Scott Tornell: Legalization, Normalization, and an Evolving Relationship With Cannabis
Scott Tornell recalls the first time he visited a legal cannabis market as a turning point for his perspective on cannabis. It was there, in Colorado, Tornell first saw the many options a legal market offered patients and adult-use consumers alike, as well as the social sea change legalization brought along with it.
“That was the first time I ever went to a legal state, and when I was there I just couldn’t believe it was legal,” said Tornell, Dispensary Shift Leader at Ethos – Maryland. “I kept thinking somebody was going to call the cops on us — I had to remind myself that ‘no, this is OK.’”
Although that sense of normalization was foreign to Tornell at the time, it was a welcome reprieve from the hiding he felt he needed to do back home. The breadth of product selection also left a strong impression on him; the dispensaries he visited provided a vast array of options, including products with balanced THC to CBD ratios, orally ingested tinctures and capsules that were easy to measure and consume, and topicals that offered localized pain relief without the intoxication.
The variety and the social landscape he encountered in Colorado left Tornell with one clear thought in his mind: “We need this in Maryland.”
At that time, Tornell didn’t know he would eventually work in the legal cannabis industry in his home state. But when medical cannabis legalization became law in Maryland in 2017, he searched high and low for a way to break in. He submitted several applications to local cannabis businesses, but the phone call for an interview never came. That’s when a serendipitous opportunity presented itself.
“I was a server and a bartender; I was burnt out and at the end of my rope, and for two years I would tell anybody that asked that I was trying to get into the cannabis industry,” Tornell said. “One day, the people that owned a local dispensary came to my restaurant for a big dinner celebrating a store opening, so I pulled someone aside and asked if they were hiring.”
Tornell exchanged phone numbers and sent his resume along. Shortly after, he was offered an interview and eventually hired as a patient consultant. Today, Tornell is a shift supervisor who is fully invested in the cannabis industry and looking to grow in his career alongside Ethos.
“It was a really cool thing getting in on the ground floor and growing with the store,” he said. “I wanted to get in so I could be able to help the people who don’t know much about cannabis and also so I could vibe out with the people that do and talk with like-minded folks.”
In his role in the retail environment, Tornell is focused on offering friendly guidance for consumers that are new to cannabis or trying to find the right balance. To do so, he draws from his own experience learning firsthand, over more than a decade, how to best balance cannabis for optimal results.
Tornell’s own relationship with cannabis looks quite different than it did just a few years ago, an experience he draws on when offering insights to patients in the dispensary environment. An active consumer for a decade, Tornell said he had a high tolerance for THC, consuming large amounts multiple times a day. But when his regular routine started to trigger an anxiety response, the 33-year-old knew he wanted to try a new approach.
“Cannabis helped me immensely through past issues without needing to use painkillers or anti-anxiety medication,” said Tornell. “But then it just kind of turned on me and started to give me really bad anxiety.”
Tornell is not alone. Research shows that although cannabis is often effective at relieving feelings of stress and anxiety – one of the main reasons that millions consume cannabis each year – excessive levels of THC can exacerbate anxiety. For some, the elevated heart rate common with cannabis consumption can trigger an anxiety response.
Tornell took a tolerance break that lasted about nine months, he said, to help reassess the role cannabis played in his everyday life. Tolerance breaks can be a helpful way for consumers to “reset” their sensitivity to phytocannabinoids, and particularly to THC. Instead of consuming ever-increasing amounts of THC to achieve the same effects, a tolerance break can help consumers like Tornell find relief from their symptoms while consuming less cannabis.
“I learned that cannabis doesn’t need to be an ‘all the time’ thing and I can still benefit from it,” he said. “It’s not necessary to take three or four dabs or eat 100 milligrams of edibles — I can just have 10 milligrams and see where that gets me.
“Today, I call myself a ‘dad smoker’ because I just don’t need it as much. I have a much better relationship with it,” he added.
Tornell said he meets many types of consumers in the dispensary, from people looking to manage their anxiety to those seeking pain management alternatives to those that simply want to relax. He said he draws on his experience with cannabis to help each patient find the right product type for their needs, something that is especially important when dealing with a diverse population like cannabis consumers.
A common question Tornell gets, he said, is regarding how much a patient should consume. Some are particularly concerned about the intoxicating properties of THC and want to find relief without the high. For patients still finding their way, Tornell offers some important advice.
“I’m a huge advocate of ‘start low and go slow,’ so patients can explore what they need without fully jumping into tons of THC,” he said. “[The legal cannabis market] has made for a much more educated consumer. Patients come in and they can learn about what kind of terpene profile they’re looking for or what kind of cultivars are helpful for them.”
Research from New Frontier Data suggests that nearly 1 in 5 people consume cannabis annually. These consumers come from different walks of life and have a wide range of reasons for consuming, so understanding their individual journey as unique is critical. As a consumer who has reevaluated his own relationship with cannabis, Tornell taps into those insights to help serve the patients he meets.
“There are a lot of soccer moms that come in; there are a lot of older folks who never would have been able to get into it,” he said. “There are people that come in that you would never think would consume cannabis, and that’s really cool.
“The wall is really coming down and more people than ever are open to cannabis,” he said.
Tornell’s journey as a consumer and member of the legal cannabis industry is intertwined with his dedication to customer service, he said. Today, the social climate is such that openly sharing his story with people he meets both inside and outside the dispensary is met with genuine intrigue, rather than the reticence so commonly encountered in the past.
“The ice is beginning to thaw around cannabis,” he said. “People have a lot more questions than they do judgments.”
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