Introducing Colorado’s first certified “Ganjier.”

Like fine wines, high-quality cannabis has unique flavors and aromas. 

But until recently, defining those flavors and aromas was subjective, with each brand inventing proprietary descriptions and tasting notes. 

Where most wine drinkers have a rough idea of what to expect from a Portuguese Aragonez versus a Croatian Plavac, cannabis connoisseurs were left mainly to their own devices. 

That is, they were until the launch of The Ganjier, a rigorous, first-of-its-kind, multi-step cannabis sommelier certification program. 

Lightshade’s Director of Inventory and Purchasing, Zach York, recently became the first officially certified Ganjier working in Colorado’s legal market. We’re thrilled to share his experience and knowledge with you, first with this blog and soon in our stores.

Blending Passion and Rigor

Zach’s deep love of the plant inspired him to undertake a more serious course of cannabis studies. “After being a passionate cannabis consumer for over 15 years, it felt meaningful to have an official certification from a governing body with indisputable qualifications,” he said.

The program’s focus on consumers’ and patients’ needs and preferences is a detail that drew Zach’s interest. “There’s an appropriate product for every consumer,” he said. “This program trains you to be a personal cannabis advisor, consulting with customers on their favorite products—from flower to edibles and anything else they might be looking for.”

He wanted to build on his personal experience with cannabis as a tool for joy and wellness by undertaking training that would help him inspire others. 

“Living under prohibition as a second-class citizen was humiliating, disheartening, and painful for every cannabis consumer,” he said, describing the era before Colorado legalized cannabis. Interestingly, Zach explained many of his fellow students come from states without legal medical or adult-use cannabis. 

Living in Colorado, Zach said cannabis consumers often forget how lucky we are to have access to a safe, legal, and high-quality consumption experience on our terms. 

He hopes as legalization spreads, programs like The Ganjier will bring mainstream acceptance of the plant as an excellent wellness resource and a non-toxic recreational alternative.

Ganjier Graduate Zach York wearing a cannabis themed graduation cap

A Cannabis Scholar

Zach describes himself as a lifelong learner, so the rigorous nature of his Ganjier studies was immediately enthralling.  

“The Ganjier program was created to emulate the wine Somm program, a notoriously rigorous course in wine mastery memorably covered by the 2012 documentary Somm,” he says. “It’s designed to provide a foundation of expert knowledge in a space where it’s historically been lacking.” 

The Ganjier scoring system is based on the scale used by the Master Sommelier exam, with a 100-point system used to give products a numerical grade called a “Systematic Assessment Protocol,” or SAP. 

Certified Ganjiers evaluate the appearance, aroma, flavor, and experience of consuming cannabis products, assigning them a numerical grade. 

But it’s not just math! The SAP system includes a notes section. 

Ganjiers can include descriptive and subjective details, like what the product reminds them of or experiences and activities that might pair well with them—for example, pairing your charcuterie board with Bubba Fett or watching a sunset while enjoying Miracle Alien Cookies.

Mastering His Craft

Once Zach had a handle on the SAP system, he began fine-tuning his taste and aroma palates using techniques laid out in Ganjier course material created by Ganjier Council Member, Kimberly Hooks, also known as Madame Cannoli. 

While not required for initial certification, The Ganjier encourages students to undertake a blind cannabis product evaluation the same way wine sommeliers taste their way through a series of unlabeled glasses, determining the varietal, region, vintage, and producer using only their senses. 

With this method, students can further develop their vocabulary of flavor descriptions and decide if they have what it takes to proceed to higher certification levels.

Zach assembled sample jars to use as a study aid to prepare for the exam before leaving for the testing in Humboldt County, California. 

Placing a different herb, such as basil, cinnamon, or oregano, in each jar, he challenged himself to learn how to identify them by aroma alone, training what he called his “aroma lexicon.” 

He employed the same process to identify blindly labeled cannabis strains, becoming intimately familiar with their distinctive aromas.

He needed to understand how to consciously utilize “sensory evaluation” by activating both “mouth smelling” and “nose-smelling,” terms taken from traditional food and beverage analysis science that Ganjiers use to describe the process of simultaneously employing olfactory and gustatory senses to take in the product’s full complexity.

“I was interested in developing a solid grasp on the general impacts of cannabis terpenes, identifying them by their flavor notes and understanding how those notes correspond to their effects. For example, cannabis strains with lemony, fruit-forward notes will traditionally be more uplifting and activating, making them better suited to daytime consumption. In contrast, cannabis with earthy fuel notes might be more relaxing and sedating.”

By understanding how terpene profiles impact the cannabis consumption experience, Zach can tailor his recommendations to meet customers’ specific needs.

In the end, individual body chemistry dictates each consumer’s preferences. Picking your favorite cannabis is like picking your favorite dish at a restaurant – only you will know your favorite. Still, expert opinions can guide you to popular options. This is why the Ganjiers perspective is so important.

“Zach’s deep experience and background in cannabis, coupled with his easy-going demeanor and instinctive skills at assessing quality, seamlessly combine to make him uniquely qualified for his role at Lightshade.  We’re genuinely proud to include him among the ranks of Certified Ganjiers and as an ambassador of our mission to elevate the service and quality standards within our burgeoning industry.” –Derek Gilman, Managing Director, Ganjier

A Bright Future for Budtenders

Zach believes that the growing popularity of the Ganjier certification program will help Budtenders better serve cannabis consumers. 

“The cannabis industry needs Ganjiers because there are a lot of myths and misinformation out there,” he said. “Many customers and patients don’t know how to discern quality, they don’t know what they’re looking for, and those who do might be purchasing based on incorrect info they previously absorbed.”

Currently, most consumers purchase cannabis flower-based purely on THC percentage, opting for higher percentages for a more immersive experience, which Zach says is “a scientifically inaccurate way to proceed with that goal.” 

He believes expanding consumers’ knowledge of cannabis terpenes and minor cannabinoids will help them understand what they actually like.

Lightshade is one of the first Colorado dispensaries to stock brands like Artsy, which puts its terpene notes on each product label. “Very few people go to the liquor store for Everclear,” says Zach. “THC should be seen as the gas in the car—terpenes are the driver.”

With an exponentially growing number of brands, products, and strains on the market, Zach hopes that The Ganjier program will inspire producers to create higher quality products on which consumers can depend. 

 “Ganjiers can sift through the noise to identify true quality on every level.”

Zach York, first officially certified Ganjier holding a plate of cannabis flower