With the dawn of the legal cannabis world several years ago, many of us in the fledgling business realized that education was key to breaking the age-old stigmas around this healing plant. The public needed to learn that we were promoting Reefer Gladness, not Reefer Madness. To accomplish this, we asked ourselves how we could best spread the word about the benefits of cannabis.
Green Flower Media in Southern California, under the guidance of CEO and Co-Founder Max Simon, landed on a great solution: They created a strong online presence with a website that featured classes available to everyone, taught by masters from various segments of the cannabis world. Through successful marketing strategies and dedication to knowledge sharing, it has become a popular destination to learn about all things cannabis.
It was in early 2018 that Max Simon, along with cultivator Derek Gilman, and longtime master cannabis breeder Kevin Jodrey began discussing the possibility of creating a special program to train students in the deeper knowledge of cannabis. They called it The Ganjier Program.
Jodrey came up with the program’s original concept, which was modeled after the wine sommelier and other gustatory-based vocations. Simon offered his observation of a real need to train budtenders and others in the business so that they could better serve and inform the public. Educating consumers about cannabis while also giving recognition to the craft cannabis growers who cultivate connoisseur-quality weed was key. They also developed an innovative, exclusive assessment tool, which gave way to a global repository for cannabis data and information, accessible by Ganjiers worldwide.
This sage triumvirate gathered various experts together in order to create a syllabus for a training program, which was formalized into The Ganjier Certification Program. In addition to Jodrey, eighteen respected names in the cannabis field were chosen for their specific expertise and acumen, including: the late master hashishin Frenchy Cannoli; Patrick King, “The Soil King;” regenerative cultivator Swami Chaitanya; KNF cultivator Wendy Kornberg; legendary cultivator and botanist Mel Frank; cannabis advocate Amanda Reiman; concentrate processor Nikka T.; attorney Omar Figueroa; dispensary owner Aaron Varney; and noted industry scientists Jeff Raber of the Werc Shop, along with Josh Dixon and Alec Wurzer from SC Labs.
Yours truly was selected due to my experience running a small cannabis business along with my expertise in sales and my ability to provide customers exceptional service.
Designing the Ganjier Certification Program
We met several times over the course of a two-year-period to hammer out the courses. Some meetings were in person, during the pre-Covid days, and others took place via Zoom. Each of us was featured in a video tutorial covering our respective specialties—content that would be used to create course material for future students. With the intent of producing an entirely new class of cannabis professionals to enter the world, we discussed, debated and deliberated over what qualities the ideal Ganjier should have.
Courses ranged from the history of cannabis to consumption methods, botany and genetics, to cultivation techniques, processing methodologies and successful cannabis sales. Artfully executed service along with the ability to accurately assess flower and concentrates also made the list.
The Ganjier Program’s final product is the multi-stage, expert-led Ganjier Cannabis Sommelier Certification. The first step is the online portion, which includes 10 courses, 31 lessons, 30 hours of video content and hours of reading material. Each student may spend as long as it takes to complete the course studies online prior to advancing to the next step of live training sessions. Eventually, students move on to the final exams to gain their full certification. The focus of the two-day live training sessions is the SAP (Systematic Assessment Protocol.)
Live Training: A Voice for Quality
The primary purpose of becoming a Ganjier is to be the voice for quality in the cannabis space, and through SAP, students discern how to accurately assess that quality. Swami and I joined a few other Ganjier Council members at a live training recently, and it was an eye-opening and heartfelt experience for us all.
Eighteen students from across the U.S. and representing all walks of life – from experienced growers to dispensary owners, edible producers, investment bankers and canna curious consumers — joined us in southern Humboldt County for the intensive instruction. A few came from The Emerald Triangle where we gathered, but for most, this was an opportunity to visit the home of the planet’s best sungrown cannabis.
On the first day together, we made introductions and discovered a whole lot about these future Ganjiers.
“Cannabis is not addictive, but growing it is,” commented Russ from New York City. Others made comments such as, “I’ve been hiding indoors for a long time in Texas,” or “I want to promote cannabis as a wellness lifestyle.”
Instructor Kevin Jodrey told this group of students that, in addition to their mutual love for cannabis, “You’re all part of a dream, driven by courage.”
Photos of several of the Ganjier Council members were hung on the walls, including one of Frenchy Cannoli who had passed away just a few days prior. Per the suggestion of Director Derek Gilman, we all shared a moment of silence for Frenchy, as well as many stories about the great man.
