The Ganjier program aims to expand education about the substance and facilitate a broader appreciation of craft cannabis
When you’re looking for a wine expert, you call a sommelier. When you’re looking for a beer expert, you call a cicerone. But who do you call when looking for a cannabis expert? (Hint: It’s not your “guy.”)
Enter Ganjier (pronounced gone-je-ay), a first-of-its-kind certification program that turns enthusiasts and industry professionals into marijuana masters. Launched in 2020, the program aims to expand education about the long-prohibited substance and facilitate a broader appreciation of craft cannabis in the process.
Managing director Derek Gilman said there’s a lack of understanding about — and therefore a lack of appreciation for — quality cannabis since the legal market was flooded with products. Dispensaries often price weed based on how much tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is in it, he said, which does a disservice to both the products and consumers.
“My personal passion is cannabis connoisseurship. I’m really into the tools, the techniques, you know, elevating the enjoyment of your experience with cannabis. For me, it’s no different than people who enjoy a fine wine or a fine coffee or a fine chocolate,” Gilman said. “Those epicurean industries I mentioned — alcohol, chocolate, coffee — they don’t measure quality based off of the alcohol content or the caffeine content. It’s the aroma, the flavor, the experience.”
In September, 36 people received certifications following the inaugural Ganjier training. Enrollment is now open for the next session, meaning you, too, can graduate from casual enthusiast to bonafide weed snob.
How it works
The Ganjier program includes a mix of self-guided online courses and in-person training before enrollees complete a written test and two oral exams. The curriculum extensively covers all aspects of marijuana, including the history and science of the plant, the various ways it’s grown and processed, and modern consumption methods, among other topics.
Like the sommelier and cicerone programs, customer service and sensory analysis are essential to the curriculum. Service training focuses on how cannabis professionals can help each consumer find the appropriate product for their liking and level of experience.
When it comes to sensory analysis, aspiring Ganjiers will learn how to properly taste flower and concentrates by studying terpenes and breaking down other elements that affect flavor and aroma. Students also learn how to evaluate the quality of buds by looking at trichome structure and learning to identify contaminants such as mold or mildew.
Each program registrant receives a kit with terpene inhalers and flashcards, and a professional-grade jeweler’s lens to aid in home study, as well as access to a proprietary app that facilitates evaluation. (For those familiar with the Beer Judge Certification Program, the app is similar to a beer scoresheet.)
“You can’t assess cannabis without actually consuming it,” Gilman said. “Similar to the sommelier, [students] learn the techniques, but then they go home and practice.”
After the self-guided online classes, Ganjier participants register to attend a two-day intensive in the Emerald Triangle, California’s most famous cannabis cultivation area, where they’ll tour a marijuana farm, learn more about the customer service guidelines, and practice sensory analysis techniques in real-time with a teacher.
After that, it’s time for exams. Testing is comprised of a written knowledge assessment, a role-playing assessment that focuses on cannabis customer service, and a blind tasting assessment.
While these are all valuable skills, the certification itself is not essential to landing a job in the cannabis industry, according to Kelsea Appelbaum, vice president of partnerships for cannabis recruiting firm Vangst. And just because an applicant has the certification does not guarantee they’ll land a job, at least not yet.
“It’s the type of program that’s getting its footing right now, and we’re trying to figure out if this is the type of certification or process that’s actually going to add value,” she said.
Part of the reason is that because marijuana is regulated at the state level, markets vary widely across the country. The same strain of cannabis grown in California may be vastly different from its counterpart grown in New York because of how it’s grown and the climate, she said, which presents a challenge in analysis.
Appelbaum has never heard of a company requiring such a certification of job applicants, whether they be budtenders or in the C suite. Still, cannabis is a nascent industry that’s guaranteed to evolve as legalization spreads, she said.
“Especially as we push to federal legalization, that could change,” Appelbaum said, “but we’re at a point where there’s too much change between one market and another to standardize education.”
If the knowledge from courses such as the Ganjier program provides applicants with the confidence to talk about cannabis, she believes it’s worth pursuing. In fact, Appelbaum said she might register to get a feel for the program and its potential.
Gilman said most of the people in the initial class of graduates are already in the weed industry, but that the Ganjier certification is open to those looking to get into the industry as well. He hopes anyone with an interest in bettering the quality of products on the market will get involved. “The market has been flooded with commercial, mid-grade cannabis from these large producers with these huge commercial greenhouses or these large industrial indoor grows. It’s strangling the small farmer,” Gilman said. “Without a market that understands quality and without a market that values quality, there’s not going to be a market for craft cannabis much longer.”
“That’s been my personal mission to save the craft farmer,” he added. “Because if they go away, then we’re all going to be stuck with mids and that won’t be any fun for anybody.” Enrollment in the Ganjier certification program costs $2,997. Those looking to break up the cost can pay $699 upfront for the online courses and an additional $2,697 when they’re ready to book in-person training. Visit ganjier.com for more information.