LCB Home Grow Study: Option 3 the Status Quo

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

After further review, it’s very clear how to respond to the WSLCB regulated home grow options. I choose, if it matters, Option 3, the status quo. This post is about why, and to ask my readers to shape their feedback accordingly.

The WSLCB has delivered a perfectly reasonable set of options to the legislature’s mandate that they carry out a study on the feasibility of regulated home grow. They have been asked only to deliver options for a kind of home grow that is unlike any of the other 8 states and the nation’s capital, in that it would not apply to all adult citizens residing in the State. It would apply only to those who apply for it, as a privilege that could be taken away or prevented by the entity that manages those permits, whether it be local law enforcement or the WSLCB.

By contrast, all other State home grow laws allow for home grow as a right. For them, being an adult citizen means having the liberty to grow a few plants without having to ask for permission or be tracked or be subject to anything that would infringe on the right to privacy. Home grow in all the other states is a civil liberty.

The WSLCB is not an arm of the State concerned with the expansion or protection of civil liberties. It is an entity charged with creating, regulating, and policing legal cannabis businesses. Thus, the stakeholders they consult about home grow are businesses, not civil liberties watchdogs like the ACLU, which funded our State legalization initiative. I 502 was, and should always be, a civil liberties law that SECONDARILY creates a market from which the State can tap revenue.

The WSLCB is institutionally incapable of prioritizing the civil liberties of adult citizens assumed responsible. As a private police force, it can and does assume adult citizens are potential vectors of illegality, not stakeholders in a civil liberties experiment.

As a business regulator, it has no expertise or mandate to govern adult civil liberties. Its Board contains no representatives of any group that has either. Thus, the proper entity for considering and designing adult home grow as a civil liberty in the State of Washington is the Legislature.

The Legislature must consider more than just options for regulated home grow. They must carefully study the Cole Memo and understand how its parameters allow for adult home grow as a civil liberty.

The Cole Memo is a set of guidelines, not a blueprint for making law or policy. It is exclusively about the legal markets regulated by entities such as the WSLCB. The concern for diversion is exclusively about making sure each State’s regulated cannabis markets do not become mixed up with black market activity — diversion into, and out of, the regulated market, with clear emphasis on diversion to other states.

An adult homegrow provision in this State carves out a space that is simply out of the jurisdiction of the WSLCB. Adult home grow, as a civil liberty, would be unregulated, because adult home grow would not be part of the regulated system. No need to worry about policing diversion, because no one would be diverting from a regulated system. That’s how it works in 8 other States and the District of Columbia. It would literally be none of the WSLCB’s business.

We need our Legislature to listen to civil liberties experts, particularly those associated with the success of I 502 like the ACLU, Alison Holcomb, and even Rick Steves. Ask them what the spirit of I 502 is, whether adult use home grow like adult use possession, sharing, and consumption should be decriminalized.

The reason why the ACLU will respond quite differently from the WSLCB, or the industry stakeholders to whom they might listen, is because the ACLU has experts in the history and practice of illicit drug prohibition, and must include that expertise in any consideration of the matter at hand.

It would be much more helpful if the Legislature could consult a standing body of drug policy experts that have published on and studied racial disparities and punishment in the U.S. This is perhaps the fundamental thing missing from Washington State’s approach to legalizing cannabis: the ACLU is never consulted. By default, only the legal cannabis police are consulted, and they interpret their mandate broadly enough to consider the risk of adult home grow as an exceptional threat to Cole Memo compliance on the one hand; and the legal cannabis industry on the other.

There are many more arguments that can and will be made. But these are the fundamental ones.

I 502, and cannabis legalization at large, are about promoting civil liberties and reducing the scope of the punitive State, which in all cases increases racial disparity because of structural racism. Every other State subject to the Cole memo guidelines has created adult home grow as a civil liberty, and it is highly unlikely that following this path would invite Federal intervention. Finally, the expressed concerns about diversion in the Cole Memo are about policing the integration of organized crime into State-legal markets, and are not concerned at all with what happens on a vanishingly small scale in the privacy of adult homes.

So I urge all of my readers who are interested in providing feedback to the WSLCB on its home grow options to choose option 3, the status quo, because adult use home grow should be a civil liberties issue, not a regulated business issue. We thank them for doing what they were asked by the Legislature to do, and choose to focus instead on working for Legislative change, including the two existing civil liberties home grow bills still in process that will be taken up again in January.

 

 

WSLCB Home Grow Study Options Under Review

by Dr. Dominic Corva, Executive Director

Yesterday, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (“LCB”) announced the parameters of its legislatively-mandated study on the feasibility of home grow in Washington State. Although they will be taking public comment on the document, the LCB has defined two distinct options, neither of which may be acceptable to citizens who want what 8 other states and Washington D.C. have, the right to grow a limited number of plants in the privacy of their own home without having to register in some way. Let’s be clear — although they list three options, the third is “status quo” so really there are only two options on the table at the moment.

