailers and “things exploded.”
“There wasn’t much demand for our products in the beginning simply because nothing like them had been on the market,” he says. “But after a couple years of grinding, and once the word spread, it became much easier to get stores stocked with our hash.”
Today, Greenery Hash Factory products are in 350 stores in Colorado, and the company ships nearly four kilograms of hash every week. The company recently won its fifth “Best in Denver” award for old-school hashish.
In Washington and California, where Sitka operate, Richards notes a similar experience and says that after eight successful years in the business, Sitka’s marketing strategy is basically “stack it high, let them buy.” When hash smokers find a store carrying a quality product that hits that perfect nostalgic flavor, they keep coming back.
“The nature of niches is that it has an existing clientele,” he says. “You don’t have to convert people to it, you just have to put it in front of them.”