Ever since I started smoking cannabis 20 years ago I understood that I had been lied to about a fairly harmless plant my whole life and made it my mission to learn as much about it as possible! Unfortunately, I lived in a small rural town in Northern BC which wasn’t very 420 friendly but we did have one head shop in town and I quickly befriended the owner, Bill. He had a decent selection of paraphernalia, books and magazines as well as knives, swords and other random oddities so as a teen boy I was happy to loiter as long as he would let me. He would let me read through his second hand books and magazines like Skunk and High Times and after a while I started to gain quite a bit of knowledge.
Years later I moved to Vancouver and got heavily involved in the industry by starting my own concentrate and edible sales at festivals like 420 and Cannabis Day. I also got a job at the Vancouver Seed Bank where I worked closely with some of the best breeders in the country and got to greatly expand my knowledge on genetics. The lounge above the Vancouver Seed Bank provided me an opportunity to learn firsthand from fellow patients like myself with a range of ailments just how important this plant was. I founded my own mail order concentrate brand shortly after and started learning more about cannabinoids, terpenes, and the entourage effect.
Now I work for the oldest compassion club in the country and I have 20 years of experience so it only made sense to sign up when I saw that CannaReps was holding a Cannabis Sommelier Course in Vancouver. I had recently been working on creating a Cannabis 101 workshop to bring to different organizations like hospices and care homes so I saw this as the perfect opportunity to sharpen my skills as a knowledgeable budtender.
When I arrived a the UBC Robson Square location it finally dawned on me just how much had changed in society since I started my own cannabis experience years ago and walking into a legitimate college for a cannabis sommelier course was blowing my mind! I found the classroom and sat down among about 30 others who were all from the legal side of the industry so when it came to my turn to introduce myself I took the opportunity to proudly represent the legacy market. Shortly into the course I could tell that to be legal they had to follow certain guidelines that definitely didn’t apply to my everyday work. For instance, legal budtenders in recreational stores are not legally allowed to recommend a product for any sort of medicinal use whatsoever or talk about dosage. Also when it came time to speak of modality they completely overlooked suppositories.
Level one of the course focused on the following topics: cannabis history, cannabis genealogy, biochemical composition of cannabis, cannabis anatomy, modality and portion control, dispelling the myth of Indica vs. Sativa describing end user effect, identification of contaminants like mould, mildew or bugs, overall quality grading, and learning to identify three of the main cannabis “families”; Afghans, Kushes, and Hazes. This was all pretty much in line with what I had written for the workshop that I was writing so it was refreshing to know that I was on the right track. The first day was a great introduction to cannabis with a good amount of hands on activities and I could tell that a lot of the people in class were learning a lot but there wasn’t a whole lot of new information for me. The test at the end of the day was an incredibly easy multiple choice, memory based exam which I was able to ace and get my Level 1 certificate.
When I came back the next day for level two I was excited to get into the more scientific side of cannabis classification, studying modern hybrids, terpenes, and the role of terroir. I got even more excited when I found out that the “exam” at the end of the day consisted of blind identifying six isolated terpenes by smell as well as identifying 16 different strains and putting into their respective dominant “families” of either Afghan, Kush, Haze or Himalayan. It was quite a science heavy day and I could tell a lot of the casuals from day one were intimidated by the aspect of such an intense test at the end of the day.
Finally it was time for the test and I’ll admit that other peoples anxiety was starting to shake my confidence and it didn’t help at all that I had a handicapped sense of smell due to being sick with a cold. They had set up four tables, each with four jars of cannabis on them, all of them labelled and we were allowed a couple minutes at each table to study the jars. They also had a longer table with labeled jars of isolated terpenes for us to get familiar with the aromas and make notes. Afterwards, they got everyone to leave for a moment while they took the labels off of the jars and mixed up the tables. I had made really good notes and was able to identify most of the buds based on visual cues like colour, bud size, and imperfections like seeds etc. Once I got to the terpene identification stage of the test, other peoples anxiety, coupled with my own decreased ability to smell, got me second guessing myself and it took me a lot longer than I had anticipated to get through it.
When I brought my answers to the instructor I had gotten everything correct except for one group of four strains. He told me to go revisit the table in question and to consult my notes, also reassuring me that I had one more chance if I were to come back with the wrong answer again. After revisiting the table and coming to the same conclusion as I had before I started to become a bit confused so I decided to reapproach him with the same answers as before. When I got to him and he saw that I hadn’t changed my answers he asked me why I hadn’t changed any so I described my notes to him on each strain. After listening to me rattle off details on each strain he told me that I had everything exactly right but I had accidentally gotten the sample letters mixed up between two strains. I had officially passed and got my Cannabis Sommelier Level 2 certificate!
At the end of the two day course I had learned quite a few things and made some great connections with some refreshingly level headed people in the legal side of the industry. The amount of unanimous support from everyone on both days when I spoke of the raid and our fight for our rightful place in the industry was extremely moving! I definitely wish that there was a bit more of a focus on the cannabis experience itself and looking further into describing flavours and smells similar to how a real sommelier would. I also would have loved to touch more on the possibility of pairing certain terpene profiles with food and drink but it seems as if this may be a future project for myself to take on. All in all it was a great experience and I am extremely thankful to work in an environment that supports my continued education on cannabis. If you work in the industry this course will teach you the skills necessary to truly appreciate and further explain cannabis to potential users in a much more educated fashion. I’m looking forward to hopefully attending more programs like this in the future and I hope this inspires others to start on a path of higher education as well!