It comes down to LCB control over personal home grows, in which the LCB issues permits to applicants and tracks everything they do in the State traceability system; or local jurisdictional control over personal home grows, in which citizens register with and are regulated by local jurisdictions (cities and counties, presumably).

The first option would require that the LCB spend a great deal of money attempting to police who knows how many tiny operations across the state. This is something the underfunded agency definitely does not want to have to do, although if the legislature told them to they would probably try. It’s unlikely that the legislature will tell them to do something they are clearly not funded well enough to do.

The other option is more pragmatic — leave it to local jurisdictions to opt in our out; and local police to enforce or not. High upon the list of reasons the LCB lists not to do it is their impression that allowing home grow would run counter to the Cole Memo’s guidelines to prevent diversion and access by children. However, such a system would make home grow a privilege for citizens living in jurisdictions that would allow it. We could expect much of the State’s local municipalities to react in the same way they have for legal cannabis, banning or zoning home grows out of much of the State. In a sense we would be legislating State-local experiments within the Federal-State experiment.

Without going into too much detail, let’s identify the assumptions — the model of the world — underpinning the options the LCB is willing to consider.

  1. They are expanding the Cole Memo guidelines into policymaking guidelines, by defining the “diversion” injunction far more broadly that its original interpretation. In the original interpretation, the concern for diversion was read as strictly applying to the regulated markets in question. That is, States were charged with policing diversion out of regulated cannabis markets, not policing Federal prohibition writ large ie the segment of the black market that has nothing to do with the legal market. In so doing, the LCB is greatly expanding the scope of its policing mandate, effectively taking on the task of prohibition itself.
  2. I would point out that the legal market IS supposed to mitigate the black market, as they are clearly aware, but it is supposed to be doing so through civil rather than criminal governance. They are supposed to be creating a safe, highly accessible regulated market that consumers can choose over the black market. In my model of the world, I 502’s architect Alison Holcomb-advertised purpose was to help end the “failed” war on drugs and market creation was a nice collateral benefit, per City Attorney Pete Holmes’s words when Cannabis City inaugurated legal retail availability June 2015.
  3. This is a serious, serious tension between how the LCB understands its mandate and what the voters of Washington and anyone interested in ending the war on drugs want out of cannabis legalization. It is the assumption that makes reality-based policy impossible. If the LCB understands its mandate as prohibition-to-prop-up-legalization, then it will repeat all the mistakes of prohibition — namely, the impossible pursuit of perfect control that has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and countless lives, in the name of protecting society from something it never needed to be protected from. Anyone who understands the history of drug control understands this. If the LCB does not understand the history of drug control, they have no business governing cannabis legalization.
  4. The necessity of a permit from the State not only creates a patchwork of local opt-ins and leave-outs. It also raises serious Federal constitutional questions around the right to privacy; and opens up the State to having to overturn Leary v. United States (1969), which successfully overturned the 1937 Marijuana Tax Stamp Act on the grounds of self-incrimination. That Supreme Court decision is why we are governed by a 1971 Public Health law, the Controlled Substances Act, instead of the original 1937 Prohibition law. If it’s not about medicine, it becomes about privacy. At that point I don’t see why a class action lawsuit on the grounds of that Supreme Court decision couldn’t overturn Washington’s legalization framework altogether, putting the LCB out of a job (again).
  5. The argument that home grow may increase access by children is an argument that requires the State to police parenting. Adult citizens with children should be assumed to be responsible, not irresponsible, and trusted to act in their children’s best interest. It’s way past high time to let parents raise their own children, in the privacy of their own homes, without assuming that poor parenting decisions should be regulated by a set of Federal guidelines that are interpreted so completely differently by every other State doing legalization.
  6. Washington State has been in open rebellion against unreasonable Federal policy for far more than just cannabis. Our Governor and our Attorney General have made hay out of resisting the Trump administration’s efforts to police immigration — one could say we are one of the leading States in that regard. Why should we be so cowardly in the face of Federal threats, especially when our legal cannabis system is more tightly controlled (and controllable) than every other State that has done it? This State insists on protecting its citizens and non-citizens from what it perceives as Federal overreach. We have room to rebel when it comes to legal cannabis, because we have the most tightly controlled system already (thanks to this LCB, already).
  7. Why is there a disconnect between the governor and AG’s general political attitude towards Federal overreach and its approach to cannabis policy? Unless some unprecedented flurry of citizen organization emerges, there’s no political capital to be gained by resisting Federal overreach with respect to cannabis policy. Governor Inslee and LCB chief Rick Garza are high school buddies. Inslee calls Garza “Ricky.” They are super-close, and it’s highly likely that Inslee basically doesn’t have any interest in contradicting his buddy over something that really doesn’t affect his political prospects.
  8. I want to stress that Rick Garza and the LCB aren’t acting out of evil intentions or even the desire for power, necessarily. The LCB was created to control post-prohibition alcohol markets. If it’s in their mandate, of course they see the need to fulfill that mandate. Rick Garza is also clearly on the other side of the culture wars — his attitudes towards cannabis are far more likely to reflect the American public at large’s assumptions about the dangers of cannabis, which didn’t change with legalization. Those dangers, as any rigorous student of drug policy history, reflected the politics of social control rather than any scientific or rational basis. In the 1930s it was about policing minorities and migrants. In the 1970s it was about policing minorities and the antiwar movement. Those laws are a monument to racism, not concern for the rights of free citizens, especially in the privacy of their own homes.

