As the cannabis industry matures, peripheral amenities connected to the industry are also maturing. Companies now exist that specialize solely in delivering cannabis, producing THC-infused foods and even training retail employees.

If there’s one thing that cannabis consumers will always need more of, it’s informed guidance on making the best decisions for their personal use of the drug. This is where the ganjier comes in. California-based Green Flower is now offering courses to become a ganjier—the cannabis equivalent of a wine sommelier. We sat down for a talk with Mesilla Valley Extracts’ Zach Mendoza, New Mexico’s first official ganjier, about the need for expertise in cannabis.

The Paper.: What is a ganjier?

Mendoza: A ganjier is basically a cannabis expert. In the course I took, we covered everything on cannabis history—tracking it all the way back to the genetics that came over from Lake Qinghai, China way back. We covered everything involving growth methodologies, terpenes, cannabis’ affects on the body and many other topics. We would make good cannabis judges—they gave us a jeweler loupe that we can actually judge cannabis with, and we have an app that helps us to assess cannabis through what we call the SAP—the Systematic Assessment Protocol.

So, we can judge cannabis in either competitions or for dispensaries—maybe help curate particular strains. We can help out with cool upscale events, like cannabis pairing events, where cannabis is paired with food or desserts. There are a lot of different things a ganjier could be used for in the cannabis industry.

You received the designation through a certification program from Green Flower. Can you tell me about the experience?

The instructors are all industry experts. They took around two years to develop the course. They’re basically experts from all areas of the industry—processing experts, growing expert, testing experts, people who are well-respected names in the industry. They give you a year to take your test, and throughout the year, you go through a 10-course program. You also have to go in for a two-day live assessment and live training, where they go over how to assess cannabis concentrates and flower and talk more in-depth about the future of the program and how we can continue our knowledge.

Why do you feel that it’s important for the industry to have ganjiers?

Ganjiers can distinguish between craft and commercial cannabis. That’s one of the big reasons they have developed the program. A lot of the small craft farmers are getting pushed out of the market in places like California. They can’t survive with the prices being what they are. Basically the state just catered its laws toward benefiting commercial growers.

But it’s also for quality, as well as to get a bigger bang for your buck out there. Ganjiers can help guide producers and retailers to better understand what quality is—the difference between top-shelf and mid-shelf cannabis.

What will be the ultimate role of the ganjier? Will there be one in every dispensary?

I hope that that’s what we’re headed toward. I think that’s the goal that Green Flower has in mind. They are trying to push out a bunch of ganjiers each year all around the world. So it should help guide the industry.

A lot of people who are first-time smokers or users that don’t really know what’s good or not—what quality actually looks like—I think they get taken advantage of sometimes. It’s good to have a ganjier there to help guide a client’s choices and recommend strains and help them find their right level of dosage.

I heard you had to travel to California for the live training. How does California cannabis compare to the variety found in New Mexico?

They flew us out to Humboldt County. The so-called Emerald Triangle is out there—right outside Garberville. Out there we did the live training, and then we actually got to go to a live farm and take a tour. It was pretty cool.

As for the cannabis, there was definitely a big difference. It’s basically due to what they call the terroir—the condition of the soil there. What they’re doing right now is they’re working on the appellation of origin. It’s the same way they are with wines—it’s wine country—they actually get more recognition for the area where it’s grown. It’s not very easy to replicate their soil. The terroir they have is pretty cool. Our soil probably isn’t as living as it is over there. It’s very green; they have the ocean nearby, so that helps. They have all their trees and everything. It’s more of the living soil.

Hopefully one day we’ll figure out how to grow that well out here. We’ve got to get our genetics better—more catered to this environment.

What advice can you give producers, knowing what you know now?

For quality, I’d say stay in the area of living soil. I’m not sure I could recommend what will be the best type of living soil in this area, though. I’m not an expert grower, but I’d say stick with living soil. Find what works. You just kind of have to have to play around. You have to go through trial and error to figure out what works for you. Plus, you have different environments. Up north, they do have a little more greener areas, so I’m sure outdoor grows work better up there. Down here, you’re mostly going to see greenhouses and grows that would work better in desert areas.

Are there any specific strains or terpenes that producers should be focusing on?

Sativa dominant strains do much better outdoors and in our climate around here because of the high heat and where we sit in relation to the equator. That’s the recommendation that I got from my instructors.