Is Weed Education Resonating With the Public?

Education lacks across the board and the gap grows.
Education
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There aren’t many unifying factors across the cannabis community these days. What once seemed like a largely in-lock-step group has splintered over the years. Still, one of the rare agreements reached across the spectrum is that the education gap persists. 

The education gap essentially boils down to what is accurate and inaccurate about the plant and the misconceptions that weave through the community. Like many others coined in recent years, the term has been regularly thrown around in commercial settings but has failed to reach more casual and new consumers. 

Today, the general public either wants to learn more but can’t uncover it or doesn’t have an interest in learning much. In either case, the industry is falling way short. 

Finding the Education Gap

Instead of the education gap, it may be more accurate to call the current problem an education valley, canyon, chasm, or trench. 

The problem is wide-ranging, touching on countless aspects of today’s weed world. A quick search online of the term ‘cannabis education gap’ brings up an array of topics over the past several years, including analysis of gaps affecting medical patients, medical professionals, job training, youth consumption and plant education across the board. These instances and many more reveal the vast array of concerns facing the industry and how it teaches the public. 

This article was inspired by personal experiences working as a news reporter, copywriter, and casual plant consumer over the past several years. In each role, I’ve witnessed so-called experts mislead the public. In turn, I’ve seen the public butcher basic cannabis facts, with most assuming what they’re regurgitating is fact.

I can’t begin to count how many dispensaries I’ve visited where budtenders have asked if I am seeking an indica or sativa effect. While some connections exist between indica and couch lock effects, that isn’t the accurate usage of the two plant terms. Somewhere along the way, potentially in the 80s, if my sources are correct, we started to co-opt these terms for plant structure to broadly summarize the uplifting effects of sativa and the sedative effects of indica. 

The same is underway with THC potency. The industry and the consuming public have recently become fascinated with THC percentages. Not every company engages in this, but I’ve sat with numerous creative heads who say their brand wants to educate consumers while simultaneously pushing their high THC strains as a mark of industry excellence. 

Today, the higher the THC percentage, the more likely most will assume it’s a quality strain. 

Some people may hold on to THC potency as the ultimate metric, but most agree that the whole plant experience, containing each cannabinoid, terpene and other essential plant compounds, all play their part. But rather than laying this out in clear terms, the best we’ve gotten is an industry-accepted term that hasn’t permeated much into the public: The Entourage Effect.

The current situation leads me to believe that the industry doesn’t care as much as it claims to want to educate the public. Or that good intentions have not produced ideal results, with education efforts often being too high level for the everyday consumer to grasp or care about.

Market and Community Response

The education gap exists and is growing. One of the most telling juxtapositions I’ve witnessed came in Las Vegas during the 2021 MIBizCon. Inside the convention floor, I saw attendees and presenters ranging from seemingly heady legacy folks to suits freshly transplanted in from other industries. Everyone had opinions, but it was telling how many people were talking about plant education inside. Still, most of the talk was all the same jargon, focused on whole plant profiles and lab quality winning out.

Rather than at the event, the conversations with people smoking on the strip and Uber drivers were most informative during this trip. Numerous casual consumers told me they had little interest in plant education. They wanted to get high, and THC percentage guided their choices. Don’t get me wrong, those people are incorrect, but so is the industry. 

Suppose the industry is making good-faith efforts. In that case, it’s falling flat on informing people beyond their echo chamber. Even in stores where terpene and cannabinoid information is offered, there seems to be a critical disconnect at the sales counter. While there are numerous excellent, informed budtenders, many steer consumer decisions based on misinformation and the details fed to them by brand reps. 

Recently, I turned to social media to gauge my community on Twitter and LinkedIn to see where they stand on the current state of education. Some of the more telling quotes from industry and consumers alike included: 

  • “Customers in dispensaries demand sativa vs Indica 99% of the time. The education hasn’t worked.” – Jesse Barney 
  • “Mostly it’s marketing disguised as education that isn’t backed by science.” – Alleh Lindquist 
  • “I think more education is coming from users and growers, more so than the actual industry.'” – Leah (no last name provided)
  • “The knowledge left the industry when big corps started pushing garbage.” – @DrBudz

Industry educators are concerned as well. Kristin Jordan, a commercial real estate broker and attorney, recently posted about her experiences with a so-called legislative expert. The CEO and founder of cannabis realty brokerage firm Park Jordan, posted on LinkedIn, claiming, “I just watched a cannabis webinar with so much incorrect information from a professed expert attorney,” adding, “Be careful who you work with!”

Where To Find Trusted Sources

As Jordan noted, everyone needs to monitor their education sources. Whether business, information gathering or otherwise, you are the company you keep. And in this case, the wrong company could lead you down a path of marijuana misinformation.

Staying out of the misinformed lane is easier said than done but far from impossible. Being skeptical of all your sources is an excellent place to start. That doesn’t mean go full-blown conspiracy mode and dispute everything told to you. However, it means that you shouldn’t just accept something as fact, even if it comes from people you consider informed sources. 

Examine the source of information as well as the person providing it. Understand their motives and potential biases that may be in play. At the same time, consider the editorial scrutiny this information may have received before it came out. While some people don’t like to read much these days, there is something to be said about print media and its editors. SEO, sponsored content and clickbait have hurt the quality and trust of some news outlets. However, there are still countless sources for reliable plant information. 

Podcasts, webcasts and other video endeavors are also worthwhile. Many are opening eyes to subjects that aren’t touched by traditional digital media. However, these potential trusted sources do come with a rather significant caveat. That being said, few, if any, have anyone fact-checking their information. In this case, you have a greater chance of getting into bias, errors and misinformation.

Stepping beyond the digital realm is an excellent way of getting new and alternative access to education. These old-school tried and true methods include linking up with cultivators, brands and others in the space with a verified track record of plant education and industry success. In-person events featuring panelists are another great idea, though the bias of each panelist has to be considered. Recently, I’ve linked up with local New York City Council Member Shahana Hanif to host two cannabis-focused panels in our Brooklyn community. These information sessions gathered four experts across cannabis education, legal, media and activism to inform the general public. 

Thankfully, plant education is growing. However, at the same time, so are the efforts of brands trying to gain market awareness and social media personalities looking to monetize content. Often, content from both parties is keyword-focused, meaning they may lean into topics like THC potency and indica vs. sativa, often parroting the success of top rankers in an effort to take the top position in the search results. 

Conversely, we are seeing more college and research-focused education released. At the same time, many in the community are doing their part to spread the word via panels, events, meetups and other info sessions. I’d recommend a list of places to turn to, but to be completely honest, half of the audience would probably roll their eyes and say this is a shill effort. So, instead, I leave it up to you and warn you to be skeptical of all your sources—myself included. 

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  1. This article is awesome!! Thank you for speaking up on the lack of education. I am Rileigh Aguilar, co-founder of Take Root Training and we created our training programs because of this reason!! We’ve had too many dispensary visits that consisted of uneducated and misdirected Budtenders pushing high thc and asking the indica/sativa question. We have training solitons for individual Budtenders and dispensaries alike and our mission is to empower these budtenders with education. It a win win win in our book when companies invest in education for their staff. We have to bridge the gap and management is too busy to track down everything Budtenders need to know about cannabis to create a quality training program of their own. We are hoping that with Take Root Training we can alleviate some of that stress by providing science backed cannabis facts.

    This is such an important conversation to have and thanks again for starting it!

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