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Thomas Sobieski: From Vine to Bud

Thomas Sobieski is breaking new ground as a cannabis sommelier. Just like their wine-loving counterparts, cannabis sommeliers carry their education from the wine world into the dispensary, bringing their ability to discern what makes each cannabis cultivar unique with them.

But what led Sobieski to his life in the cannabis industry was not a great nose, but his own journey to managing chronic pain without opiates. A lower spine problem and a litany of injuries from years of sports, CrossFit and boxing led to the development of chronic neuropathy and near-constant pain.

“After 13 surgeries and six concussions, my body was just so worn down and beat up — it got to a point where I couldn’t run anymore,” Sobieski said. “And then, I found my way into the medical marijuana world — it just changed my life.”

The change was so impactful for Sobieski that he switched careers from restaurants and hospitality to work in Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis industry. 

“When I get passionate about something, I jump into it fully,” Sobieski said. 

He joined Ethos Cannabis as a general manager of its Hazleton, PA location in 2020, where he puts his skills to the test as one of the nation’s first generation of cannabis sommeliers.

“Strains can be tricky, but aromatic assessments can help you determine the quality of the cannabis,” Sobieski said. “The same principles of assessing wine can be applied to cannabis… I evaluate similar characteristics [to wine]: How did the flower look when it came off the plant, was it hand-trimmed or machine-trimmed, the color of the pistils, the visibility of the trichomes — these all contribute to the product quality.”

At Ethos, Sobieski visits the dispensary’s cultivation facilities to observe the plants and take in the rich aromas. Key to Sobieski’s aromatic assessment is any given cultivar’s terpene profile. Terpenes give cannabis their scent and flavor and are believed to play a role in the consumption experience. If a cultivar smells like citrus, pine, or flowers, that’s due to the terpenes dominant in that plant. Sobieski said a trained nose can discern these notes, sometimes down to the individual cultivar.

“Scent is able to tell you if a strain will be loaded with terpenes,” Sobieski said. “Even though you can’t pinpoint a precise strain by smell alone, once you smell a Durban Poison or OG Kush, you never forget it.”

Prior to joining Ethos, Sobieski worked as a merchandising representative in the wines and spirits industry. The job put his skills as a formally trained sommelier to work but came with two significant downsides: A more sedentary lifestyle and unfettered access to try the merchandise.

“I was sitting in the car for up to 2,000 miles each week,” Sobieski said. “All of that sitting was making my back much more stiff.”

Many wine tastings each week meant that Sobieski was drinking more often than he wanted. The nature of his job made staying away from alcohol a more difficult prospect.

“I used alcohol to escape the pain from all my injuries,” Sobieski said. “I was drinking the wine a little too much, and it was becoming an issue both for my physical and mental health. Once I realized that I was using alcohol to manage the pressure[s of work] and the pain, I was able to back down.”

Sobieski turned to cannabis as an alternative to pharmaceuticals and alcohol. He was already familiar with cannabis: Introduced in college, Sobieski consumed on and off over the years when drug testing for work did not interfere. He made the switch to medical cannabis after leaving the restaurant industry two years ago, and he hasn’t looked back.

“That first entry into the medical cannabis world gave me the opportunity to learn the laws and regulations and dive into modalities of use that I never had before. It was a really great experience,” he said.

Thanks to cannabis, Sobieski has returned to the more active lifestyle he once led: A job that keeps him moving, more regular exercise, and most importantly, the ability to offer others the chance to try cannabis to help manage their pain.

“There’s something magical in the plant, and it creates this amazing harmony,” Sobieski said. “The earth wants to heal you — cannabis is one way it can do that.”

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