The air was filled with fog and smoke in Redway on Saturday afternoon as the Humboldt County Cup cannabis competition and trade show kicked off.

Hundreds of cannabis cultivators, marijuana enthusiasts, medical patients, college students, veterans and business owners, both local and out of state, coalesced at the Mateel Community Center to celebrate — and partake — in all things cannabis.

As California and Humboldt County move into a new and uncertain era of regulation and legalization, cup founder Matt Smith-Caggiano touched upon the importance of the entire community — cannabis-related or not — to work together rather than against one another. For him, the cup’s fundraisers and partnerships with local organizations and businesses outside the marijuana circle is one example of how this can be achieved.

“That’s what makes this special because we are directly giving back to our community, which is depressed,” Smith-Caggiano said inside the “Proposition 215” tent. “We’ve lost our logging industry. Our fishing industry is gone. Now we have to use that eco-tourism and embrace not only the medicinal value of cannabis, but also the social and economic benefits of it. That’s what we can bring to this community.”

For some, like 22-year-old Zathe Shepherd of Georgetown who heard about the cup after attending its larger cousin The Emerald Cup in Sonoma County last year, it was an opportunity to learn from cultivators in the region known throughout the world for its cannabis. With both a recreational and an expanded medical market set to open statewide in 2018, Shepherd said this extra knowledge could help get him ahead of the competition.

“There’s a lot more behind it now that it’s becoming more a science,” he said. “It’s like the next tech pop. You’ve got to get ahead of it, be the guy who invested into Microsoft. It’s the same kind of thing.”

The cup also served as a space for 35 other local cultivators and cannabis-related businesses from throughout the state to show off their bud, clones, trim machines, edibles and concentrates while allowing medical marijuana patients to test them in front of the producers.

Free samples were aplenty inside the smoke filled tent reserved for medical marijuana users, with some producers giving away flowers by the handful or at least raffling them away.

Graham’s Brand’s owner Graham Shaw of Eureka said that 2015 and 2016 were the years for the industry to brand itself and make a name. This year, Shaw said the real leg work will have to take place both by the industry and the communities who are willing to support them.

“Our focus right now is engineers, it’s architects, it’s electric contractors,” Shaw said. “It’s how do we create a new industrial model that will compliment not only our community and not only our industry, but first and foremost, our brand and allow us to create a consistent product sustainably on a larger scale.”

Eureka resident Kenny Gregg, who is Shaw’s business partner, said an integral part of building this brand will be infrastructure and the willingness of local governments to open themselves up to an industry that has long operated outside of their purview. As it stands, Gregg said the cannabis industry in some Humboldt County communities parallels with the fledgling days of Napa County’s wine industry.

“Back in about 1975, they were in the same position with the wine industry, and there was a debate about whether it was a good idea to support viticulture, believe it or not,” Gregg said. “And you had some dinosaurs in local government down there saying, ‘No, we can’t do this because it’s promoting liquor and there’s going to be too many liquor stores on the street.’”

Ringing among local marijuana farmers is the fear of larger corporations taking hold of the industry and the smaller farms losing out, which many see as already occurring.

“We all have to be conscious as a collective to not sell out, because right now we have some control,” Mackenzie Jewett of the Orleans-based Humboldt Seed Company said. “We need to stick together in that way to band against the corporations from coming. One by one is how they get all of us.”

For some, the passage of the marijuana legalization measure Proposition 64 and implementation of new medical cannabis laws last year came as an important step.

Michael Arnold, 30, has been using medical cannabis since he was 13 years old and was one of the younger patients out there. Born with a heart conditions that required him to have heart surgery at three days old and will eventually require him to undergo a heart transplant, Arnold said he would not be here without medical cannabis, but said that cannabis should not be limited to people like himself.

“There is a difference between medical and rec,” Arnold said. “Looking around here there are patients and looking around here there are connoisseurs. Now they’re called connoisseurs instead of stoners because they like the way the weed tastes, they like the terpenes. It’s awesome and it’s definitely something we can all get into.”

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