On July 15, 2017 The Center for Cannabis and Social Policy held it’s third annual Terpestival in Seattle, WA. Dr. Dominic Corva, the Social Science Research Director of CASP, was the Producer of the event. Dr. Corva has allowed us to reprint from his blog which is available at http://cannabisandsocialpolicy.org . We have included portions of two articles he wrote before the event, summing up the intention of CASP to create an event to bring further awareness to the cannabis community. Finally we have printed his follow-up article The Chemovar and the Cultivar in full, telling about lessons learned at the event.
The cannabis peace movement faces many challenges, but perhaps the most significant one is the limited appeal of cannabis politics to the vast majority of a population that could literally take the plant, or leave it. The Washington Cannabis Alliance, and the organizational work from which it was born, has always been a broad-based, bottom-up effort to broaden the appeal of cannabis issues and markets to society. It’s not just another trade group, it’s a coalition of different individual issues and interests that understands we are stronger together, working for collective empowerment from the bottom-up. We’ve had two major political frames to work with: cannabis provides medical benefits, and cannabis provides economic benefits. Up to this point, medical benefits have been mostly understood in terms of helping the sick; and adult use in terms of helping the economy (including freedom to consume).
These powerful political frames have moved us considerably towards a goal of helping society make peace with the plant, which is the central mission of my nonprofit research organization, the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy (CASP).
Today I want to introduce a political frame that encompasses physical sickness, financial security, and so much more, to help society understand that our struggles connect with broader public interests in a positive way. I want to talk about the cannabis and the politics of wellness, a frame of reference that includes everyone, not just cannabis patients and entrepreneurs. If there is a common ground for an society in which the struggle to exist has led to generalized competition over whose suffering must be addressed, I believe that it must be the concept and practice of wellness.
Medical and adult-use cannabis have been deliberately pitted against each other in a way that overwhelmingly stifles the growth potential of our newly regulated cannabis industry. It does this by unnecessarily posing a tension between protecting public health from a controlled substance, and creating a new industry that can provide jobs and opportunities in a landscape increasingly bereft of both.
Wellness is about diet, exercise, mindfulness, and the regulation of stress. The promotion of cannabis for wellness transcends that tension by posing cannabis use and markets in a positive, inclusive way. Everyone wants to be well, and most people understand that the cultivation of wellness requires developing healthy habits that keep us from being sick and unemployed. An industry that learns about and draws attention to the ways that cannabis can help us be well is one that appeals to a broader public, and a more diverse and conscious consumer base.
My organization’s annual fundraising event, The Original Terpestival, is designed to promote efforts to brand cannabis with the politics of wellness. The consumption and marketing of cannabis as a delivery vehicle for THC is one of the obstacles to broader considerations of the whole plant and its many ways of helping people be well. The event encourages other ways of relating to the plant by focusing on the “delivery” mechanism for cannabinoids, terpenes. Terpenes are essential oils found in all plants, not just cannabis, that can contribute significantly to feelings of wellness beyond the relief of pain associated with cannabinoids.
We know this because our annual keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo, president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society, has pioneered the application of aromatherapy research to cannabinoid research. This opens up a world of possibilities for associating cannabis with wellness, but that message needs a delivery vehicle itself — or a fleet of delivery vehicles. That’s where industry comes in. The newly legal cannabis industry faces many challenges associated with what I call THC monoculture, in which a single molecule category dominates both market promotion and public health-related regulations.
The promotion of Terpene education transcends these limitations by promoting the diversity of the plant and its applications — the opposite of monoculture. And an industry that understands that diversity is an industry with a broad, growing consumer base oriented towards broad-based wellness, a political frame that expands knowledge about the therapeutic potential of cannabis while growing a robust and conscientious consumer base. Our popular education panels and keynote promote wellness in the cannabis industry by giving the cannabis industry information that promotes its economic health….
…I first wrote about the eduction work that can be done in cannabis events in August, 2014, for The Ganjier. This was barely a year after founding CASP, and inspired by the network of highly conscious cannabis events I had been pulled into over the previous few years doing research on policing and cannabis agriculture. I had been speaking at Seattle Hempfest since teaching a course on Cannabis and Society for the University of Washington’s Law, Societies and Justice Center in 2009, but once my cannabis research began in earnest I found myself participating in some key Southern Humboldt/Emerald Triangle events that combined popular education with industry evolution. These included the the last Emerald Cup before it moved to Santa Rosa and got huge, produced by Tim Blake; The Golden Tarp Awards produced by Kevin Jodrey; and also Kevin’s Spring Planting event.