In the coming months there will be lots of reaction, and if history is any indication an utterly ineffective effort to steer us back towards reality-based policy. Prohibition fails to do anything but fund more policing and prop up black market prices, stimulating incentives to produce and putting production in the hands of elements that include, on the extreme spectrum, elements willing to use violence to manage risk. This is a historical fact.

Washington State has less to fear in terms of Federal intervention than any other State. This is a contemporary fact. Capitulating to the politics of fear is craven, not courageous, and certainly not progressive, which really is a Washington State brand of politics. That is a fact. We don’t deny climate change, we stand up for immigrant communities, we have same-sex marriage. Those are facts. It’s true that we we have a regressive State tax policy as well, so there are ways in which that brand isn’t terribly consistent.

The question is, how can the politics of home grow be granted the kind of consideration that climate change, immigration, and LGBTQ politics get. Why should the LCB buy into that frame? There are, at the moment, no effective organizing strategies that would allow them to do so. Let’s see what happens in the next three months. I really hope that we don’t repeat the track record of cannabis organizing in this state, which one of division and utter impotence.

 

 

Barriers to Understanding, Barriers to Change

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Yesterday I introduced a trailhead to exploring how cannabis markets and policy help shape each other. My academic friends should recognize this as a “theoretical framework” — a technique for building a model of the world so we can understand and intervene in it.

It’s a “political economy” model, which is to say that it requires the technique user — the analyst — to consider how power in society shapes and is shaped by how we mobilize resources and make livelihoods. It’s distinct especially from economic science models of the world that assume everything is happening because of rational choice and marginal utility, models I learned to get my undergraduate degree in Economics.

It’s also distinct from political science models of the world that assume that the State has everyone’s best interests in mind when they make law and policy, and that there is a clear distinction between the security of its citizens and the security of its citizen’s enemies.

My audience is not terribly academic, anymore. But it is important for you to understand how my model of the world informs my model of cannabis and the world. Like most academic approaches, I have to balance analytical rigor with just how much I want my explanations to mean something, to have an effect on how people think and act in the world. I want to pick battles I can win, rather than just be right and feel good about it.

This is especially difficult when it comes to addressing the concerns of people who make laws, who make policy. Their models of the world simply do not reflect the realities of cannabis markets and policy that I understand from mine. Incommensurable ontologies, really. They do not understand how long this has been going on, they do not understand where the compulsion to prohibit comes from, or who is being prohibited; most importantly they do not accept a model of society that says ours has been at war with itself, a real war with millions of lives lost to what is clearly a dangerous and anti-peace security-industrial complex, in my model of the world.

The problem is not with what they know, it’s how they know it. Their model of the world looks at the drug war as a metaphor, not a reality. Their model of the world thinks that the dangerousness of prohibited drugs is historically given, and comes from rational choices made by in good faith by representatives of the public will. Their model of the world thinks we only need to reduce the harm of drugs, rather than considering the harm of intrasocietal warfare as the cause not only of drug harms (which do exist, part of a larger social problem called overconsumption) but of Bad Things that have nothing to do with drug harms, like making perpetual war a condition for economic health.

Is it too much to say the problem here is a total lack of common ground in our models of the world? Think about it: to truly end the war on drugs, for the reasons that reflect reality rather than politics, our politicians and policymakers would have to admit that our prohibition laws and criminal justice policy don’t belong in a model of the world that assumes we are getting better all the time at everything — that Modernity is stamping out Barbarism, always making us safer rather than introducing new ways to destroy ourselves at every turn. That we are heirs to an Enlightenment tradition. That our instinct to help the vulnerable among us can be appropriated by good people acting in good faith. That Good and Evil have been worked out and that our institutions are designed an operated to make things better instead of worse.

The contemporary situation of cannabis legalization illustrates this concept in its own very specific way, and because it affects such a tiny segment of a population that is suffering from so many other ways in which the Modernity is a fable, rather than a story, of progress and Enlightenment, that it appears we must go backwards to go forward. The radical nature of successful cannabis legalization initiatives is being appropriated by politicians and economic interests who have no compulsion to seriously assess what has gone wrong and how to fix it.

It varies from state to state, but so far the promise of cannabis legalization as a strategy for ending the drug war is quickly replaced by political interests still obsessed with the scientifically baseless assumed harm of cannabis itself, that requires reforming our laws and policy to reflect a kinder, gentler war on plants and the people whose livelihoods have been one long act of civil disobedience, on the one hand; and autonomous from the ravages of the racial and class warfare on the other.

