High Country: All aboard the ‘Ganjala’
After a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, the beloved Telluride-born cannabis candy is back
In the spring of 2015, while in Telluride for the annual Mountainfilm Festival, I discovered an edible that — six years and countless new companies later — still holds the title as my favorite cannabis confection ever.
My fellow producers and I were in town to present our legalization documentary, “Rolling Papers.” In addition to its screenings, Mountainfilm made history in hosting its first consumption-friendly event, dubbed “Cannabis & Conversation,” where the film’s main character and director were joined by Geneva Shaunette, general manager of the downtown Telluride dispensary Alpine Wellness at the time. Moderated by adventure journalist Rob Story, then-festival director David Holbrooke animatedly kicked things off with, “Alright, it’s time to light it up.”
Following the outdoor, rooftop event where joints were passed freely among the crowd (and on stage), Shaunette took our crew back to her store for a tour. Inside the glass cases, a rainbow of packets stamped with the word “Ganjala” atop an actual gondola and pot leaf illustration caught all of our attention. She explained that they were Alpine Wellness’ signature, house-made edible — a single-serve, cannabis-infused taffy. I was sold and stoked to learn they were also available on shelves across the rest of the state.
Back in Aspen, I kept buying Ganjalas until 2018, when suddenly they were nowhere to be found. This January, I read the headline “The Ganjala Rides Again” in the Telluride Daily Planet and immediately reached out to Shaunette to congratulate her and find out if and when Ganjalas would return to Roaring Fork Valley dispensaries.
The three employees from Alpine Wellness’ tight-knit staff — Shaunette, her wife Laura Shuanette, and Elena Levin — who were leading the Ganjalas growth charge, each amicably parted ways with the company that same year; Shaunette was elected to Telluride Town Council on the platform of affordable housing, while Levin took over ownership of the coffee shop and grocer Ghost Town.
“Shortly thereafter [Alpine Wellness] decided to shut down the kitchen part of the business, because they just really wanted to focus on their farm in Norwood and at the end of the day, they want to be growers,” Shaunette, whose four-year term is up in November, told me during a recent phone interview. “They didn’t want to be running a candy factory, which is basically what [we were doing]. So they called us and said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to buy our MIP (marijuana infused products) facility, run it and license Ganjalas from us?’”
The deal was signed in 2018, when the trio bought all of the equipment, took over the lease, assumed the intellectual property rights and planned the rebrand. Tapping their friend Stephen Rockwood, a former Telluride local who’s now an art director at Patagonia, they brought to life a new identity — this time with a more universal look sans ski-specific graphics for an eventual national expansion. The last step of the two-and-a-half-year, self-funded transition was partnering with the Bronner Corporation in Denver to contract Ganjalas production, packaging, sales and distribution.
Though Shaunette promises, “We will always be a born-in-Telluride brand.”
Ganjalas, which are now on shelves locally at The Green Joint (and more than 40 stores statewide), began with the Original (a plain caramel, which has since been discontinued), Black Cherry, Blue Raspberry, Green Apple, Orange, Strawberry Lemonade and Watermelon. The relaunch swapped Orange for Mango, keeping the rest of the fruit flavors in rotation. Each 10-milligram piece of “juicy and chewy” taffy is wrapped and safety-sealed individually, retailing for about $5. Plans are underway to introduce 10-piece party packs later this year as well as limited-edition, seasonal releases.
As for the name: Urban Dictionary defines “ganjala” as, “A hotboxed gondola on a ski mountain” where “skiers and snowboarders climb in and shut all doors and windows and smoke blunts and joints until the whole chamber is filled with smoke.”
As for nabbing such an iconic term in ski town slang (a Federal trademark is in progress) as a name — especially one that’s far more gondola-friendly than smokable products to consume?
“We are really proud of it. Cannabis has always been a part of ski culture — and now, even more connected to an active, adventure lifestyle,” added Shaunette, who humbly assured me that the idea was a team brainstorming effort in the beginning. “[‘Ganjala’] is this cool code word and lore that has been passed down forever. I grew up in Seattle and some of my first cannabis experiences were on the ski hill in high school with my friends. We didn’t have a gondola, but we still knew what a ‘Ganjala’ was. Whether you’re in B.C. or Tahoe or Vermont — everybody knows what [it means].”
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While the rest of the festival’s performance program was announced in the spring, the opening concert by the Festival Orchestra had remained blank.