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The look in the eyes of new Ganjier students says it all, a mix of astonishment, reverence, and joy. They come from all over the world: Germany, Thailand, the U.K., and from all over the United States, from Southern California to Maine. They come from places where cannabis is still heavily criminalized, where consumers must still navigate the illicit market with little to no choice in what cultivars or cannabis products they can access. They are all ages, from all walks of life. And yet, they have something in common: their love and respect for the cannabis plant. And as they make the pilgrimage to Humboldt County, California, many taking multiple planes, buses, and rental cars to reach the towering redwoods, they know they are coming to a very special place. They are arriving in the premiere cannabis cultivation region of the country, and likely the world: The Emerald Triangle.

The Ganjier is a cannabis sommelier certification program that brings students from across the globe to both be educated and become a part of a community that sees the immense potential of the cannabis industry.

As a proud member of the Ganjier Council, I have been present for many of these arrivals. Weary from the trip, yet full of excitement, these Ganjier students take the time and effort to wind their way north because they want to experience cannabis in the context of authenticity and legacy. They know that becoming a “sommelier” for cannabis means that they must connect with the source, and traveling to Humboldt County gives them the opportunity to do just that.

Part of the in-person training for the Ganjier program involves visiting a local farm. There is an array of sungrown legacy farmers in this region, and just like visiting the famous wine regions of France, there is no substitute for what they are about to experience.

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A visit to farms such as Huckleberry Hill Farms, home of the famous Whitethorn Rose cultivar, provides an opportunity to not only see a beautifully designed and sustainable sungrown cannabis farm, but to hear from Johnny Casali, a farmer who has spent his entire life in Humboldt growing cannabis with his family. He recounts the days of prohibition and having to hide in the woods to escape the helicopters and law enforcement, discusses his time in prison for cultivating, and how the community welcomed him back with open arms upon his release. His experience is emotional, and the students feel the magnitude of the place in which they stand. Many students are forever changed by this experience, ready to carry the message of craft cannabis and sungrown plants back to their homes.

One of the goals of the Ganjier program is to educate and train those with reverence for the plant on the history, science, and culture that envelopes the plant and her role in humanity. The idea is that providing this experience will spread awareness about what quality cannabis is, and where it comes from. As cannabis continues to move in the direction of an agricultural commodity, we run the risk of seeing its fate go the way of industrialized agriculture, something that has been a scourge on the environment and on the public health of society.

With federal legalization potentially on the horizon and with it the potential of interstate commerce and international export, the incentives to produce a lot of product as cheaply as possible will be tough to counter. Small farms like Huckleberry Hill will not be able to easily compete with large-scale industrialized operations. Whether or not they survive and continue the legacy of craft cultivation under the sun will likely depend on you, dear reader. Who do you want to benefit from legalization? Who do you want growing your cannabis? What impact do you want your purchase to have on the environment and on the farmers who have given their lives to the plant?

There is still time to ensure the survival of farms like Casali’s, but their success will be up to people like you. People who value sustainability and craftsmanship over high THC. People who value the plant over industrialized commodities. This 4/20, let’s remember who took the risk during prohibition, and give them, and their harvests, the respect they deserve.

This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of High Times Magazine.



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