Northern California

NorCal Cannabis Cup rides legalization wave to big crowds

You’d expect a lot of buzz at a massive marijuana trade show, but people were high in more ways than one at Saturday’s opening of High Times magazine’s Nor Cal Cannabis  Cup.

The magazine staff, entrepreneurs in the expanding marijuana business world and the cannabis community in general were still buzzing over this week’s national news that an investment group that includes Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, youngest son of reggae giant Bob Marley, bought a 60 percent stake in the formerly family-owned High Times company, valued at $70 million. Suddenly, High Times was all over Bloomberg News and in the front section of the New York Times.

“Hopefully this will bring us to the next level and everyone at High Times is excited about it,” said culture editor Mary Jane Gibson as the event staff prepared to open the gates for the tens of thousands of pot enthusiasts who would pour onto the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa for the weekend festival.

The Nor Cal Cup presented evening concerts headlined by the Wailers, 311 and Sublime with Rome, among other bands. With Marley, a Grammy-winner, as one of the new owners, High Times is looking to present bigger and bigger names at its cup competitions and concerts.

“After all, marijuana and music go hand in hand,” Gibson said.

The high-profile purchase is the latest sign that legalization in California and four other states is bringing marijuana’s onetime outlaw culture into the mainstream.

“The new ownership expands the reach of not only the magazine and its digital platforms, but also the Cannabis Cup, which we hope to bring to national and international venues, celebrating the leaf all over the globe.” Gibson said.

Over the weekend, the leaf was celebrated in hundreds of product booths hawking everything from vape cartridges and hash oil presses to cannabis infused cotton candy and joints rolled in the shape of a tyrannosaurus rex.  There were enough bags, bottles and baskets of neatly trimmed buds on display to give Jeff Sessions, our anti-pot attorney general, conniption fits.

The man behind the cup competition itself, contest coordinator Sean Black, had on a tie-dye T-shirt as he sat behind a display case with some of the 500 entries in this year’s contest. Contestants were judged in 14 categories, including edibles, topicals, concentrates and flowers.

“It’s a pretty tough competition this year,” he said, holding up a pair of buds that would be candidates for the magazine’s vaunted centerfold spreads. “We used to come here to California and there would be only five really good things in each category. But now the playing field has really elevated in quality.”

Photo slideshow — story continues below

  • Crowds of people flock to the High Times Cannabis Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif. Saturday, June 3, 2017. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

The cutting edge in the industry, according to the experts at High Times, is in concentrates, extracts and edibles, all of which were in abundant supply on the sprawling fairgrounds.

“When I started out 15 years ago you could make pot brownies and that was it,” said Danny Danko, High Times’ senior cultivation editor. “Now you get seven-course meals.”

People interested in cannabis cooking could take in an infused cooking competition and chef Brandon Allen, the first High Times “cannabis connoisseur,” gave cooking demonstrations using cannabis-infused olive oil.

The trend toward legalization has also lessened the stigma around marijuana and opened the pot market to the “cannabis curious,” a new consumer group attracted to milder strains of the plant.

“There’s a huge crowd of people out there interested in lower dosages of THC, things that they can consume and not be incapacitated,” Danko said.

Another growing demographic is people interested in using cannabis for its medicinal properties and not to get high. Companies like Gold Drop in Oakland are making cannabis oils and sprays, extracts and edibles with low doses of THC, the compound that gets you stoned, and high doses of cannabidiol, or CBD, the non psychoactive compound known for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial properties.

“It opens up cannabis in general to a whole new group of people who don’t want any psychoactive effect, who don’t want to lose control of their mind,” explained Joe Encinosa, Gold Drop’s president and founder.  “So now we’ve broadened who cannabis can appeal to, like children and elderly people.”

The rows and rows of white-tented vendor zones on the fairgrounds included a couple of areas with security guards admitting only those with active patient cards for medical marijuana. In those fun zones, pot got smoked, eaten, dabbed, pressed  and absorbed through the skin in lotions and lip balms.

Clouds of vapor could be seen rising from dab stations set up by companies like Absolute Extracts with rows of glass pipes for fairgoers to inhale freeze-dried and solvent-less rosin — essential oils extracted from cannabis flowers through heat and pressure.

One exhibit hall was devoted entirely to machines that pressed plants into oils and rosins. Some of the contraptions cost upwards of $3,000.  One dirt-floored pavilion packed with vendors was so redolent of marijuana that contact highs were the order of the day. .

As he strolled the fairgrounds in his Bob Marley T-shirt, first-time Cannabis Cup-goer Jeremiah Salazar, 27, who drove up from Fresno for the Cup with his wife, Vanessa, 25, compared California’s legalization to the end of Prohibition in 1933.

“I’m just happy that we’ve finally gotten to where we were way back then,” he said, smiling at the crowds partaking of the herb in all its shapes and forms.  “I support this event 100 percent. Everybody here so far has been about hugs and love.”


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