State legalization initiatives are absolutely revolutionary with respect this country’s political order, where the Controlled Substances Act centralizes Federal authority over State and Local freedom to decide when and where to exercise its prerogative on violence against its population.

In every case, though, State legislatures are reconfiguring the the legitimacy of prohibition rather than making peace with a plant that has been, in human history, one of the safest therapeutic substances known to man. It’s clear at this point that after a medical marijuana era defined by policy demobilization, the legal marijuana era will be defined by increased moral panic about cannabis production and consumption that colors outside the incredibly restrictive barriers to access put up by legal frameworks. Ask the Hmong communities of Northern California how this makes sense.

What to do, and what battles to pick? It depends on your model of the world, not just your model of how great cannabis is for public revenue and corporate coffers. The latter can be productive strategies for appealing to a politicians and populations invested in maintaining the current political and economic order — people who think yeah, some bad things are happening, but the assumptions we have don’t need to be fundamentally challenged, merely improved and reformed.

In my model of the world, this approach nurtures a security-industrial complex that is destroying most of us, for the profit of a few and the political careers of many. And it does so not because of Evil people doing Evil things (though there is that), but because of totally normal people trying to help. But because their model of the world can’t accommodate historical or present reality — or only partially accommodates reality — the more they help, the more money capital takes over from the culture warriors as what props up prohibition.

What we are looking at here, folks, is the continuity of prohibition instead of its end. The urge to punish and stigmatize certain populations gets rewired, retrofitted into the reproduction of the present order of things. An honest political economy model presents some challenge to this Social Problem.

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Dr. Michelle Sexton

 

Dr. Sexton and Dr. Corva at 2013 Seattle Hempfest , Seattle Washington

by Dominic Corva, Executive Director

I first met Dr. Michelle Sexton when my friend from graduate school, Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, pulled us into an application for a team job. The three of us and California attorney SaraLynn Mandel, who was the catalyzing force for the effort, teamed up to apply for the State of Washington’s cannabis consulting team for creating an architecture for I 502, the legalization initiative that passed in November 2012. We finished fifth out of 200 applicants, grouped with about seven other application teams that were all scored within formal interviewing distance from each other, but BOTEC’s massive application (which exceeded the application material guideline considerably) was scored significantly higher than our competitive group. So, the then-Liquor Control Board brought in BOTEC for a sniff test and hired them on the spot.

That didn’t end our interest in helping shape legal cannabis policy in Washington State. I am a political geographer, and rarely has such a discrete, unique, and utterly undeveloped research field opened up so invitingly. So I finished the spring semester and registered the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy at the end of May 2013. Sunil was on board, but it took only a couple of months getting to further develop our intellectual rapport in person before we asked Michelle to join us.

That first year was exploratory, and it was the most fun I’ve had in my life. A huge part of that was teaming with Michelle to meet and talk to so many people in the middle of being so creative and so optimistic about the way things could go. Once a month, we met for our Board meeting, a three-way video conference at which we could put our minds to play together with the possibilities. We brainstormed and explored a landscape of opportunity that ranged from low hanging, realistic fruit to fantastical ideas about community gardens, cooperative research, and even a cannabis-friendly adult playground.

Things began to settle into place a year later, when Sunil left to do his one year fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. We collected a Board, completed the process of registering as a 501(c)(3), and Dr. Sexton started an analytics lab here in Seattle. The I 502 industry itself, labs included, began to find itself on a roller coaster ride of regulatory volatility, real estate quagmires, unworkable business partnerships, and with the passage of SB 5052 two years in, a sudden and unexpected amputation of medical cannabis, the revenues of which bootstrapped smaller, established businesses and people into the sinkhole of I 502 startup. When her lab closed down, Michelle moved back to San Diego to be with her partner Dr. Daryl Bornhop, who continues to successfully battle cancer.

One of the great things that came out of Dr. Sexton’s time with Phytalab was our popular education event, the Annual Terpestival. The first year we did it, it was a huge success as a fundraiser for our organization. The medical cannabis community embraced it as the first event of its kind, expanding popular education about whole plant cannabis by focusing on the importance of terpenes. The name “Terpestival” itself came from Michelle’s daughter, Naomi Woodruff.

The following year, in the shadow of SB 5052 and coinciding with Michelle’s move back to San Diego, we chose to host the event in Hopland California, with the help of our friend Martin Lee. That event was a lot more difficult to organize, and lost money, but was again an immense success in terms of content provided, attendance, speakers, and the incredible ambiance of the Real Goods Solar Living Center. Our third event was held in July, and although once again a success as an event, we barely broke even.

In the meantime, Dr. Sexton developed a great relationship with the University of San Diego, and began to collaborate with them in her private practice as a naturopath. Understandably, she began to feel like her desire to focus on patients, her partner, and her quality of life was really rooted in where she was now. At the same time, CASP benefitted mightily from the professional regard in which she is held as a medical cannabis naturopath and expert. Her contract reviewing applications for the State of Maryland injected a year’s worth of salary for both of us. And her contract earlier this year with the Puyallup tribe to help develop an opioid substitution study contributed further. She has represented CASP at numerous national and international conferences, and published her research with the CASP byline. In short, she has produced tremendous value to our nonprofit research organization in every capacity she has held: Board Member, Executive Medical Research Director, Clinician, Researcher, and all-around cannabis person at large.

