Interview Conducted by Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.
Our content theme this month regards cannabis education. There are many ways to get an education on a given topic. Traditionally, students enter colleges or universities for a given discipline, and after several years of study on specific topics, the students earn degrees that pointed to their having completed this education. While the collegiate avenue is becoming increasingly relevant in the cannabis industry, the programs are new and the instructors might be new to cannabis as well.
Running deeper than budding educational opportunities in colleges and universities is the informational superhighway of the world wide web. The trouble here is that, although we are witnessing the death throes of Reefer Madness, there’s abundant content littered across the internet that is misleading or outright false, and much of what is said lacks scientific validity.
So, it’s vital to the success of our industry that those working in various roles, especially roles that provide knowledge to consumers, understand the true nature of cannabis, and how to effectively cultivate, harvest, process, and utilize the plant. Educators of students eager to learn more about cannabis need to ensure that the discourses provided demonstrate the importance of quality and accuracy, and what truly makes cannabis extraordinary.
The Ganjier Cannabis Sommalier Certification provides such an education, and I recently spoke with Derek Gilman, the managing director of Ganjier to learn more.
Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.: Can you describe the main purpose of creating the Ganjier coursework and certification?
Derek Gilman: The main purpose of the Ganjier Certification program is to bring an elevated level of professionalism to cannabis service. To do that, we must train people on all aspects of cannabis that influence service to consumers, which includes an in-depth understanding of cannabis products, how to properly evaluate and assess the quality and effectiveness of cannabis products, and how to communicate that knowledge to different consumers in a way that ensures they have the best possible experience with cannabis.
Drawing structure and inspiration from well-established wine, beer, chocolate, and cigar certification programs, Ganjier was developed over several years with participation from the esteemed Ganjier Council — 18 select experts who collectively hold over 600 years of cannabis experience, contributing more than 8,000 hours of development time.
JSL: How and why did conversations about forming Ganjier begin?
DG: Ganjier exists to serve the millions of customers who are receiving incorrect, inaccurate, or entirely fictitious guidance on which cannabis products to buy, what constitutes true cannabis quality, or how to achieve an ideal cannabis experience. This leads to terrible user experiences, misinformation, health and safety concerns, and an ongoing stigma around the industry.
The Ganjier program was born out of the recognition of two concerns at the retail level:
- Concern #1: An uncomfortably large majority of the people serving the public at the retail level are not equipped with either the knowledge or skill-set (or both) to reliably and accurately guide cannabis consumers.
- Concern #2: The price and quality of cannabis flower and concentrates is primarily being dictated by the THC (total tetrahydrocannabinol) percentage indicated in the Certificate of Analysis.
By training professionals to become Certified Ganjiers, we both elevate the quality of service delivered to cannabis consumers while also educating the industry about why there are many more qualities that matter about cannabis than just high THC content.
JSL: What courses or disciplines does the certification cover?
DG: The Certified level program includes:
- Ten online courses over approximately thirty hours of video and written content, featuring all eighteen members of the Ganjier Council, covering subjects including:
- The History of Cannabis and Cannabis Consumption
- The Botany of the Cannabis Plant
- The Science of Cannabis
- The Art & Science of Cannabis Cultivation
- Cannabis Processing Methodology
- Unraveling the Mysteries of Cannabis Genetics
- Accurately Assessing Cannabis Flower & Concentrates
- Contemporary Cannabis Consumption Options
- Artfully Executed Cannabis Service
- The Business of Successful Cannabis Sales
- Two days of expert-led, in-person training in the heart of the Emerald Triangle consisting of intense cannabis assessment training and palate development to refine senses and understanding of cannabis quality.
- Three in-person exams covering Knowledge, Service, and Assessment.
There are several goals of the program. First and foremost is to equip Certified Ganjiers with the knowledge and skill-set to be trusted and reliable guides for cannabis consumers at every experience level and budget.
We’re also determined to train an army of advocates for cannabis quality. It’s our belief that the quality of cannabis flower and concentrates should be solely based on its genuine desirability resulting from its appearance, aroma, flavor, and ultimately the experience that it delivers.
To this end, we’ve developed our proprietary Systematic Assessment Protocol® (known as the SAP) to guide Certified Ganjiers through a step-by-step process of assessing the quality of cannabis flower and concentrates. As in every other gustatory-based product including wine, beer, cigars, coffee, chocolate, and cheese, trained professionals utilize their senses to determine the desirability and rate the quality of each of these product categories.
JSL: How long does the course take to complete?