What struck me was how these events successfully created spaces of intense interest from industry, to listen and learn, even with all the fun and games going on. The intent of the producers to create knowledge that was Useful coincided with the industry’s organic compulsion to seek out Necessary Knowledge, because things were changing fast. Humboldt’s watersheds were drying up, prices were crashing, and new industry players were colonizing a real estate landscape that was developed earlier by much more ecologically conscious “back to the land” and eco-anarchist groups. The Redwood Curtain was being ripped away in a process of creative destruction that could not be ignored. And it was all being catalyzed by a tectonic shift in public policy, away from punishment and eradication and towards especially environmental regulation and later, tax revenue collection.
What I learned from my journey was that if cannabis culture was to survive the policy shift to “tax and regulate,” it would require a lot of work by cannabis culture to make itself Useful and Necessary for the legal industry future. It had to create ways for new players, market participants, and consumers to do cannabis capitalism differently than commodity capitalism, which would otherwise simply destroy and replace the anti-authoritarian, ecologically conscious social movement that made it possible.
But the Washington context was, and remains, quite different from the California context, which focused on best growing and extraction processes, environmental issues, and regulatory genesis. Before I 502, our sun grown cannabis agriculture was dwarfed by its urban counterpart along the I 5 corridor. Our regulatory genesis was driven first by the politics of rights, and then later by the alcohol regulators tasked with literally replacing our decentralized, largely indoor economy, on the one hand; and imports from British Colombia (which largely ended in 2006), Oregon, and California on the other. Most significantly, our state made the choice to regulate cannabis like alcohol, rather than like cannabis.
The “like alcohol” crowd created new barriers to entry and participation that meant the new industry couldn’t take up the Whole Plant and conscious consumer politics associated with traditional cannabis culture in Washington. They took the cannabis out of the jars and sealed them into little packages with THC content on the labels, the only information besides how pretty the package was for consumers to go on; and disenfranchised medical products by alienating medical consumers through a mandatory registry and by closing down the broadly accessible system that had developed under medical cannabis. I don’t mean to reproduce moral outrage for something that has happened and isn’t going to be restored. The facts presented here explain how our industry got evolutionarily “stuck” and how our keynote and popular education efforts create Useful and Necessary Knowledge for stymied industry growth through evolution.
This meant that producers and processors didn’t have much to differentiate their product on the marketplace, on the one hand, especially through smells, samples, and sharing; and that efforts to produce medical products, including but not limited to CBD-rich products, could not be profitable enough to pursue. The game was THC monoculture, low prices, pretty packaging, and high volume.
The problem with THC monoculture isn’t simply a moral one. It severely limits the ability of producers and processors to compete in the marketplace, since they are all chasing the same market variables. And it severely limits the ability of retailers to reach a significant existing market, medical consumers; as well as to create a strong new consumer base more interested in the “wellness” aspects of cannabis consumption than how high they can get (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that). These include but are not limited to: retirees, veterans, athletes, children with epilepsy, and people who want to explore ways of dealing with pain beyond pharmaceutical medicine with often horrific side effects including addiction. The future of the legal cannabis market is much broader and highly differentiated than the I 502 present.
But it won’t be if our most knowledgable and innovative producers and processors go out of business because they can’t win the race to the bottom. Thanks in large part to the pioneering lifework our keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo, they don’t have to. Producers and processors can compete in a diverse marketplace especially by highlighting the incredibly diverse ways that terpenes and terpene profiles deliver cannabinoids to many, many different endocannabinoid systems — many of which are not made well by THC. While the Terpene Tournament (TM) showcases industry evolution, our keynote and panel speakers provide the scientific, technical, and expert information necessary to stimulate market growth and consumer preference for diversity.
There are three panels, two of which are annual in the sense that they address ongoing topics associated with a popular education focus: branding cannabis with the politics of wellness, by populating and popularizing the value of terpenes in the production of the “entourage effect” coined by our keynote speaker, Dr. Ethan Russo. This stands in contrast to a monocultural focus on the cash value of lab-reported THC, which we see as the cultural foundation of the current regulated market.