So it is with oceans of gratitude, respect and love that we accept her decision to move on from CASP. More than a professional collaboration, Dr. Michelle Sexton has been my best intellectual playmate, influence, and caregiver for more than four years. I started this as a social scientist without much knowledge of whole plant science, culture and values — now, I’m not who I am without them. And neither is CASP. But she’s created us that way, and we will continue to be that way in her wake. It is a fundamental part of our organizational identity. I look forward to being close friends and intellectual playmates the rest of our lives.

This goodbye is a celebration of my dear friend and confident hope for her path forward to be clear and beautiful. Thank you, Michelle.

 

 

The Chemovar and the Cultivar

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director and Terpestival Producer

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.

 

Terpestival Winners with Confident Cannabis and Medicine Creek Analytics

by Tony Lewis, President and Co-founder, Confident Cannabis

Confident Cannabis are excited to partner with the Cannabis and Social Policy Center, Cannabis Alliance and Medicine Creek testing lab to present the winners of Terpestival 2017! With our Terpestival website you can see the winners and understand terpene data by comparing the competitors to different strains and classifications in the Confident Cannabis Universe. The Terpestival Site linked is HERE.

The Terpestival website opens with a gallery of all the competitors. From this page you can click to see more detail for each entrant including a full cannabinoid and terpene profile from testing laboratory Medicine Creek.

How to Use the Terpestival Website

On the Flower Winners page you can select any competition category using the first dropdown menu. This shows green dots for all the competition entrants. The winner in that category is highlighted in gold, for the Myrcene category the winner was North Coast Grower’s Fruity Pebbles with 1.49% Myrcene of dry weight, congratulations! You can also select a comparison universe to learn more about how common myrcene is in different classifications and strains. In the Comparison Universe dropdown you can select different universes, different classifications or different strains. You can look at the terpene profile for strains like Blue Dream, OG Kush, Sour Diesel and others. The universe shows on the chart as a green boxplot which represents the full range of terpene levels for whatever you have selected.

By changing the chart scale you can also see the data on the chart as a % of dry weight or as a % of total terpenes so that you can see how much myrcene there is in the flower compared to other terpenes in the same flower product. To see even more about the mix of terpenes you can go to “Explore Flower Samples”. On this page you will see a radar chart showing all the terpenes for a competitor and compare them to the same universe. Below you can see North Coast Growers Gorilla Glue which won four awards, congratulations! This competitor has very high caryophyllene and humulene which tend to occur together in cannabis flower. In the chart below we can compare this to Trainwreck which is a very different strain. Trainwreck usually has more Terpinolene and more Myrcene but lower Caryophyllene and Humulene. You can explore yourself to see more!

About Confident Cannabis

Confident Cannabis is the leading software platform for cannabis testing labs and their clients to track and share their products’ quality. When your lab uses Confident Cannabis, so can you! You can then get access to many of these tools and more including embeddable product gallery, labels, shareable test results and fraud-prevention tools. Check confidentcannabis.com to find labs in your region.

 

Introducing the Terpestival Popular Education Panels

by Dominic Corva,  Event Producer and Social Science Research Director

This year’s posts about The Original Terpestival (TM) follow the rhythm of the event’s production. First, we told you about the event. Second, we made our call for entries, explaining the political economy of the entry process — how the entry economy has a politics to it, specifically a politics of wellness. Along the way we described the value we are creating for entrants, who are provided with a vehicle for branding and marketing I 502 cannabis beyond THC and low price. We have also referred to the value created by our keynote and popular education panels, which serve to educate budtenders, consumers, retailers, policymakers and the public (in roughly that order of priority) on the science and economy of the whole plant. We also target producers and processors of course, but that demographic is significantly already educated and acting on whole plant knowledge.

Today begins a short series on the theory and practice of our keynote and education panels. I thought to write just one, but really there’s quite a bit to talk about and I want to keep these missives digestible.

I first wrote about the education 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 TerpenesThe 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. Stay tuned for a more in-depth introduction to our speakers in the coming days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Alliance of Cannabis for Wellness

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

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 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.

Our delivery vehicle for this information is out Terpene Tournament, a boutique cannabis competition that literally gives the industry new ways to differentiate, create, and market products for a more conscious public.

We are proud to partner with the Cannabis Alliance in this effort because this has always been common ground for our organizations. It is an organic extension of social relationships I have been developing since founding the organization in 2013. Lara Kaminsky, the Alliance’s executive director, is not only a CASP Board member but our event planner. We’ve worked together to promote the emergence of healthy cannabis policy and markets practically since the moment I returned to Seattle, along with many Alliance members that constitute the CASP information and organizational network. Together we form an entourage effect greater than any particular interest or issue facing the cannabis peace movement today.

