The cannabis industry’s rapid growth is bringing with it a thirst for knowledge and information about the plant. Few people know that better than the chief executive of Green Flower Media, a cannabis education provider.
“I just think we need [cannabis education] as an industry and as a society so badly.” Max Simon tells Profiles in Legalization.
Simon co-founded Green Flower in 2014, the same year legal adult-use sales began in Colorado and Washington. Under his leadership, the company partnered with cannabis experts to create online, streaming courses about everything cannabis-related. When the author briefly contracted with Green Flower for writing services in 2017, it had a thriving community of eager learners.
In 2018, Green Flower launched Ganjier, an education platform for minting certified cannabis experts. The name plays on the term for wine experts, sommelier. The new program takes excellence just as seriously. They teach a method of systemically rating every aspect of cannabis products.
With cannabis legalization spreading from coast to coast, colleges and universities are on board. Higher learning in legal cannabis states increasingly offers courses for the future of the industry. In it’s latest incarnation, Green Flower has made itself the provider of cannabis education for an ever-growing list of accredited schools.
During a recent phone interview, Green Flower CEO Max Simon spoke with Profiles about university partnerships, the benefits of cannabis education, how industry standards were created and more.
Note: Answers have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
- What is your own relationship with cannabis like?
- What led you to start a cannabis education company?
- What are the benefits of a cannabis education? Who needs it and why?
- Can you tell us about Green Flower’s new agreement with UDenver?
- What’s the benefit of Green Flower partnering with universities?
- How did you go about creating industry-wide standards in order to educate in a uniform way?
- What makes Green Flower better than other cannabis education options?
- How are you keeping your material relevant in such a fast growing field?
- Can you explain the Ganjier Systematic Assessment Protocol?
- Is it creating more knowledgeable budtenders?
What is your own relationship with cannabis like?
Max Simon, Green Flower CEO: I use cannabis every day for medical reasons. Specifically, I’m consuming low doses of THC multiple times a day. And then I’m also just, you know, when time permits, I love consuming cannabis for the enjoyment of consuming cannabis. Connecting with my wife and my family and living a good life.
I feel really, really grateful for what I have here at home.
What led you to start a cannabis education company?
MS: Well, I’ve been a medical cannabis patient for my whole adult life. I’ve also been in online education my whole career. So they just collided perfectly for me to see an opportunity to build a company and a platform that stood for trusted, valuable education. One that could really make a difference for this industry.
I care about this personally and professionally. I like to build companies that really stand for something of value and impact in the world. That demands a certain level of quality and standard and vision. I feel really grateful that we’ve had so many incredibly talented people here to help build Green Flower into what it is today.
What are the benefits of a cannabis education? Who needs it and why?
MS: We’re seeing different types of people benefit from cannabis education. There are professionals from other industries and other sectors that are excited about the cannabis industry, but don’t have any background or training or existing knowledge.
Many of our students are people that are looking to transition from another sector into the cannabis industry. That’s where cannabis education can be really valuable. Both to help you learn about what you need to be and do to be successful, but also getting cannabis credentials, especially from reputable organizations. Helping you stand out from all the other thousands of candidates who are applying to jobs or vying for licenses. So it helps people that are looking to get into the industry that way.
Almost no cannabis companies to date have any kind of serious training platforms inside of their organizations. And that’s unfortunate, because cannabis, in reality, is quite complex. It’s complex for consumers to understand which products are best for them. It’s complex to grow high quality cannabis and do it in different conditions. It’s challenging to translate that into manufactured products and navigate the compliance requirements. It’s a remarkably difficult industry, actually.
There’s a big, dirty secret in the cannabis industry that there’s an enormous amount of turnover. Of course, we see one of the main reasons for that is because all these people are coming in and not being given proper training to succeed. Then not being paid properly as a result of that, and it’s creating an ecosystem where there’s a lot of turnover.
Education is really important for cannabis companies to embrace because that fundamentally will help them build a better business to retain people longer and to be able to produce higher quality products for the industry. So it matters there.
We also feel like just like in other industries– like the wine industry, where you have sommeliers– it’s important to have true verified experts. So we also have a kind of a sommeliers certification [Ganjier], which is a very advanced training to establish people as legitimate cannabis experts within the industry today.
There’s lots of different reasons people are benefiting from education.
Can you tell us about Green Flower’s new agreement with UDenver?
MS: We partner with universities like UDenver to create sector-specific cannabis credentials. So we have three programs with DU. There’s a Business of Cannabis program; a six-month certificate program offered through the university. That really gives you a fundamental understanding of every aspect of the cannabis industry in terms of how it operates as a business.
Then we have the Agriculture and Horticulture sector, which is all about growing the plant, processing the plant and packaging the plant for sale. That touches that, kind of, agricultural, industrial side of the industry.
