CannaReps provides a modern approach to cannabis education

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(Adolfo Gonzalez will be a panelist at the Georgia Straight's upcoming event, Grassroots: An Expo for the Cannabis Curious on September 15 and 16, 2018. Get your tickets now.)

The plant, widely used for recreational enjoyment and its therapeutic benefits, is so much more than early propaganda would have modern consumers believe. With the battle to legalize won, cannabis crusaders have only just begun the next fight: Normalizing a substance shrouded in myth and stigma. This process begins with deconstructing decades worth of misinformation.

Most of us only remember remnants of the archaic drug education programs force fed to us during our early education. For me, it is the image of a strung out cartoon stoner bunny fiending for his next fix. His bright-eyed former self “carelessly” took one curious hit from a joint and his eyes turned bloodshot as the seductive smoke swirls around his bedroom. The bunny—a once sweet icon of childhood innocence—drifted into a psychedelic daydream, only to awake and crave, you guessed it, heroine.

For others, the take-away can be as simple as the repurposed drug war catch phrase: “Just say no”.

None of those concerted efforts, aimed at keeping me away from experimentation, worked…clearly. And I was more than a little frustrated when I discovered, as an adult, that most of what comprised these programs was based on fear and fallacy.

Recently, a new type of drug awareness initiative has sprung out of the Canadian pot industry to disrupt the antiquated weed narrative. CannaReps is a private education program founded by one of the country’s leading cannabis experts Adolfo Gonzalez and his wife, design director Enid Chen. The company hosts several interactive workshops and mentorship programs dedicated to improving the state of cannabis education.

In May, I took their three-day Therapeutic Guidance course designed to arm budtenders (dispensary workers) and industry professionals with skills to responsibly advise patients and consumers on cannabis use.   

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Our instructor, Gonzalez—whose teaching methods are based on empowering critical conversation—opened the course by telling the class: “I am not going to teach you how to think. I am going to tell you how I think and how recognized individuals debate these materials, so you can decide for yourself. I am going to teach you the importance of being a citizen scientist.”

With over 15 years of hands on experience, from cultivating cannabis to frontline patient advocacy, he is a seemingly bottomless well of knowledge. For every question or challenge lobbed his direction, he either had an answer or knew where to find it. From years of advising clients, like terminally ill patients and recovering addicts, he has adopted a compassionate teaching style. This created a safe space to ask even the most rudimentary of questions.

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Over the three days, a group of about 15 students, myself included, learned about the anatomy, history, and therapeutic benefits of weed. Jars of various strains lined the tables of the classroom and we were challenged with determining the quality of each crop. Armed with a pocket-sized microscope and medical gloves, we plucked buds from the jars, sniffing and scrutinizing over its shape, aroma, and colour.

By the end of the weekend, the students who started the course sarcastically saying: “It smells and looks like weed” could point out a healthy trichrome expression, spot contaminants, and place mystery strains on a spectrum of potential phenotypes.

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The class also participated in several mock dispensary role playing activities to better understand the needs of an average consumer.

“Everyone can take the easy customers and serve them. I want you to be able to take the difficult customers and retain them,” Gonzalez said to the group.

He drilled in the importance kindness and patience alongside understanding safe titration, or dosing, guidelines specific to a variety of products.

“Some of these people are desperately looking for answers. You need to be prepared to acknowledge their concerns and suggest options. Never prescribe a solution. Provide information and let them decide for themselves,” he said.

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While the course was catered towards those working within the industry, the material was beneficial to all curious consumers working from any basis of knowledge. As a writer and journalist reporting on cannabis, my mind was blown by some of the myths even I had helped perpetuate in the past. For example, I had always understood “sativa” and “indica” as two separate families, muddied over years of hybridization. The truth is these terms represent a spectrum of growth patterns, and you can find trademark characteristics of indica in even the most pure sativa strains.

These courses, that emphasize a duty of care and a specialist-level of product knowledge, are imperative to fostering a safe and responsible culture as we venture into a legal landscape.

So, while the one takeaway from my elementary days was a floppy-eared grass fiend hopped up on heroine, the one takeaway from this course was: Question everything. With an influx of information set to hit like a tsunami from companies claiming they are “the first to create the best product in the whole world”, it is more imperative than ever to know how to spot good weed. Just as there is a plague of sensationalist fake news sweeping our social media feeds, there is the same litany of myths that exist around cannabis.

From complacent to critical, CannaReps is empowering a shift in thinking at the consumer level.

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