Meet the Big Tree team: Daniel Wendling, Senior Grader
By Rae Lland
When you speak to Daniel Wendling, you immediately notice three things. First, the wealth of knowledge he is happy and ready to share. Second, his passion for the cannabis industry, and third, his drive to see the industry grow into the best it can be.
Wendling has been working in the cannabis industry on and off since the 90s. He got his start as a trimmer in his teens, and after some time in the DOD, returned to a career in cannabis.
In the early 2000s he worked for a group of cannabis garden collectives. In 2010 he started working with blown glass and working at a glass shop next to one of Washington state’s most notable dispensaries. In 2014 he moved on to working in recreational stores, where he quickly moved up to managerial positions for several locations, and even helped his store win an award in 2016 for Best Merchandise Store, after making their purchases for the year, and then Best Washington Retail Store in 2017.
Speaking with Wendling, you get the sense that he is proud of his accomplishments in the cannabis industry — and with good reason. There is a lot of experience and knowledge to be gleaned from those who’ve had their hands in the proverbial pot since the very beginning. The cannabis industry has undergone mighty transformations in just the last two decades, and it is the veterans who are the bookkeepers of our progress.
In 2019 Wendling took a break from the industry to help care for his best friend, who was suffering from severe narcolepsy and needed assistance. Wendling speaks of the misconceptions some have about the illness, saying, “they laugh about people falling asleep in their soup, but that’s really not what it is. It's actually outrageously dangerous.”
He spent about eight months helping his friend navigate her responsibilities and needs. Eventually she was grounded with a better support system, her medications began working, and then just as he was interviewing for new cannabis positions -- COVID hit.
“I was supposed to come to Seattle for an interview March 1st, which was the day that Washington closed down. Literally the day that they had gotten really bad.”
Fortunately, the setback proved to be temporary, and in May, Wendling officially joined the Big Tree team as a grader. It was a natural fit for him, a career that only made sense with his background and experience. He says he loves working with the clients and being out in the field, driving around and visiting farms. He even cheerily recounts times he’s had to park and hike a few miles to reach a farm. There’s a love for the plant in him driving him day to day. You get the sense that Wendling could speak for hours about cannabis and her various strains, the unique genetic makeups of the flower and the attributes that really make her shine. He also speaks plainly and practically about the aspects that need attention — the details that go into making or breaking quality cannabis.
REFLECTING AND LOOKING FORWARD
I asked Wendling what he believes is the most positive change in the industry since its inception.
“That's an excellent question,” Wendling says with his trademark enthusiasm. “I would honestly say the quality and consistency. Medical allowed people to actually take it out of the bottom of their basement to at least a room that was safer, more secure and cleaner. Quality and consistency greatly improved because of medical.”
Wendling says some of this can also be attributed to healthy competition between growers. This in turn has ensured better quality cannabis as the years have gone on. “If we took the product that I got on average in the nineties -- let's say took a hundred of those bags that I bought in the nineties -- I guarantee there was maybe one of those that was as good of quality as everything you get now.”
When I asked Wendling what areas of the industry still need the most improvement, he was quick to answer, but also happy to provide the solution.
“I believe in grading,” he says, speaking of how grading is helping by providing quality verification that everyone can understand. “When you look at the wine industry, not everything gets tested and graded, but the ones that are graded are the ones that I buy. The one that says 92 on the bottle, I buy, because I don’t know anything about wine -- it's just the opposite of my cannabis knowledge, I know a ton about cannabis. When it comes to cannabis, many people are more like my wine self. If I can see those numbers on the wine, that’s the bottle I’m going to choose.”
Wendling believes grading can help people make more educated decisions all along the supply chain, from growers wanting to be sure they are getting a fair market price, to buyers who want to know the quality of product they are receiving, to consumers who, like Wendling in the wine aisle, appreciate a straightforward way to understand what they are purchasing.
In addition to his passion for grading, Wendling’s other cannabis passion is his belief in its medical properties and the good it can do for people.
“What got me into medical is that I had chronic migraines since I was 15 or 16 years old. I had dealt with them and didn't really realize there was anything that was going to help. I'd taken medications that doctors would prescribe me and most of them were debilitating in their own right. I’d take one and be unable to do anything for four or five hours. So I felt, how does that really help you? Ultimately you're going to go home and go to bed.”
Wendling continues, “I had heard that cannabis would help with migraines, but I hadn't experienced that much with the weed that I was buying off the street, cause at the time I had no idea that there was a difference in strains beyond visually. I don't know that anyone did … I just thought they were all plants. As medical began to become more informed, I started to do more research and found that, oh gosh, I need to get a certain kind of cannabis in order to get migraine relief. Once that was figured out, just that simple thing, it changed my world.”
Medical cannabis continued to prove life changing for Wendling and his family. His mother was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, but due to an additional liver issue, she was not a candidate for chemotherapy. Wendling had been trying to convince his father, who was anti-cannabis, to let him treat his mother’s symptoms with cannabis, and after this diagnosis, he agreed.
“I put her on a regimen of cannabis to make her comfortable, because it was too late to fix her liver or bone marrow. What I did see however is that in the last four or five months that my mom was alive, she went from literally not talking to any of us, having no energy to do anything but sit on the couch or lay in bed 24 hours a day, to a week after I started her on the regimen calling me to say hey, we're gonna bring all the grandkids over and I'm going to do a birthday party for all of them.”
Wendling brought his sons over and his mother was able to host a big party for their future birthdays, a cherished memory, as she did not make it to their actual birthdays. “It was very nice that she did that. She would have never been able to do it without the cannabis; healthy enough to be able to stand up, to make a cake. That was kind of my final realization that, oh my God, medical cannabis really works.”
It is clear to see the many angles that fuel Wendling’s passion for cannabis, and desire to see it continue improving to be the best resource it can be. “Medical and improvement of people's lives is really the key thing for me in cannabis now.”
BORN IN THE WOODS
When he’s not pushing towards that goal, Wendling spends his free time finding entertainment in a variety of activities. Spending time with his kids, racing RC cars with his girlfriend who shares his enthusiasm for the hobby, progressive politics videos and podcasts, anime, and his Chiweenie dog named Rin, also all fill his downtime with enjoyment.
Another favorite activity? Anything outdoors.
“I love to hike in the woods, I literally feel like I was born in the woods. I think I've always had in my mind that being outside, sleeping under the stars, is just as comfortable as a house to me. I love camping, hiking, those kinds of things.”
As for his personal preferences for cannabis, while Wendling will dabble in dabs or bongs, his favorite is a nice pipe. As for his favorite strain?
“That’s an awesome question and to answer it is impossible for me. What was my favorite strain 20 years ago? Absolutely. I can answer that -- even five years ago maybe -- but now there's so many mixtures, so much hybridization. It's really tough to say a favorite. I will say I love Northern Lights, it's an old classic Northwest strain and was actually invented in a town about 40 miles from where I graduated high school. Then maybe Bubba Kush. It's a classic California strain.”
It’s clear to see that when it comes to cannabis, Wendling is passionate, motivated and hungry for knowledge and progress. One can learn new things about the plant by spending just a few minutes speaking with Wendling, making him a real asset when out in the field interacting with other passionate cannabis industry professionals nearly every day. From trimming in the 90s, to working as a grader today, Wendling’s journey has evolved alongside the industry, and it’s a safe bet that will only continue.
Rae Lland is a writer, journalist and editor with a focus on culture, music, health and wellness. In addition to her extensive catalogue of work for Leafly, she has also been featured in numerous online cannabis publications as well as print editions of Cannabis Now Magazine. Follow her on Instagram @rae.lland