The 'K-Cups of Pot' System Aims for Ease, Skips Unrecyclable Plastic

The single-use containers allow users to inhale the same dosage each time.
(Photo: Courtesy CannaKorp Inc.)
May 25, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Just ask any marijuana connoisseur: Properly packing a bowl or rolling the perfect joint are carefully honed skills. But one budding business wants to make using cannabis as easy as pressing a button on a Keurig coffeemaker.

CannaKorp, a start-up based in Stoneham, Massachusetts, is preparing to put a single-use pod-based marijuana vaporizer on the market.

Michael Bourque got into the vaporizer business after a doctor recommended marijuana to treat anxiety. He tried pot for the first time when he was in his 40s.

“I was shocked at what I had to learn,” Bourque said, from calculating the amount of weed to use to the act of rolling a joint. Certain that other users felt the same way, Bourque—who calls himself a “big fan” of the Keurig coffee system—set to work creating a similar product for pot. He even hired Dave Manly, a former senior vice president at Keurig Green Mountain, to help get the product on the market.

Just as the coffee company vertically integrated its distribution system, CannaKorp will produce the vaporizer and partner with legally authorized growers to fill the pods.

Each CannaCup contains between 0.25 grams and 0.4 grams of ground cannabis flower and will cost about $5 or $6, depending on the strain. Once the pod is inserted, the vaporizer, called a CannaCloud, heats the marijuana without burning it. Within one minute, the portable canister fills up with vapor, which users can then inhale. A promotional video shows a woman who looks more like she’s sipping a steamy beverage than sucking down a bong hit.

Along with offering strains such as indica and sativa, CannaKorp will sell what it claims to be "CBD-only" cannabis. Epidiolex, a pharmaceutical drug containing cannabidiol (CBD), recently gained FDA approval for treatment of seizures, and a critical review of studies on animals and humans found CBD to have antipsychotic properties as well. The precise measurement of the contents of the pods could help users titrate dosage with cannabis plant material; inability to measure accurately what is being consumed has been a complaint of legitimate medical marijuana patients and a criticism of the medical marijuana movement by those who say it's a Trojan horse for legalization for recreational use.

“There’s really a mainstream audience [of medicinal marijuana consumers] out there that is underserved,” Bourque said. “They want a system that a doctor would approve. They want convenience.” That strive for ease is what led him down the path of a Keurig-like product. But while some associate Keurig coffee pods with convenience; others call them an environmental nightmare.

Keurig has gotten heat in recent years, thanks to the billions of unrecyclable, nonbiodegradable K-Cups that wind up in landfills. Last year John Sylvan, the creator of K-Cup, said that he had regrets about inventing the single-use containers because of their wastefulness.

Keurig Green Mountain executives aim to make all K-Cups recyclable by 2020, but Bourque and his team are working to avoid such controversy altogether.

(Photo: Courtesy CannaKorp Inc.)

“Right from the beginning, we’ve been very committed to being a socially responsible company,” Bourque said. “We’re very aware of the environment and the dangers of mass-producing a product like plastic.” He pointed out that most medicine comes in plastic pill bottles, which often aren’t recyclable.

The company opted for aluminum pods, making the system perhaps more like Nespresso, which produces aluminum coffee capsules.

Although Nespresso's pods are recyclable, the company has also faced criticism for creating large amounts of waste. In part, that’s because Americans only recycle about 35 percent of their trash, according to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency. The Aluminum Association estimates that $1 billion worth of recyclable aluminum cans wind up in landfills every year.

Whether the pot pods will find their way to recycling centers or Dumpsters remains to be seen. CannaKorp anticipates rolling out its vaporizers in early 2017.