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Why Portland's wizard of weed doesn't like 'marijuana'

Jeremy Plumb has been called the “Wizard of Weed” and was voted best “budtender” in Portland, Oregon, last year. It’s no wonder: Plumb is a virtual encyclopedia of information about marijuana’s therapeutic effects, history and chemical complexity.

But you’ll hardly ever hear the 39-year-old co-founder of the Portland pot dispensary Farma use the word “marijuana,” which he says was “invented with racist intent and broadcast by yellow journalism.” He’s referring to the use of the word by racists and others who wanted to outlaw the plant in the 1930s.

“Cannabis” is the word preferred by Plumb, who is also CEO of Portland pot farm Newcleus Nurseries. “We must update our language in order to pursue a new, more meaningful relationship with this remarkable plant,” he says. “We are passionately committed to reframing every facet of the Prohibition era views on cannabis, including the language.”

That commitment is easy to see at Farma, where Plumb and his partners take a scientific approach to selling cannabis to customers taking advantage of Oregon’s 2015 law that made it legal for adults to possess pot for recreational use. Medical marijuana has been legal in Oregon since 1998.

“Farma was the first dispensary in the world to begin to curate with the consistent lab results approach that we’ve taken and measuring terpenes and putting the overall terpene value on the shelf,” Plumb explains. “Terpenes are the aromatic compounds in cannabis that we also know have therapeutic effects and affect the altered states.”

And Farma makes it relatively easy for customers without a scientific background to understand how the chemicals in a particular pot plant might affect them. “We put on the shelf a color spectrum, and we indicated three positions for red and three positions for blue. These are meant to correlate to either a relaxing and calming state in the blue or a focusing and euphoriant effect with the red.”

Helping Plumb delve into the various chemical components in cannabis is Rodger Voelker, lab director at OG Analytical, which screens pot plants for pesticides and other chemicals.

He says Farma and other marijuana businesses he works with are interested in “what we refer to as chemotyping, which is basically a measure of the primary chemical constituents of the cannabis product.”

“This would be very similar to what we do with wine right now,” Voelker says. “We have Malbecs, and we have Cabernets, and we have Pinots. As consumers, we can taste them and we know there are different types of wines, and we will select a given wine to match whatever our mood is for that particular time. And I think there’s a lot of reason to believe we can do the same thing with cannabis.”

Plumb expands on the wine metaphor, dividing the cannabis world into premium and low-end brands. “One of the big changes that’s coming down the pike is the distinction between artisanally produced cannabis and commodity cannabis,” he says.

“In Oregon, you have a devotion to craft and artisanal production, and I believe that distinction will start to become more and more clear in the market. I think that cannabis will really change forms and not be relegated to a small subculture in a kind of Prohibition era. And that’s the transition happening over the next five years that I’m most excited about.”