Seed-to-Sale: How Cannabis Ultimately Reaches the Sales Floor

Seed-to-Sale: How Cannabis Ultimately Reaches the Sales Floor

Seed-to-Sale: How Cannabis Ultimately Reaches the Sales Floor

Every journey starts somewhere. For cannabis, it begins months before ever reaching the hands of those who love and consume it. 

The seed-to-sale journey is a closely monitored process – and for good reason! This tracks the life cycle of a marijuana plant from the moment the seed is planted until the final product is packaged and sold to customers. 

Tracking this cycle ensures that growers and business owners are documenting the harvests and testing their products appropriately. Every gram of flower, including edibles, tinctures, and other cannabis products belong to a batch marked with a unique tag. As the product moves through the production and retail cycle, the tag is updated with it. 

While it may seem like overkill, seed-to-sale tracking is crucial in the event of a contaminated product or theft. It also provides a means for business owners to identify bad batches and show a record of their compliance. In reality, it’s a win-win situation. Cannabis owners can track their products and consumers can feel confident knowing the product they’re purchasing is safe. 

So, what happens during this journey? How does a seed transform into the products that line dispensary shelves? 

Before the seed

Ironically, the seed-to-sale journey starts before the actual seed. Plant genetics are the foundation of every cannabis cultivation operation, so sourcing them from reputable breeders is critical. 

Most of the strains on dispensary shelves are hybrid strains, meaning they are a combination of two or more strains – often taking on the most desirable characteristics like high yield or high THC percentage. When creating these hybrid strains, the breeder’s job is to stabilize the plant’s genetics in order to produce plants stock with consistent and predictable traits. Then using both male and female plants, they create seeds that can then be sold to cultivators. 


Seeds can either be male or female, but to a grower, the only seeds that matter are female. This is because female plants are the ones that produce the buds we all know and love. To get these buds, female cannabis plants are grown in an environment without male plants, or the males are removed before they release pollen. 

A healthy seed is hard to the touch, dry, and dark brown. If they feel weak or are white/green in color, they have not fully developed and are not ready to grow. With healthy seeds, a cultivator can begin the germination process. This cycle takes anywhere from 3 to 10 days and it’s where the seed will grow its first sprout, known as a taproot.

Every cultivator has their own methods of germination and growth. Some may prefer to use soil-less or hydroponic methods, while others may grow the traditional route. During this delicate stage, sterilization is everything. Cultivators must pay special attention to how the seed is handled and transferred so as to not damage it or risk the plant’s health. 


The first two to three weeks after germination, a cannabis plant is considered a seedling. This is when it will start to develop the iconic marijuana leaf silhouette. Once it’s reached about 5 to 7 blades per leaf, it is considered a mature cannabis plant. At this stage, the plant is super susceptible to mold and disease, which is why, as we’ve mentioned, sterilization is the top priority. 

Once the cannabis plant has matured, it needs to be transported to a larger pot where it will remain for its life cycle. This is when the plant enters its vegetative state, where it will experience the most growth. Typically, this can last anywhere from 3 to 16 weeks. At this stage, cultivators will start “scrogging” the plants, which means separating the branches using netting to allow for optimal light and airflow.


The flowering stage is the last stage of the cannabis plant cycle. During this time, the plant itself will stop growing and buds will start to form. Over a course of 3 to 4 weeks, these buds will fatten until they are ready for harvest. 


When harvesting cannabis plants, timing is everything. Cutting them too early or too late will impact the flower’s taste, smell, and potency. Growers must examine the plant with a close eye to determine when the optimal time is to harvest. 

Each strain is unique, meaning there will be different indicators that tell the grower when it’s ready. As a general rule of thumb though, most growers harvest when the leaves begin to yellow or curl. At this time, they’ll notice that the buds no longer appear to be growing and the branches will begin to hang more from the weight on the flower. 

Some cultivators may also assess the trichomes using a microscope and see the changes in color. As the buds fully develop, the trichomes will change from clear to opaque to amber. These changes mean the trichomes are reaching their maximum THC and terpene content


There are two main methods for trimming cannabis: dry and wet. As the name implies, dry trimming means chopped plants are hung up to dry for several days before trimming down to the buds. Wet trimming, on the other hand, happens immediately after the plant is chopped down. Both have their various pros and cons:

Wet trimming is easy because it happens in one sitting – there’s no need to wait several days after harvest. It also makes fan leaves easier, can save a cultivator space in their operation (no need to hang up whole plants to dry), and can give a more aesthetically pleasing final product. However, there’s also a serious downside – it’s very sticky. The trichomes will get on everything, including your hands, body, shears, etc. If the mess isn’t worth it, cultivators will instead do dry trimming. It’s important to note though, less-sticky trichomes mean they are also more brittle and prone to breaking, so cultivators need to handle them with more care.

Whether trimming wet or dry, the process remains mostly the same. Trimmers remove the fan leaves, trim the buds from the branch, and break them into even smaller pieces so they can dry without getting moldy. 

Drying and Curing

Drying is a crucial part of the seed-to-sale journey. This process enhances the flavor of the buds while diminishing the chlorophyll taste. Like other parts of the seed-to-sale process, timing is everything. A dry shouldn’t be too quick or too long. If it’s not given enough time, only the outside will appear dry. If it’s too long, it could develop mold. In total, drying can take anywhere from 2 to 7 days depending on the method of trimming. 

Curing is the second step and allows consumers to store weed without worrying about mold or terpene degradation. For curing, buds need to be stored in airtight glass jars so no more moisture is lost and the flavors are preserved. This usually takes two weeks to a month and humidity needs to be kept between 55-65%. 


If the buds are prepping to be sold as flower, they are then ready for testing. Each state with legal weed has their own unique testing laws. Nevada labs, in particular, test for dozens of contaminants, including heavy metals, yeast, mold, E. coli, herbicides, and more. A full list can be seen here. Along with these tests, potency and terpene analyses are done to ensure quality. 

Want to know what all those numbers mean on the cannabis label? Read our How to Read a Cannabis Label article here.


Once the cannabis has been tested for quality and safety, it’s time for packaging. Similar to testing laws, each state has specific requirements for cannabis packaging. In Nevada, marijuana products must be in a child-proof, thick plastic packaging that’s free from any marketing that could be aimed toward kids. That means no cartoon characters, mascots, balloons, and no marketing edibles as candy. That’s not to say cannabis packaging can’t be creative! As we’ve seen with Berner’s legendary Cookies brand, packaging and branding are huge for making it in the cannabis industry. 


After that months-long journey, the once seedling is ready to sell as a consumable cannabis product! From start to finish, it can take 8 months or longer for a seed to transform into a product that can be sold on the shelves. 

The seed-to-sale journey wouldn’t be possible without the hundreds of thousands of people who work every day to make recreational cannabis a reality. If you’re looking to start a career in cannabis, the options are endless. You could work directly with the plants by growing, trimming, or even breeding new genetics, or perhaps you’re more interested in working with customers and sales. Either way, there are plenty of entry points in the legal cannabis scene.

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