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This Is Why Educational Design Is Crucial In Cannabis

Goldleaf Co-founder Charles McElroy talks accessible education and smart design-and the reason the successful marriage of the two is crucial for the development of the cannabis industry.

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Evidence-based education is essential for the positive evolution of the cannabis industry. Why? To reverse pervasive negative stigma, quality information regarding cannabis and its purported effects must be widely accessible and appealing.


Cannabis science coupled with smart design may seem like an obviously winning combination now, but back in early 2016 very little science-forward design existed in the cannabis industry. This motivated Charles McElroy to start Goldleaf, a printing company that produces appealing and digestible educational content for cannabis growers, patients, and enthusiasts. As one of the leading players in cannabis science and design, Goldleaf brings a delightful perspective to the community. As a champion of cannabis science education myself, it was a joy to sit down with McElroy to talk more about his journey with Goldleaf and what lies ahead for the company. 

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What inspired you to start this company?

Charles McElroy: I suppose my own curiosity and desire to better understand cannabis. Through that pursuit, I began creating products and designs that helped shed more light on some of the complexities about cannabis, as well as the body. I was also decidedly frustrated that [in early 2016], there was very little quality design in the cannabis space. I believed, and still do, that one of the best ways to communicate is by presenting something polished and visually appealing– it shows confidence and a professionalism that you can’t fake. Furthermore, I felt that Goldleaf could be a leader in this type of normalization of cannabis simply by showcasing the subject in a mature, sometimes clinical but always visually stunning way —I love when folks don’t realize they are looking at something about cannabis. It is a testament to the art when a piece can lure someone in, and keep them there. Frankly, cannabis as a subject can be very polarizing and so many in our country still carry the baggage from prohibition– by focusing on science we’re able to reach larger audiences from all walks of life.

You’ve come a long way from the first patient journal. How do you approach developing new products? 

The Patient Journal is now on its 12th edition, and we’re very happy at how it has evolved and improved over the years— thanks to our experts, users and the continuing research of the subject. Our process for vetting and creating new products and content often comes in the form of collaboration and conversation. We like to flesh out the microcosms of the cannabis space and while we have developed products for all of the general areas, these hyper-niche subjects are still the frontier. For these new projects, we often let user feedback or experts in the space help guide our decisions. We’re regularly approached for custom design work and collaborations and if we feel those topics might have a wider audience, or are general enough, we’ll structure the arrangement in a manner that lets Goldleaf share it with our audience, too.

Who do you see as your demographic? Who, in your experience, has benefited most from your journals and prints?

This is tough to pin down in simple terms– we live in the niche and create neat things for people in those niches. For that reason, the demographic shifts depending on what we’re talking about. This does make it a challenge to reach people with mass media approaches. However, our demographic does have defining characteristics such as being someone who is curious and likes to learn. 

In terms of who has benefited, that depends on the subject, as well. For the medical space, doctors have voiced a lot of benefit from having their patients keep a Patient Journal. It helps the patient be more mindful of their body, and that then turns into more meaningful data and conversation with the physician. 

With cultivation, the benefactor is the grower who learns to refine their process by keeping a Grow Jotter or Planner, as well as the eventual consumers of the product who may choose to keep a Cannabis Taster Journal, which focuses on the experience and flavor. On the culinary side, individuals who like to cook with cannabis will benefit from an easy and templated approach to documenting their concentrates and recipes with The Cooking Journal, making it easier to iterate and repeat successful dishes. Not to mention, this process will allow more insight into calculating dose sizes for food items. Beyond that, other benefactors would be folks enthusiastic about cannabis and want to showcase their passion in an elegant and classy way— for example, by displaying an infographic or art print. Our challenge is finding where those curious folks dwell in the many micro-subjects we tackle within cannabis.

Related: How to Start a Cannabis-Focused Branding and Design Business

How do you approach delivering valid scientific information in a way that is accessible to most people?

This was always something that was simple to me and a defining characteristic of Goldleaf— at the core, we start with something aesthetically pleasing and work backward. Obviously having up-to-date and accurate information is incredibly important and a pillar of Goldleaf as well. But in order to make that information digestible and approachable, we have to package it in something that people like to look at and explore. For that reason, our process brings in the artistic decisions somewhat early on, and we then allow the data and science to fill it out. The last touch is with the language, or how we distill complex ideas into simpler forms. We see the word as part of the design and often workshop words and phrases to see which feels the most succinct and leaves the least amount of room for misinterpretation.

Why do you think that education is important, if not vital, to the cannabis industry?

There really are a lot of layers here. I think education is vital for almost everything in life, and only makes us better, more compassionate and caring people. With cannabis, we see the importance in education at every phase of business, from the supply chain (how to better cultivate, extract, cure, store, deliver the product), to the dispensary and budtenders (allowing them to speak more knowledgeably about the differences in product, delivery methods and benefits), and the end user (allowing them to make more informed decisions about their own therapy). The challenge is that education is very fractured due to decades of prohibition. A Google search won’t always produce reliable (or even consistent) answers to your question. For that reason, we go through great lengths to vet and validate our work by pulling from peer-reviewed journals, primary source materials and feedback from experts. Due to this diligence, we can be confident in the validity of our work and contribute in the most positive way possible to the community.

Anything new coming out soon that you can share with us?

We’ve just released a new art-forward “Travel Series” of prints, featuring art by renowned artists Eugenia Mello, Nicholas Moegly, and John Vogl. These are more culturally focused compared to some of our other works, but very cool. They are like the vintage lithograph prints you’ve probably seen from the 1920 - ‘50s, only highlighting cannabis settings in different states. They are very subtle in the content— by design, we wanted to show cannabis as normal to these locations. One of my faves is the Southern California piece. It highlights the diversity and the social progress that has come out of SoCal. We’ve partnered with a non-profit called Last Prisoner Project for this print, as well, and donate the proceeds. This is a very special organization and works to help incarcerated non-violent cannabis offenders regain their liberty.  Beyond that, we have a variety of other projects on the stove, including an intimacy/love journal collaboration, more reference and infographic tools for cultivators, as well as a series highlighting landrace cultivars.

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