Then we have a Medical Cannabis program, which is really about how cannabis is used medicinally and for wellness purposes. The kinds of products and how those products translate to different types of demographics. User types that use cannabis as a medicine and what we know and don’t know about it from the research side. Trying to essentially create a group of people who can serve the health and wellness sides of the industry.
Those are the three programs offered by University of Denver. They’re six months. They’re all online. They do have instructors throughout the whole process guiding you through the courses. And yeah, we’re very excited to be having University of Denver because it’s obviously the flagship university in the state that was the first to legalize in the country.
What’s the benefit of Green Flower partnering with universities?
MS: Well, the universities bring a level of academic rigor and recognition to the credentials. All of the programs go through academic reviews and academic scrutiny. They are deemed a higher level of credibility than, well, pretty much anywhere else you can get.
If you live in Colorado, a University of Denver cannabis certificate is meaningful. It carries credibility. The biggest thing that the schools bring is a stronger, deeper sense of credibility and rigor to the programs. That, in turn, will translate into people taking these credentials and education more seriously. People getting hired more prominently with these roles and then holding greater leadership positions in the industry because they have stronger educational foundation.
How did you go about creating industry-wide standards in order to educate in a uniform way?
MS: We organized a steering committee. That was collated with– it ended up being just under 35– leading candidates; companies throughout every sector of the retail, manufacturing and cultivation industry. We, over the course of the year, went through this very rigorous curriculum design, content creation, pilot program validation process with these companies to build a standard.
We followed all international standard body development processes, like ANSI [American National Standards Institute], an international standard accreditation body that we will be completing this year. We followed all of their processes and systems for developing accredited programs. We did this in accordance with the FOCUS [Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards] standards, which is another standards body in the cannabis industry around health and safety.
So we basically, you know, went through this long process of developing and validating content according to international standards bodies to get both validation and accreditation happening to create the standard of excellence, if you will, in education.
That was the entire last year’s project.
What makes Green Flower better than other cannabis education options?
MS: Let me first start by just saying that I am supportive of all education efforts happening everywhere in the cannabis industry. Inside and outside of Green Flower. I just think we need that as an industry and as a society so badly. So I’m in complete and total support of all cannabis education organizations and initiatives that are taking place.
That said, Green Flower has really prided itself on academic rigor and industry consensus. Validation along the lines of what is not just accredited education, but best practices in education standards for other industries. We’re the only company that’s done that and I think that does give us a certain advantage over others in the space.
How are you keeping your material relevant in such a fast growing field?
MS: We have an ongoing, ever-evolving content review committee that works with us every year. We’re actually in the process of updating every program we’ve got at the moment. So it takes a lot of work. We review and update the content every year. Last year over 1000 modules were created or recreated.
Furthermore, we found that 80 to 90% of good cannabis education is fairly timeless. So we’ve gotten to a point now, with the depth of our library and the breadth of what we cover, that we can just stay focused on updating what’s really most important and have everything else there on top of that.
Can you explain the Ganjier Systematic Assessment Protocol?
MS: Yeah. So in building Ganjier, we realized that in order to train people to be experts in cannabis products– and to be experts in translating that knowledge to consumers– we had to train people on how to actually assess the quality of those products.
One of the dirty secrets in the cannabis industry is that a pretty enormous amount of the legal cannabis that’s being produced and put into the market is fairly low quality. We needed to train people to understand, “How do you do that? How do you assess quality?” And that’s when we discovered that there was no standard for assessing the quality of cannabis flower and concentrates.
Ganjier took three years to develop. In that process, we created this Systematic Assessment Protocol. We just added a 34th point to the assessment protocol for rating aspects of cannabis. There’s an appearance category, an aroma category, a flavor category, an experience category. Then what we call the “product info” category, to properly understand all the metrics of when it was grown and when it was harvested, what kind of soil mediums they use and light sources.
All that information helps you better understand the quality that went into that product. We had to create all those categories, and then we had to create the actual criteria of what was being assessed in each of those categories.
So, for example, in visual we assess the trichome density, we assess the trichome maturity, we assess the trim quality, we assess the uniqueness of the flower. And you go through systematically assessing each layer of flower and concentrates to give it a quantitative, objective level of scoring for those products.
Ganjier’s are given an app that lets them do this as a tool. And then they’re trained in incredibly deep ways through both online/in-person and group study to develop their understanding of how to use the Systematic Assessment Protocol to accurately score these products.
Is it creating more knowledgeable budtenders?
MS: What we’re finding is that they are, actually, playing even higher level roles in retail. They’re quickly becoming retail managers or training managers or product curators, menu curators. They’re often getting involved now in the marketing side of how to, you know, properly position a business. So it’s been really cool seeing this more well-educated person really start to take very strong leadership roles within the industry, even coming from places where they hadn’t operated inside a legal framework before.
It’s been really fulfilling to me.
You can learn more about Green Flower and cannabis education at www.green-flower.com
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