The wine world has sommeliers. The chocolate world has chocolatiers. It stands to reason the fast-growing cannabis industry would eventually have something similar. This week, the Ganjier certification program came online with a robust marketing push.
I’m in a unique position to break down the good, the bad, and the ugly of Ganjier certification (with echos of sommelier certification) as I’m both a certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and investor/owner of a fully licensed cannabis business in Oakland called Flowsent.
In 2003 I had been working at NIKE as a brand manager and received a call from my mom who suffers with Multiple Sclerosis. She had just received results from a scan that was pretty scary. I quit my job at NIKE the next day and moved back home to Boulder, Colorado to care for her.
I began growing cannabis after hearing it could help her with her disease. What I didn’t know at the time was I had taken the first steps toward full immersion into medical cannabis. At the same time, I had started working at a wine shop selling wine, which meant I was also taking first steps toward full immersion into the wine industry.
In 2010 I took the first two sommelier exams (intro and certified) and began studying for the advanced exam. Over the past decade I’ve been able to travel the world visiting almost 500 wineries and have shared insights with sommeliers in various countries.
One important characteristic that makes a great sommelier is humility.
There are sommeliers who know ridiculous amounts of information about adult beverages, but they aren’t humble. There are sommeliers who are personable and can sell wine, but their knowledge is through a lens of large distributors.
Sommeliers came into existence during the reign of King Louis XIV when “sommeriers” (sometimes referred to as béte de somme) were in charge of transporting game and luggage. In the houses of great lords, they were in charge of selecting the wines. During those times sommeliers would sometimes taste the food before it was served. If the sommelier died, the Master would avoid the meal and order pizza.
The Ganjier program looks promising and well intentioned. Not sure if they consulted with any sommeliers when creating the certification. Here, I break down observations about Ganjier certification:
Timing is ideal for Ganjier certification. Our industry is ready for an informed and demonstrable standard of professional representation. At any given dispensary you could be served by a stoner bro who loves weed but has no idea how to be of service to a customer, or you could get a bud tender who just needs a job and has no product knowledge.
One out of three Americans has access to legal cannabis, which means many new users will be stepping into a dispensary for the first time. Making sure they have a good experience is paramount. A brand is a promise to deliver on an expectation. For the industry to thrive, customers in Maine should be able to have a consistent brand experience with cannabis in Colorado. That’s how the cannabis brand grows.
The Ganjier website describes a two-year process behind developing the program and lists members of the Ganjier council, a list of cannabis industry legends who have paid dues and earned recognition as industry leaders.
Looking at the website it appears there is a systematic approach to certification with some cues taken from the Court of Master Sommeliers, as well as other facets created specifically for cannabis.
photo via the Ganjier website
Looking at the Ganjier council there is a clear lack of diversity. For an industry that’s trying to repair social injustices, a governing body such as the Ganjier council shouldn’t be full of mostly white men (13 men, 4 women). Don’t get me wrong, the members are all legends who’ve paved the way for the industry. The Court of Master Sommeliers has taken heat lately for their lack of diversity (and some sex abuse claims) lately that is a black eye cannabis doesn’t want to replicate.
Council members include Frenchy Cannoli, Patrick King, Mel Frank, Nick Tanem, Swami Chaitanya, Amanda Reiman, Alec Dixon and Derek Gilman just to name a few.
It’s not clear what requirements are needed to be on the Ganjier council. All of the members are towering figures recognized for their contributions to the industry. However, two council members are from the same company, and two sets of members are married. Are these life time appointments like the supreme court? How are new council members chosen? More clarity into the governing body is needed.
The Court of Master Sommeliers is a non-profit organization. They receive most of their funding from exams and some grants from large companies. The biggest problem with the Ganjier certification is it’s ‘powered’ by a single for-profit business called Green Flower Media. If you aren’t familiar with Green Flower Media, they promote themselves as “global leaders of cannabis education”.
Not everyone is a fan of Green Flower and their CEO who feels a need to ram Green Flower down our throats at conferences and across digital channels. It’s a conflict of interests to try to lift up an industry where one company has an unfair advantage to capitalize on the program.
Imagine if Constellation ‘powered’ sommelier certification. Somm certification wouldn’t the credibility it has now.
Further, as mentioned above one of the most important characteristics needed to pass the Master Sommelier exam is something not listed in study guides. It’s up to the candidate to figure out humility may be the #1 requirement to ascend to the top. Humility is desperately needed in the cannabis industry.
I’ve had a personal experience with one of the Ganjier council members at an event where that person had zero humility. In fact, that person spoke down to me in such a demeaning manner it was borderline verbally abusive.
It may be too early to measure the impact of Ganjier certification. Surely, there will be other certifications to follow. Maybe the industry will land on one, or like the wine industry there may be a half dozen all with different areas of focus. A Master Sommelier is a master of service. A Master of Wine is a master of education and knowledge. They compliment one another.