Every so often, Max Montrose and his business partner Jim Nathanson run into a heckler.
“Someone will call our thing bullshit,” says Montrose. “They’ll say it isn’t real.”
The thing Montrose is referring to is “Interpening” (sounds like “interpreting”), a term he coined to describe the art of interpreting cannabis terpenes. Similar to a sommelier’s knowledge of wine, a qualified Interpener possesses an expert knowledge of all things weed, and can parse through the minutiae of a cannabis strain using all five senses. Since Interpening is such a new concept to the industry, it’s understandable why some people are driven to cynicism. But Montrose isn’t dismayed by naysayers. In fact, he welcomes them. “I love when people call us out.”
Ever since Montrose introduced Interpening, the following scene has played out time and time again. He and Nathanson are promoting the program at a convention or a tradeshow when someone calls bullshit, claiming the program is a gimmick. Then Nathanson, a man who had lived weed-free for most of his life, tells the heckler to whip out some weed so he can identify it.
Montrose recalls a particularly exciting confrontation where a heckler pulled out five unlabeled jars of weed from his backpack and challenged Nathanson to identify all of them. Nathanson, who’d only been studying Interpening for a year, got all of them right on the first try.
“Every time one of these guys challenges us, and we prove to them that it works, the very next thing every single one of them says is, ‘Can I work with you?’”
Montrose teaches Interpening through his cannabis education company, the Trichome Institute. Founded in 2013, the institute’s mission is to legitimize cannabis education through curricula and teaching materials that are carefully researched, medically backed, scientifically proven, and legally reviewed.
“No more stoner education,” says Montrose, whose insistence on high standards and accurate, reputable data stems from what he views as a lack of proper cannabis education within the industry.
“You gotta be trained and certified to paint someone’s nails,” Montrose says, “but you don’t have to be trained and certified to distribute psychoactive cookies to the public?”
Montrose has always had a passion for natural health, and became interested in plants at an early age. Desperate to understand how they worked, he turned himself into an encyclopedia of flora. This passion eventually led him to the healing powers of cannabis, and soon Montrose found himself doing everything from deejaying cannabis radio shows to participating in cannabis activism. He’s been a grower, budtender, hash consultant, and caregiver. He’s even taught cannabis awareness to businesses and government organizations.
But as Colorado’s medical marijuana industry continued to expand, Montrose became fed up with how little most of those in the industry actually knew about their products.
“You could just be 21 and stoned and get a budtender badge and now you’re in charge of really sick people who need your help,” Montrose remembers.
Ultimately, it was the lack of properly trained cannabis workers that moved Montrose to start the Trichome Institute and create the Interpening program. Typically lasting about three hours, the program teaches students different methods to identify and understand cannabis varieties. Montrose covers cannabis terminology, strain geography, and plant shapes and features. He also explains the importance of Interpening and discusses prominent issues plaguing the industry, such as “strain name dilemma.”
According to Montrose, the majority of strains are not what you think. “Clones get mixed up all the time,” he says. “All this stuff came from the black market, and there’s never been tagging or tracking.”
Due to this dilemma, customers can’t always trust that they’re getting an accurate product. Unless you’re an Interpener, most of us are in the hands of budtenders, and if the budtenders don’t know the difference between strain varieties, you’re playing a game of chance.
Interpening combats this issue by giving people the tools necessary to accurately identify the product they’re smoking. Montrose integrates real strains into his program and gives students the opportunity to examine them through microscopes. He even teaches how to smell for mold.
At the end of the course there’s a test, and if you answer eight out of 10 correct, you become a Level Two Interpener. Montrose calls these students “connoisseurs,” and the more cannabis connoisseurs there are, the better.
“There’s so much about cannabis that the whole world doesn’t know, including the industry itself,” Montrose says. “Interpening is the difference between knowing what you’re talking about and not.”