Together, even when we are sick, tired, poor, and stressed out, we are WELL. This realization helps me get up every day, grateful for my social ecology, and determined to carry our message forward.

Taming THC Inflation: Is There a Silver Bullet?

by Dominic Corva, Social Science Research Director

Washington State’s approach to cannabis legalization provides many lessons for other states coming on line in the future. One of the really state-specific lessons we have learned over the last four years is that we have created a situation in which measured THC levels on packaged flowers are much higher than those observed during the period of unregulated medical cannabis markets. There are actually two significant problems with this. Please note that this analysis refers specifically to flowers — processed cannabis products can and usually are homogenized in the process, so test results are less of a concern.

  1. High THC levels, which approach and sometimes exceed what is botanically possible, are inaccurate and misleading.
  2. Labs that consistently deliver higher THC results than other labs “corner the market” since higher results make products more likely to sell, under Washington’s particular approach to legal cannabis packaging.

Both of these problems create suboptimal public policy results, with respect to scientific accuracy, on the one hand, and unfair market advantage for untrustworthy labs on the other. Let’s take them one at a time, before examining a simple, completely technical approach that could virtually eliminate these problems.

Suspiciously high THC results can be the consequence of intentional and unintentional behavior or decisions by producers, processors, labs, and rule makers. There’s no reason to point fingers when there are so many factors contributing to this outcome. Instead, let me list a few.

  1. Consumers that are not allowed to sample or smell the product they purchase, due to packaging and retail display rules, are deciding what to buy on very little information. Adult-use consumers clearly show a preference for high THC numbers, which are required numbers found on each package. And like consumers of other products, they are swayed by clever and attractive packaging, which has no inherent correlation to the quality of the product inside. Most packaging provides a fairly limited window to observe the “bag appeal” of the product inside. In fact, “bag appeal” in these conditions refers significantly to the appeal of the bag, not what’s in it, because that all they can see. This is an unintentional outcome of strict packaging and display rules, and there is no reason to suspect foul play. It’s structural, not the outcome of bad intent.
  2. Labs, by rule, have one broad direction with respect to how they go about testing product. They are instructed by rule to follow the guidelines laid out about cannabis in the American Herbal Pharmacopeia. These guidelines were not designed to standardize lab methods in any particular direction. So, Washington’s labs have each independently arrived at how they follow those guidelines. This is also a structural problem, and to their credit many of Washington’s labs have begun collaborating to develop “best practices” to help standardize methodologies.
  3. Lab reference standards — the individual cannabinoid samples they use to compare industry products in order to arrive at numbers — can vary for a number of reasons. Most labs source these from Restek, but there are other suppliers out there. This can introduce variability for obvious reasons. Some non-obvious reasons for reference standard variability include how those are stored, and how long they are used before they are replaced. The temperature and pressure at which reference standards are stored contribute greatly to the their stability. And of course labs may vary in how long they go before replacing “used up” or unreliable standards, for intentional and unintentional reasons. This introduces a lot of potential variability in test results across labs. It is a structural problem faced in any laboratory industry that tests products using chemical reference standards. It could be improved, but not likely eliminated. Here is where the lesson that scientific methods are not perfect, but they can be more transparent.
  4. Cannabis plants are highly variable from top cola to bottom buds. This is a problem of sampling a product that is not uniform. It can be a little helpful to require independent, third party samplers. But even when that happens, the plant is highly variable. It’s a plant, not an industrial product. This is a structural problem, but more of a structural problem for science in general rather than our particular approach to cannabis regulation.

There are other factors that influence the variability of THC lab results, but the lesson is: THC results can be precise, but how accurate they are always an open question. Precise THC numbers are always a guide, not a guarantee. It is absolutely crucial that consumers and policymakers understand this limit. Now, the problem of market capture via THC inflation.

  1. How do producers and processors choose which lab to use? There are many business decisions to make when choosing labs. These include convenience, professionalism, and consistency — but as Dr. Jim MacRae’s work has shown with a high degree of methodological confidence, it’s pretty clear that producers and processors are choosing labs based how high their THC results can be. One caveat: producers and processors are clearly behaving badly when they agree to pay labs more for higher numbers.
  2. Producers and processors are making market decisions when they do this. As mentioned above, THC levels correspond with product velocity and therefore more sales. They may be perfectly aware that this is unfortunate, but they also know that the precision of lab results does not necessarily reflect accuracy in any case. So, given the choice of more sales rather than less, they choose more. I call this a structural problem, although there is certainly an ethically questionable element. Some producer/processors want to evolve consumers away from the importance of precise THC numbers, and choose the more challenging road because they have a long-term vision of the industry in which they operate.
  3. Labs are making market decisions when they choose to follow methods that result in higher THC numbers, AND labs are making unethical decisions when they receive payment for higher numbers, for example, or intentionally introduce methodological variations that favor higher results. We have also encountered the “drylabbing” phenomenon in Washington State, whereby labs literally just make up numbers to report. That’s way beyond the pale, and one lab has already been shut down for this. Other labs that may have done this in the past have cleaned up their act.

