Cannabis Education 2020: CannaReps aims to dispel industry ignorance

The organization’s goal, as stated on its website, is “spreading true, honest, and accurate information about cannabis to those who need it most”

CannaReps

Adolfo Gonzalez (right) of CannReps. Photo at left by rgbspace/iStock/Getty Images Plus

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The Canadian cannabis industry has a critical failure, and it starts at the top. The issue, says CannaReps founder Adolfo Gonzalez, is quality control. More specifically, the problem is that those tasked with assessing product quality often have no clue what they’re dealing with.

“It’s an educational issue, but it’s so profound that even the largest entities in the industry—those that are basically the flagship for our Canadian industry—don’t understand the most basic parameters around how to run a QA [quality assurance] assessment program, which is really where my background is,” Gonzalez tells CannCentral in a telephone interview from his home in Vancouver.

“They don’t even look at the quality parameters necessary to deliver a product that is of an olfactory quality that is satisfying.”

Spreading the truth

In order to combat this ignorance, Gonzalez created CannaReps. The organization’s goal, as stated on its website, is “spreading true, honest, and accurate information about cannabis to those who need it most”.

Those who need it, Gonzalez says, include those working in the cannabis industry as retailers and marketers. CannaReps runs courses on growing cannabis and dispensary management. It designed its Cannabis Sommelier Certification program, however, to impart a deeper understanding of the plant—and to address the widespread knowledge gap.

“Our course is designed as the antidote to this problem, where still most people don’t understand that we have very objective scientific measures for quality that are not being included in the system,” Gonzalez tells CannCentral. “I believe that this is partially intentional.”

In Gonzalez’s view, brands routinely ignore scientific principles. They do so in favour of nonmeasurable, subjective selling points—like, for instance, a cultivar marketed as a “daytime strain”.

Names matter

Gonzalez is a firm believer that, when it comes to cannabis strains, names matter. Last year, he wrote an article on that very topic for the Georgia Straight newspaper. (Media Central Corporation owns both CannCentral and the Georgia Straight.)

To those of us who have dedicated our lives to this plant, cannabis names encrypt a whole host of technical and cultural information into a single word that maintains the bond between a particular plant and its breeder, seed collector, or place of ancestry. Further, names like Blueberry, Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies, and Congolese are forever bound to certain expected flavour profiles and growth characteristics in the minds of those who bred, grew, and/or enjoyed these names time and time again.

Getting rid of names assigned by the original breeder or seed collector ultimately deprives experienced consumers of reconnecting with the legendary classics they love, but perhaps even sadder than that, it creates a marketplace where having a rich cultural and sensory experience that goes beyond simply “getting high” is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

Adolfo Gonzalez, “Respecting cannabis cultivar names honours original breeders”, Georgia Straight (December 12, 2019)

By way of example, Gonzalez notes that Tweed—a brand owned by industry giant Canopy Growth Corp.—markets a strain called Bakerstreet. This, he points out, is actually Hindu Kush. Growers in Afghanistan and Pakistan developed that particular cultivar before it made its way to North America in the 1970s.

To call it by a new name, Gonzalez argues, does a grave disservice to those who created it. In his view, the big-money cannabis trade in Canada has largely swept the pioneering work of pre-legalization growers under the rug.

From the underground

“I learned everything that I know from those people in the underground,” he says. “And there’s so much amazing expertise, knowledge, and genetics that need to be preserved. That’s really the primary focus of my school. We’re focusing on trying to give not only modern breeders but traditional people their due appreciation.”

CannaReps roots its two-pillar approach in respect for traditional knowledge, fortified through scientific rigour.

“It’s more than anything trying to establish a cultural connection with the product, and then to discuss very rigid scientific parameters that are being ignored by the mainstream right now,” Gonzalez says.

Scents and flavours

Last month, CannCentral’s Charlie Smith reported on a study published in the Journal of Cannabis Research. After a data-driven analysis on the effects of hundreds of strains of weed, Argentine researchers concluded that the cannabis industry should base its standards for cultivars on more than how high they make the user.

“By extracting information from different sources of data, our work suggests that the development of standards in the cannabis industry should not only focus on psychoactive effects and cannabinoid content,” they wrote.

They added that these cultivars should “also take into account scents and flavours”.

In contrast to the cannabis biz, the authors note, the wine industry has “arrived at reliable standards” for such blends as Merlot, Cabernet, and Syrah. Consequently, these wine categories “are trusted and understood by the consumers”.

In addition, wine marketers highlight scents and flavours in showcasing different brands.

The science already exists

These are the sorts of standards that CannaReps would like to see in the weed business. Gonzalez says the science already exists.

“We have very, very, very well-verified laboratory procedures for determining total terpene content, which is a simple measure that tells you, ‘How stinky is this particular cultivar supposed to be?’ before you open that jar,” he says. “And yet we avoid discussing that piece of data. We avoid presenting it to the public. It is not discussed by reviewers currently online. Even the most highly regarded cannabis writers in Canada currently do not talk about this subject matter. This is something that only laboratory geekazoids like myself have been talking about for 10 years.”

Even the actual “laboratory geekazoids” employed by major cannabis brands aren’t addressing terpene content. According to Gonzalez, this is because they simply lack basic knowledge of the plant they’re dealing with.

“Most PhDs that are running these QA/production centres are not from this field,” he says. “Just because they have a phytochemistry degree does not mean that they understand what end-product quality is supposed to be like and the inherent processes that go into delivering that.”

CannaReps previously delivered its Cannabis Sommelier Level 1 course face-to-face in a classroom setting. In light of the current global pandemic, the organization now offers it in an online-only format. Visit the CannaReps site for full details.

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