Let’s take a look at the panels and then follow up in the coming days with a post that more thoroughly introduces our speakers and their specific topics.
Our Industry Evolution panel addresses constituent parts of industry so that they may prosper by valuing wellness. The purpose of this panel is to catalyze the evolution of Washington’s legal cannabis industry by featuring the Subject Matter Experts with deep historical and ongoing perspectives not readily available in Washington State. Our speakers are Kevin Jodrey of Wonderland Nursery and the Ganjier; Rick Pfrommer of Pfrommer Consulting, former lead buyer for Harborside Health Center; Aaron Stancyk of our lab sponsor Medicine Creek Analytics; and our Terpene Tournament (TM) Judges’ Coordinator, Alison Draisin of Ettalew’s Medibles.
Our “Current Topics” panel will change each year. This year’s addresses an emergent industry phenomenon, the market for Cannabis-derived and other Terpenes. The purpose of this panel is to educate industry and the public on different perspectives and techniques emerging as industry “takes on” terpenes to create and market products. Our speakers are Ben Cassiday of True Terpenes, Kate Quackenbush of I 502 processor Fractal, Pam Haley of Aromatherapy Consulting and I 502 producer/processor Pam’s Plants; and Jeremy Plumb of Farma, The Cultivation Classic, and the Open Cannabis Project.
And of course, our Terpenes and Wellness panel addresses the science and practice of cannabis-facilitated wellness. The purpose of this panel is to hear from medical experts how terpenes are used in the clinical setting. Retention of the terpene fraction may influence the overall effect of the product used. Examples from patient will be presented. The speakers on this panel are: Dr. Michelle Sexton, co-founder and Medical Science Research Director for the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy; Seattle pediatric physician Dr. Hatha Gbedawo, and keynote speaker Dr. Ethan Russo.
The information provided by our subject matter experts create strong roots for another foundation to be possible: wellness. We understand wellness in terms of an ecology in balance, a condition of physical well-being that is reproduced by the health of the social system in which our bodies are embedded.
Follow-up Wisdom: The Chemovar and the Cultivar
Our popular education panels and keynote talk by Dr. Ethan Russo at the Third Annual Original Terpestival represented an advanced seminar in whole plant education. I am incredibly grateful to and proud of our audience, who came to listen, learn and participate as well as any university seminar I have taught. I want to reflect on the complex whole after the fashion of a reaction paper, which in the formal educational setting is a method for making a short conversation about a substantive and often intense volume of readings or material on a particular topic that is rich with avenues for further exploration and engagement. It’s a way to dip one’s toe in one part of the pool, not to summarize the whole but to represent a recurring theme that has sparked the curiosity of the student.
As the organizer of the popular education content (the seminar leader, if you will), I was especially interested in listening to what people “got,” given the complex information presented, that they can apply to their industry and cultural practices around the whole plant. I have the advantage of having been present and paying attention not only to all of the speaker content for the day, but also our event’s “prologue” — Kevin Jodrey’s Thursday evening talk at the Vashon Grange organized by Shango Los and VIMEA. Seen this way, Kevin and Ethan provided “bookend” lectures for shorter and more collective conversations in the panels. It’s pretty clear that there are two ways of thinking about the plant around which industry evolution will happen: the cultivar and the chemovar.
Before explaining, I want to amplify the response of panelist Rick Pfrommer to a terrific question from the audience, on how to map new terms and better information into a consumer landscape that is already confused by older, less accurate information. In particular, I’m going to allow myself to use the term “strain” in this reaction piece, even though so much of our information throws the viability of the term into question. In his years as the lead wholesale buyer for Harborside Wellness Center in San Francisco, Rick is especially tuned in to the need to be understood, and he emphasized the importance of retaining familiar words in conversation with patients and other kinds of consumers.
The cultivar is the plant, the reality behind the branding that up till now has been problematically assumed to equal “strain.” It’s more than the phenotype, or physical expression of a plant’s genes from seed or clone to processed product. Kevin’s themes were about propagating and growing for terpenes, but perhaps the most eye-opening element for even the most advanced folks who heard him was the assertion that the the cannabinoid and terpene content of a plant is shaped especially by the environment in which it’s grown. This has tremendous implications not only for research on genetics and “strains,” but on the production, branding and marketing of terpene configurations. Your nutrient line matters. Your lighting matters. Your physical geography, if your plants are grown in the sun, matters considerably. A Banana OG “strain” grown in one environment can differ considerably if grown in another. It can even differ considerably if it’s fed a different nutrient line.