 

So, how do we tame THC inflation? Obviously, improved governance has some effect — and that governance includes the public reporting work that Dr. MacRae has done, which has clearly had a strong effect on lab motivation to not look bad. Every lab test result in this state is public information, and any public servant with database skills can request WSLCB data and run the numbers themselves.

However, there is a “silver bullet” technical fix that could absolutely clean up most of the mess. Here it is.

Normalize lab results by lab, and require only the percentile of each result to be listed on the package rather than a precise percentage.

Each lab has its own data population and range of results. For all of the reasons listed above, the numbers they produced are not comparable across labs; nor are they comparable across time (hello, life cycle of reference standards).

For a lab that consistently ranges up to 32% but no higher, for example, a sample that tests at 32% would be reported at the 100th percentile. The number on the package would be 100.

For a lab that consistently ranges up to 25%, a sample that tests at 25% would also be reported at the 100th percentile. The number on the package would also be 100.

Doing this changes the comparisons away from apples to oranges (how we are doing it now), and towards apples to apples.

Simply doing this would eliminate shopping for the highest THC prices immediately. Producers and processors could then make decisions on what lab they used based on best business practices and convenience, rather than unscrupulous behavior.

It would take a simple line of code in the tracking software, and a small shift in packaging information. It would also of course need to by dynamically updated, perhaps by using only the last 100 results. New laboratories would use the industry average for 100 results, and then once they had significant data from their own results switch over.

Listing a normalized percentile instead of a precise quantity would also help shift consumer and policymaker understanding of what lab results mean and how they are used. They should be use primarily to indicate that something is strong, qualitatively, rather than quantitatively, because again, cannabis flowers are variable and precise numbers do not mean accurate numbers.

That’s it. It’s an immodest proposal — an actual silver bullet based on understanding how statistical variability influences market outcomes, and therefore provides “loopholes” that reward unethical behavior.

I want to thank Dr. Jim MacRae especially for making this issue one that the industry and policymakers can’t ignore any more. He’s got his own style for doing so, but you can’t argue with his methods which are absolutely testable by any citizen-scientist that cares to. Fortunately, his work has been amplified by two cannabis journalists whose approach makes it a bit harder for people to ignore, Bob Young of the Seattle Times and Tobias Coughlin-Bogue of Leafly.

Enter the Terpene Tournament

by Dr. Dominic Corva, Terpestival Producer and Social Science Research Director

Example Certificate of Analysis from Medicine Creek Analytics, including full range of terpenes that will be analyzed by the lab (and thus included in “Total Terpenes” award).

Eventbrite tickets to the event here.

 

This year’s Terpene Tournament (TM) has been carefully designed to maximize entries and minimize costs to entrants. Let’s review the logic of our unique, entrant-friendly competition!

Many categories instead of few

The emergence and prevalence of terpene testing for Washington’s legal cannabis market allows us to diversify our award categories without diluting the value of each award. The whole cannabis plant is incredibly diverse, thanks to several decades of highly decentralized experimentation within North American cannabis markets; with a relatively common gene pool that was distributed historically through Amsterdam-based seed banks and breeders. That sentence itself would be the subject of a whole other essay (or series of books, really), and the geography of cannabis hybridization has certainly decentralized in the last ten years. The point I want to drive home is that while breeders focused especially on potency, they were also  focused on finding different, overpowering smells and tastes.

What consumers demanded was not only high THC, but “loud” cannabis. At our first Terpestival, Wonderland Nursery’s Kevin Jodrey remarked that he now understood his own market-making journey as primarily a practice of “hunting for terps.” There are more complex layers to what this means besides looking for loud and unique terpene expressions for national and global markets, but perhaps most importantly this insight complicates the dominant narrative of black market cannabis as one strictly focused on maximizing THC. THC-maximization, prior to the widespread availability of actual testing results, really refers to potency maximization.

And potency maximization isn’t just about THC quantities and/or minimizing CBD presence, which also complicates the question of what potency is or does. Terpenes are the delivery vehicles for cannabinoids: potency expression and type vary greatly by the ensemble/entourage of terpenes that “carry” cannabinoids to receptors. So, on the one hand, potency maximization (how much cannabis hits you) depends on terpene quantity and quality. And potency type also varies by terpene quality, of which “uplifting” and “couchlock” are two common examples.

This observation unsettles a basic foundation upon which cannabis markets — or marketing, really — have been founded for quite some time. Cannabis doesn’t come in two types, “indica” and “sativa,” commonly associated with “couchlock” and “uplifting” in every legal retail store and medical dispensary up and down the West Coast for the last decade. Briefly: the uplifting tone of “sativa”-branded cannabis primarily comes from the dominance of pinene; and the “couchlock” tone of “indica”-branded cannabis comes from the dominance of myrcene. And there’s way more to it than those two terpenes and those two effect qualities. We know about this in no small part through the work of Dr. Ethan Russo, our keynote speaker, and his extension of aromatherapy research principles to cannabis.