DG: Students are offered a period of 12 months to complete their Certification pathway. The average completion time to become a Certified Ganjier from the time of enrollment is approximately six months.
JSL: How were instructors solicited? What requirements were needed to become an instructor?
DG: Once we decided to move forward with the development process, we were determined to recruit a thoughtfully curated group of internationally recognized experts to endorse, create, and validate the program.
To become a member of the Ganjier Council, we looked for the following qualities:
- Recognized as a leader within the industry with at least 10 years of direct cannabis experience
- Regarded as being exceptionally knowledgeable and credible in a specific field that aligned with the Ganjier curriculum
- Willing to contribute significant time and energy into the development of the program, and continue teaching during the in-person events.
The 18 founding members of the Ganjier Council include:
- Kevin Jodrey, Founder of Port Royal and Wonderland Nursery, Renowned Breeder and Cultivator, Emerald Cup and Golden Tarp Judge
- Frenchy Cannoli, Master Hashishin, Cannabis Aficionado, Educator
- Patrick King, “The Soil King,” Cannabis Entrepreneur, Founder of Soil King Garden Center, Plant Nutrient Expert
- Jeffrey Raber PhD, Organic Chemist, Chief Scientist, Co-Founder and President of The Werc Shop
- Mel Frank, Hall of Fame Cannabis Breeder, Legendary Cultivator, Author of The Marijuana Grower’s Insider’s Guide
- Swami Chaitanya, Iconic Cultivator, Competition Judge, Entrepreneur, Founder of Swami Select
- Nikki Lastreto, Co-Founder of Swami Select, Cultivator, Cannabis Competition Judge
- Nick Tanem (aka Nikka T), Award-Winning Hash Master, Owner of Essential Extracts
- Wendy Kornberg, Legacy Cultivator, CEO of Sunnabis, Educator/Advisor
- Omar Figueroa, Cannabis Legal Expert, Defense Attorney, Founding Member of National Cannabis Bar Association
- Amanda Reiman PhD, Cannabis Educator, Advocate, Founder and CEO of Personal Plants
- Genine Coleman, Executive Director, Origins Council, Educator
- Justin Calvino, Cultivator, Co-Founder of Emerald Exchange and The Mendocino Appellations Project, Executive Director, Terroir Mendocino
- Kimberly Hooks, CEO of Frenchy Cannoli Brand, Aroma / Flavor Expert, Educator
- Aaron Varney, Co-Founder of Dockside Cannabis, Educator, Advocate
- Josh Wurzer, President of SC Labs, Cannabis Scientist, Educator
- Alec Dixon, Co-Founder of SC Labs, Educator, Terpene Wizard
- Derek Gilman, Managing Director of Ganjier, Legacy Cultivator, Connoisseur
JSL: What are the demographics of your students?
DG: We’re exceedingly proud to note that the program has resonated with people from over fifteen countries across the globe and includes students of all races, ages, and sexual orientations from every corner of the United States.
The most common trait of everyone involved is a true love and passion for the plant, and a desire to become a strong representative of her benefits and outcomes.
JSL: Who’s predominantly enrolling in the program?
DG: While we originally anticipated that the majority of our students would originate from the retail sector of the cannabis industry, we’re actually seeing an incredibly diverse group including: budtenders; dispensary managers; attorneys; nurses; scientists; enthusiasts and connoisseurs; military veterans; entry level employees; concentrate producers; multi-generational Emerald Triangle cultivators; entrepreneurs; and CEO’s. Because we are teaching the language of cannabis and how to properly understand and evaluate for quality, it’s been very energizing to see such a diverse set of professionals sign up for the program.
JSL: How many students to date have earned the certification and title?
DG: We have certified 130 students so far.
JSL: What do you think has been lacking from a cannabis education perspective, and how does Ganjier seek to fill this/these void/voids?
DG: For better or worse, professional cannabis education is very new. The vast majority of people working in cannabis today have either learned from direct personal experience, looking at articles on the internet, or through word of mouth. And while that creates a lot of passion, it doesn’t always mean that people are rigorously well-trained to provide accurate and trustworthy guidance to others.
Ganjier is the most rigorous, advanced, and thorough cannabis products and service training in the world, and by the time people become a Certified Ganjier, they are true masters of cannabis service.
JSL: In your experience (or the collective experiences of your instructors), what topics should industry professionals be knowledgeable on that just typically is not the case?
(As an example, what would a Ganjier-certified budtender be knowledgeable on (and could readily relate that knowledge to consumers) that someone who hasn’t taken the course may not be?)
DG: Oh wow, so many!
