A marijuana aficionado in Colorado has launched a program he hopes will make the title of cannabis interpener as familiar as wine sommelier, cheesemonger and chocolatier.
Max Montrose, the 29-year-old president and co-founder of the Trichome Institute in Denver, said he designed the niche curriculum, which teaches students how to become marijuana experts, after he became fed up with the inconsistent quality and improper naming rampant in the blossoming industry.
"Imagine going to a bar and ordering a stout and being served a Pilsner," he said. "That's what's happening in cannabis right now."
Mr. Montrose defines interpening as the practice of assessing the quality and psychotropic effects of a cannabis flower using only sight and smell.
Cannabis has grown increasingly mainstream in recent years. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. Five other states, plus the District of Columbia, have since followed suit, and the Canadian government says it plans to legalize the drug by next summer.
Mr. Montrose said the word interpening, pronounced in-TER'-puh-ning, comes from a hybrid of "interpreting terpenes." Terpenes are what give marijuana its distinct aroma, he explained.
The courses are modelled after the wine-sommelier program. Level one involves a 3.5-hour lecture and costs about $220, while the second level costs about $335 and includes the lecture as well as a sight-and-smell workshop, followed by a test.
For the exam, students must take 10 jars of unlabelled cannabis and identify the five that are unacceptable because of problems such as pest and mould and say why, then order the remaining five samples from most stimulating to most sedating.
Level three is still being finalized, but so far, access is invite-only and consists of an essay on the horticulture and history of cannabis as well as dissecting buds and training in hashish, an extract of the cannabis plant, Mr. Montrose said.
Fewer than half the students who take the test pass, he said, adding that distinguishing between a couple of subtly different strains of cannabis can be as delicate as distinguishing between two feelings in the nose that are millimetres apart.
"It is a skill. It's an art. It's a science. But it's definitely something that can be learned," he said.
Andrew Mieure became a level two interpener last year. He owns Denver-based Top Shelf Budtending, which runs high-end, private, cannabis-tasting events, and took the interpening course to improve his understanding of marijuana.
Mr. Mieure predicted the future of the cannabis industry will be about the all-round experience and not just getting high.
"The smell and taste profiles are, a lot of the time, what people enjoy most," he said. "When you crack open a fresh jar of cannabis and you're smelling it for the first time, that to me is the beautiful part of being a cannabis sommelier."
Mr. Montrose said interpening goes beyond the work of wine sommeliers and beer cicerones because a good interpener can determine the psychotropic impacts a particular strain.
"It's more than just cool and fun. It's important," he said.
"We're at a time and place where there's no quality certification for cannabis and there's no method to determine the psychoactive effect of cannabis outside of interpening."
Mr. Montrose gave the example of a patient with post-traumatic stress disorder being sold a stimulating cannabis variety instead of a sedating one under the same name, which he said could trigger paranoia.
Trichome also created the responsible-vendor program, which is approved by the state marijuana division, Mr. Montrose said.