Not everyone who enters the cannabis industry has time to work harvests, process flower and study the plant on a scientific level. Most new business owners are pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and don't have the resources to have a cost-efficiency consultant on retainer.
Enter Mary J Poppins and the Sativa Science Club.
Poppins saw the industry moving at a faster pace than individuals in the cannabis community could keep up with, so she formed a cannabis science and business school aimed at anyone and everyone. Along with Emma Chasen, former education director at Farma, they've created the first organized cannabis education program that's independent of a single dispensary, law office or investment firm.
Sativa Science Club's classes weave between hyper-specific advice about social media use for small businesses and the vascular passageways transferring nutrients throughout the plant, to beginner level stuff like distinguishing male and female plants and crafting a tax-sensitive, science-based approach to employee training.
When I attended a terpene-focused course within their "Budtending 101" program, the packed room of between 30 and 40 people was a mix of budtenders and dispensary managers from throughout Oregon and California, people with chronic medical conditions, and entrepreneurs entering the industry at various angles and ages, some in cannabis media, others interested in trademark law and licensing. There was even one curious Australian tourist.
"There is a lack of education for budtenders, who are the face of the industry," begins Chasen at the start of the class. "If a new customer has a negative or confusing experience, they may not try cannabis again, never discovering a certain product that could really help them or a loved one."
After graduating from Brown University with a degree in medicinal plant research, Chasen worked in oncological research before moving to Oregon and landing a job at Farma in 2015. Now she's regularly introduced as the "Ms. Frizzle of the cannabis industry," and is in charge of the education program at SSC. She speaks with clear enthusiasm for the chance to explain the biology behind cannabis in a relatable way.
She starts with the basics, which is the new front against the overly simplistic "sativa or indica" distinction, which most high-end dispensaries are working to get away from.
"'Indica' got its name essentially because it looked different than the sativa sample, and was found in India. These words aren't enough, they just don't work," said Chasen.
She explained how taxonomy of that era was based on observations, not inhalation, so the three defined species of cannabis (sativa, indica, ruderalis) really have nothing to do with the effects.
She also dives into the entourage effect, which is why extracting individual cannabinoids isn't as effective, using the history of aspirin to explain how compounds exist synergistically, in a matrix.
"When white imperialists noticed that Native Americans ate willow bark to remedy a variety of discomforts, they analyzed the willow bark. They isolated the compound that seemed like it was doing the most, and manufactured that to create aspirin. You know how aspirin can give us a stomach ache? That's because we aren't getting the other fibers and compounds that were present in the whole plant effect of consuming willow bark, which are vital in order to process the medicine efficiently."
The Jupiter Hotel is the Club's home campus for the remainder of the year, and perhaps beyond. Upcoming courses include a morning class on the endocannabinoid system on October 23 ($30 non-member), and an evening class on the cannabis compounds in herbal medicine with Missy Rohs of the Arctos School of Herbal and Botanical Studies. On October 25, the Club will be joined by Brian Kuo of Business Advisory Services at the accounting firm McDonald Jacobs, to discuss good accounting practices for your business and tackling tax code.
Members can pay for a variety of packages, and they offer business-friendly packages that enroll staff into specialized classes for a group price.
I've worked as a harvest manager, flower vendor, budtender and medical dispensary manager, and I learned plenty of new things during the Sativa Science Club class I attended. Increasing the ranks of educated cannabis employees, business owners and investors; the people who will spread evidence-based knowledge and shine a light on misconceptions, can only strengthen the legal cannabis industry as it continues to spread across the United States.
Fortunately, information can pass freely across state lines even if cannabis can't yet.
GO: Sativa Science Club, 800 E. Burnside, sativascienceclub.com. Tickets for upcoming courses can be purchased at eventbrite.com.