Andres Marquez had been working in the restaurant industry since he began busing tables at 15. He was excited to finally be opening his own place, a quaint Mexican cantina with gourmet tapas in Toronto. But at times, the 12-hour days spent renovating blurred together as he did all the digging, painting and building himself with a deteriorating tendon in his leg. A cocktail of Naproxen, Tylenol with codeine and espresso barely got him through until he started experimenting with cannabis.
After much trial and error, Marquez, an entrepreneur and chef who has since helped start five restaurants, figured out he needed just one hit, or 2 milligrams, of cannabis in the morning and in the afternoon. Now, pain- and med-free, he’s moving on to a new venture: a Los Angeles–based cannabis education program so that other people can be armed with reliable information about what kinds of marijuana likely will work best for them.
The program, Cannabis, Accreditation, Regulation and Education (CARE), plans to offer three-day workshops and online courses for people working in dispensaries (sometimes called budtenders), medical marijuana doctors and other industry professionals on how to best treat various medical conditions using cannabis. Dispensaries who have sent their employees through the program receive a certification that helps cannabis patients trust the recommendations of their staff.
This type of program is something that’s “very much needed,” says CARE chief medical officer Ira Price, the medical doctor who is designing CARE’s curriculum. Price, an assistant clinical professor at McMaster University, says there are many cannabis professionals who don’t have the proper training to help patients figure out what products to use. He offers a list of common misconceptions among budtenders, including the belief that there’s scientific evidence certain strains can be prescribed for particular conditions, or that sativa and indica have distinct, identifiable qualities.
“In the medical world when we talk about research, there’s always about a two- to five-year gap between what’s being done and what’s being disseminated,” Price says. “My goal is to get the data out there.”
CARE, developed by Price, Marquez and cannabis entrepreneur Sari Gabbay, will teach budtenders and other cannabis professionals about the physiological effects of cannabis, the different parts of the plant and even how to identify when cannabis might not be the best treatment for someone.
Aaron Justis, president of Studio City dispensary Buds & Roses, agrees that there’s a big need for programs like CARE in Los Angeles. Buds & Roses has paid to send its budtenders on retreats to learn about cannabis, but, Justis says, few dispensaries can afford this expense. He worked with Americans for Safe Access, one of the most established medical cannabis organizations, to develop an optional certification program in which dispensaries can have their operating procedures reviewed and approved, a move intended to compensate for the lack of government regulation in the cannabis industry. Programs that certify the knowledge of the budtenders themselves is an organic next step, Justis said.
Bud & Bloom dispensary in Santa Ana is already preparing to send its employees to CARE when it launches. Marketing director Michelle Magallon says she anticipates that in the future, new cannabis patients will want to see a certification from a program such as CARE so they know that the information they’re getting is more than anecdotal. This is particularly important, Price says, as the number of first-time cannabis users will grow when Proposition 64 begins allowing the sale of recreational marijuana to all Californians over the age of 21 in January. The fastest-growing population of new cannabis users, Price says, is currently people over the age of 65 and it could be dangerous, or just a deterrent, if they’re sold a cannabis product that’s too potent.
“When I heard about CARE, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I need this now,'” Magallon says. “This is part of the movement to legitimize cannabis as a medicine.”