Which is why we don’t just have two categories, myrcene and pinene. Our categories reflect the available resources and capabilities of our lab partner, Medicine Creek Analytics. Different labs have different capabilities with respect to detecting and measuring terpenes, which undoubtedly will be a factor in how the legal market accommodates and standardizes terpene diversity in the years to come. We have chosen 8 terpenes that are fairly common across lab testing capabilities as our foundational award categories: alpha-Pinene, Myrcene, Limonene, Linalool, Beta-caryophyllene, Terpinolene, Ocimene, and Humulene.

There are five more categories: Total Terpenes, THC and total terpenes, CBD and total terpenes, Most Broadly Therapeutic (closest to 1 THC: 1 CBD plus total terpenes), and Judges’ Choice. In the next section, I describe how all these categories follow an objective and transparent methodology involving quantitative and qualitative stages.

The Path to Winning a Category

The path to winning a category starts with Medicine Creek Analytics‘ quantitative results. The top three “quant” scorers in each category are grouped as a competition field, after which they are evaluated by our Subject Matter Experts qualitatively to establish a winner. The judging process, coordinated by seasoned global cannabis competition expert Alison Draisin, does not try to judge entries based on what terpene is their category.

The subjective, qualitative aspect of the process takes over once the objective, quantitative aspect establishes the field. This is because cannabis quality is inherently subjective, given not only material variation in the cannabis itself but variation in each consumer’s individual biology and psychology. This fact challenges efforts to standardize how cannabis is marketed and branded, considerably. We aim to help the industry evolve not only by establishing quantitative methods for branding purposes, but for understanding variance and diversity of cannabis consumer markets — all of which can be captured by focusing on subjective consumer experience, as well as objective terpene presence.

So: each entry gets a terp test from our sponsoring lab, the Puyallup Tribe’s Medicine Creek Analytics. The top three alpha-Pinene scorers, for example, then go to our judges, who have been carefully curated by our judge coordinator, Alison Draisin, for their palate expertise. This doesn’t mean they will all taste and smell the same thing. It means they are qualified by experience and vetted by Alison, who is a veteran of numerous cannabis competitions around the world and locally due to her historical participation and flourishing medical cannabis business, Ettalew’s Medibles.

Each entry may qualify for multiple categories. A top-three Myrcene scorer, for example, is highly likely to be a top-three Total Terpene scorer, given the predominance of Myrcene in contemporary cannabis cultivars. Having lots of categories opens up space for entrants with unique or less-common terpenes to win, too. And we have created categories that combine Total Terpenes with cannabinoid ratios, because although cannabinoids are de-emphasized in our Tournament they are still part of the Whole Plant and important to recognize.

The last category, Judges’ Choice, isn’t just a consolation category for entrants that don’t make a quantitative cut. The fact is, quantitative testing can’t 100% confirm or correlate with terpene volume or quality. There are a lot of reasons for this, but perhaps most obviously, trace terpenes — those minute amounts that labs don’t test for because they are so small — can make an enormous difference. And sometimes cannabis that doesn’t test well, for whatever reason, can smell and taste incredible. That’s a limit to establishing an objective methodology to evaluate a subjective experience. The numbers never tell the whole story, because they represent an incredibly complex plant interacting with incredibly complex human biologies and psychologies. That’s the story of the Judges’ Choice, and perhaps the story of learning how to reach markets with quantitatively modest cannabis.

User-friendly Tournament Entries

The I-502 legal cannabis system allows us to do something most competitions can’t, fairly easily: reduce and minimize the actual cost of entering the competition. Many don’t realize that the cost of entering a cannabis competition includes not only the entry fee, but the opportunity cost of handing over a quantity of product sufficient to be judged, usually a few hundred dollars’ worth of product that could otherwise be sold. That opportunity cost is minimized in our competition because we only require QA samples to be submitted before the three-product field is established — at which point entries have a 1 in 3 chance of winning, rather than a 1 in 100 chance of winning.

Once the Tournament fields are established, entrants will submit one ounce of flower or 14 grams of extract manifested legally through the 502 system for qualitative judging. Those entries must correspond with the lot or batch number associated with the State’s seed-to-sale system, or they will be disqualified. Once they have qualified for 12 of our categories, entrants will receive instructions on how to proceed. The thirteenth category is optional and open to all entrants who have not qualified based on test results. This allows entrants to decide for themselves whether to part with the market value of their entries.

The Terpene Tournament (TM)

That’s it! We hope this description of our Tournament provides transparency and education for interested parties. Over the next month or so, we will be accepting flower and solventless extract submissions, the total of which are capped at 100. To enter, simply provide a QA sample with to Medicine Creek Analytics in Puyallup; a Terpestival Entry Form and your $250 per entry in either cash or check made out to CASP, which can be delivered in person or sent to

CASP

6701 Greenwood Ave N

Seattle, WA 98103

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me, Dominic Corva, at my email address dominic@caspcenter.org. Thank you, and good luck!