Our first communal lesson was about the art of the demeanor of a Ganjier in a social setting. As Jodrey, who has owned a dispensary along with his other credentials, pointed out, “Many customers think they know everything and the budtender knows nothing.” So how does the Ganjier train budtenders to help such customers, as well as the ones who are newbies and need full advice on how to get started? Aaron Varney, co-founder of the long-running successful Dockside Cannabis retail stores in Washington, led the discussion.
We talked about the art of “active listening” so that we can understand the customer’s needs and ensure they always leave feeling satisfied. Respect plays a major role, as the well-trained budtender will always consider a consumer’s state of mind: Are they grumpy from medical pain? Are they open to suggestions, or do they know exactly what they want? There is so much to consider.
We then broke out into sets of two and did some role playing, which was both fun and very useful. Next, we took a deep dive into the SAP, beginning with the entering of sample data. Each student had the SAP app downloaded on their device and had been given some buds of the same cultivar grown by Wendy Kornberg. To establish the base of the assessment, they entered what was known about the sample, including details such as harvest date, certification, lab results and more. Close-up photos of the samples were taken to accompany the review.
In the next step, we assessed the appearance of the buds. Every student was gifted a handsome 10x jeweler’s loupe engraved with the Ganjier logo, to gain a closer look into the flowers. Trichome density was observed, along with the structure, trim and maturity of the flower. Were any contaminants or pathogens spotted? Notes were made on the app about all this and more, and a final number was assigned to each segment of the assessment. Along the way, all of the instructors at this particular training offered guidance and information.
We then assessed the aroma, which was of course very important. The Ganjier does not judge a flower or concentrate by the THC content, or if it is a sativa or indica variety. Rather, the SAP assessment is more focused on the terpenes. To that end, each student was given a Terpene Palate Training Kit with ten tubes of the most common terps found in cannabis. Categories such as Intensity, Complexity and Uniqueness were considered. When it came time to name the prevalent aromas of the Super Sour Diesel buds from Wendy Kornberg, my favorite student description was “a truck stop next to a pine forest.”
The next morning began with a tour of Kornberg’s beautiful cannabis farm tucked away in the Humboldt hills. We all ventured up a five-mile dirt road to her piece of paradise where she showed us her light-deprivation garden in various stages of growth. Sample branches of rough bud were even laid out for students to try their hands at trimming. Kornberg also demonstrated how to transplant a plant from pot to soil while Patrick King spoke about “how to turn your ‘dirt’
into soil.” Several students eagerly helped Kornberg with the transplanting. I remember the smiles on their faces well. This was a precious experience indeed.
In the Classroom: Assessing Flavor and Effects
Back in the classroom that afternoon, we dove into the two final segments of the SAP: Assessing Flavor and Effects. This meant lighting up at last. Everyone rolled their own joint and got right to work assessing the flavor. Was it full-bodied? How intense was the taste? Clearly, the Sour Diesel had a gassy zest to it, and since these buds were so fresh (harvested just a couple weeks prior) we took that into consideration. The flavors students described ranged from bacon grease to smoked applewood.
Last, and certainly not least, it was the time to judge the cannabis’ effects. We decided this cultivar offered a balanced and clear mental effect, while the physical component was definitely stimulating. As Moses from Mendocino said, “It’s go-go-go.” King expressed how he had smoked a different cultivar during lunch which had made him sleepy, but now he was wide awake. Even after a considerable amount of time, people felt anxious and expressed sentiments such as, “I just want to go take a hike!” These are classic effects from Sour Diesel, and so we decided to categorize it as “Common” under the uniqueness category, which is not a bad thing. If a Ganjier is also a store buyer, for example, they may need to sample several varieties in a day, so we discussed how to take time in between to receive the full effects.
Now that everyone was fully high and educated, we wrapped up the two-day live training with comments from the students and teachers.
“I am so happy to be a part of this pioneering class,” said Chris from Michigan. “I got some real nuggets of wisdom to take away,” declared Erika from Missouri. Many expressed their joy of forging new friendships with both fellow students and instructors and how “getting my hands in Wendy’s soil” and “smoking a Swami joint” were real highlights.
The final step for the students to achieve their Ganjier Certification is to take a three-part test. This includes multiple-choice questions based on their previous studying of videos on the app, performing a service role play with an instructor, and finally assessing a sample with the SAP in full detail. When one student asked how best to prepare, Swami suggested “Study, study, study and smoke, smoke, smoke!”