- That THC levels are not the best measure of potency and quality
- That you have to understand intent, setting, budget, and experience level before ever making any cannabis product recommendations
- That your preferred dose / delivery / potency of a product should not be the basis for how guide consumers
- That different cultivation / manufacturing / packaging choices have a radical effect on cannabis quality
- That sun-grown cannabis tends to have much higher and more diverse terpene levels, which actually leads to higher quality and more enjoyable outcomes
JSL: What do you think are the most common misconceptions regarding the cannabis plant and its downstream products?
DG: Common misconceptions include: concerns of losing motivation, fears of losing control, fears of addiction, and that (high) THC levels are indicative of quality and potency. With good education and responsible use, all of these concerns and misconceptions can be easily mitigated or avoided.
JSL: As an industry, how do you think we can best combat misinformation, and the dying, yet remaining remnants of Reefer Madness?
DG: The best way to combat misinformation is with accurate information and proper representation. Reefer Madness is the result of decades of misinformation and the world not being exposed to trusted cannabis professionals. We at Ganjier are committed to showcasing the best of what cannabis has to offer, through highly trained and certified people who can guide any consumer to the exact products and experiences that are right for them.
JSL: Is there a current waiting list for the certification?
DG: We are down to our last handful of spots for people to sign up to become a Certified Ganjier in 2022. If you miss the opportunity to join us this year, you are encouraged to join the newsletter to be notified when the next class will be available.
Here is what some other Ganjier instructors and students have to say about the program:
Madame Cannoli, CEO at Frenchy Cannoli, Ganjier Council Member and Instructor
“We all know there is something magical about the cannabis community, and The Ganjier training takes this to the next level. Analyzing cannabis samples together; dissecting the elements of quality; geeking out on the nuances of flavor while surrounded by the terroir that gives Emerald Triangle cannabis its very distinctive “taste of a place”. Frenchy would have been so psyched for the students to have the opportunity to experience Humboldt firsthand. It was next-level happiness.”
Kevin Jodrey, Port Royal, Wonderland Nursery, Renowned Cultivator, Breeder & Founding Member of The Ganjier Council
“A Ganjier is a cannabis culturalist… someone skilled and versed in all things involving cannabis, not just the consumption of it, but also the ability to take this information and transfer it to other people to develop an appreciation of the craft and the product to help further and develop the industry as we move forward.”
“I’ve taken a lot of industry-related exams (series 3 etc.) but this was the hardest exam I have ever been through. As a result, it was also the most rewarding certification I’ve ever earned! I can’t describe enough how much the opportunity and experience of being in Humboldt and working with these legends has changed and inspired me. This certification is just the beginning. The future is bright and this community will change the world!”
“Big news! I’m happy to share that I’m starting a new position as Senior Product Development Manager at Dreamfields Brands, Inc. (Jeeter)! Working in cannabis product development has been the greatest pleasure of my last three or so years, and with this new role, I am going to be doing what I love at one of the hottest brands in the California market. This is a big use of my sommelier certification as well, so I want to give a special shoutout and thank you to the Ganjier program and to Green Flower for helping me further fine tune my product assessment capabilities. Here’s to starting my dream job with the Dream Team!”
Elizabeth Rice, Executive MBA, Certified Ganjier, Sales Director at Curaleaf, President of BGS SF
“Becoming a Ganjier was a journey that surpassed my expectations. The learnings were in depth and the networking, incredible. I am honored and excited to say I am now a Certified Ganjier.”
Ricky Williams, Former NFL Running Back, Ganjier Student l Cannabis Entrepreneur l Ganjier Student
“I am filled with gratitude. This is the education I’ve been searching the last 20 years for, and I seem to have finally found it. I feel like I am having a mini spiritual awakening. I’ve long considered myself a cannabis connoisseur, but this program is taking my appreciation and understanding of the plant to another level. I’ve already begun implementing some of the lessons I’ve learned from this program into the quality control processes of the cannabis products for my Highsman brand, to further dedicate ourselves to sparking greatness in all that we do.”
Brandon Brooks, Certified Ganjier, CEO & Founder of the Ascended Concepts in Cannabis
“What an incredible program, put together by leaders in our industry! I have to say that the Ganjier program definitely exceeded my expectations on knowledge shared by all the instructors, and even more than that, the potential our group can contribute to our community with tools like S.A.P. and the Customer Interaction Protocol to help give value to our guests and colleagues with defining value and quality in cannabis. Plus, the relationships formed out of a mutual love and passion to see our favorite plant get the recognition it deserves in our world, has been really an added surprise bonus!”