The cultivar is the domain of the grower. What we know about it today is what growers communicate about it. In the informal market historical context, that knowledge was highly classified and shared in secret, for obvious reasons. It was limited by the imperative to NOT record, because doing so could catch you a much bigger case, as Kevin found out in the early 2000s. As a result, it’s mostly a matter of oral history, found and lost in the memories of the growers over decades, with few exceptions. Kevin’s decades of expertise are unique in his drive to network together knowledge about cultivation of the plant especially through “strain” hunting, propagation, and crucially, functioning as a nursery from which the identification of cultivars could be matched to market opportunities across the globe.
The chemovar is the molecular composition of given cultivar. It’s the terpene profile plus the cannabinoid profile plus every element of the whole plant that is not inert, like lipids and waxes that give form but do not interact with human physiology when ingested. It’s what Dr. Russo talks about when he talks about the whole plant and how research on it evolves. The research scientist looks into the plant, literally, to engage with the consistency and variability of how people are affected by it. He needs a laboratory and lab equipment — in fact, the chemotype is the snapshot of the chemovar that analytics laboratories produce, with raw material created by the producer and processor. The chemovar is an ensemble of numbers about which considerable possibilities for branding emerge, especially in the Washington legal context where the consumer is not permitted to experience the product’s smell or effect before buying it.
The chemovar is the domain of the scientist. What we know about it today comes from an extremely small number of licensed researchers on the one hand and the databases of cannabis analytics labs, which are absolutely exploding under conditions of legalization but remain really small in comparison of what’s to come. Pioneering researchers like Dr. Russo were able to produce this knowledge under very specific and limited historical conditions.
In Ethan’s case, it was his position as Senior Medical Advisor for GW Pharmaceuticals. GW itself was created out of a perfectly legal arrangement between UK entrepreneurs, outlaw botanists with a legal cannabis genetics bank in the Netherlands, and philanthropic seed money from the late Peter Lewis, arranged by his nephew Don E. Wirtschafter, the moderator of our panels last Saturday.
The basic concepts here are not new, and this way to think about the Terpestival’s popular education elements was not planned, but the cultivar and the chemovar frame a conversation about the cannabis plant that will shape the branding evolution of the craft cannabis economy represented at the Third Annual Terpestival.
The question itself is important not just for scientific knowledge and better education, but to reconcile the marketing of cannabis with its botanical reality. The marketing of cannabis to this point has predominantly mobilized the discourse of “strains,” usually typologized as indica, sativa, and hybrid. You can see this most prominently in the ubiquitous Leafly posters hung up in most dispensaries and retail outlets in existence.
These two plant identities reflect advancement in the understanding of cannabis as a plant and as a delivery mechanism for entourage effects loosely grouped under the notion of “high” — more properly understood as a highly variable consumer experience than includes therapeutic effects rather than simply recreational drug consumption.
The frames here — from the scientist and from the grower — aren’t contradictory, but they can be confusing for an industry that is already reeling from the reconstruction of knowledge about the plant under conditions of lab testing, a vast and growing array of nutrient lines, and methods for producing cannabis. Under conditions of legalization, knowledge about the cultivar can at last be recorded and advanced considerably with knowledge about the chemovar, outside the barrier to entry posed by global cannabis prohibition. That information is going to be incredibly useful for consumers of all stripes — patients who need to know which chemotype is likely to come from which cultivar so they can get consistent and effective medicine; and adult-use consumers who need to know which chemotype is likely to come from which cultivar so they can choose what kind of experience works for them; and so on.
But it will take an industry that is paying attention to these advancements to deliver the plant itself to the people. The Third Annual Terpestival made a space for that to happen, one which I hope will grow leaps and bounds in the coming years. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who made it possible — the popular educators, the budtenders, the sponsors, the Terpene Tournament entrants, the volunteers, the paid staff, my incredible friends and Board members, and the City that worked with us to make it possible.