High Times Cannabis Cup Nor-Cal perfumes Wine Country
Wine Country turned its attention to another crop with a buzz as an estimated 10,000-plus marijuana fans flocked to Santa Rosa for the High Times Cannabis Cup Nor-Cal.
The two-day pot competition and expo at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds drew a huge, blissed-out and diverse crowd of Californians and tourists — from retired hippies to young hip-hop lovers who basked in the sun, passed around joints, sampled edibles, scarfed fair food and jammed to music at the region’s largest pot party of the summer.
“I just got done with a Pride event, and this was similar,” said High Times spokesman Jon Cappetta. “Everywhere you walked, it was all smiles. You couldn’t see a single frown.”
The weekend event was the first regional High Times Cannabis Cup in the Bay Area since the legalization of marijuana in California in the 2016 election. But the commercial licensing part of California legalization has not kicked in yet, so the event operated very much like a typical medical pot gathering, except the medical “smoking” area expanded to envelop nearly half the space.
Several hundred of California’s leading pot shops and brands including Harborside of Oakland and Urban Pharm of San Francisco doled out free samples and touted their wares to very excited and interested consumers.
“It’s pretty impressive,” said Ellen Komp, deputy director at consumer pot lobby group California NORML. “Every event reminds me of what a wonderful community we are. It’s people from all walks of life.”
“We are so surprised by how many people are out here to try our products,” said Alysia Sofios, communications director for High Gorgeous, an all-female-owned, Santa Ana maker of marijuana-infused body creams and bubble baths. Sofios staffed a booth all day, giving out samples of Pina Co-Canna infused skin moisturizer.
“The response has been overwhelming. We had a line when we first opened. We’ve already run out of several products,” she said. “We’ve seen so many people who are brand-new to cannabis. There is an excitement in the air. It’s a different vibe from years past.”
The event came just days after High Times announced the brand had sold itself to a group that includes Bob Marley’s son Damian Marley and several founders of the Colorado pot shop chain Denver Relief. The new owners intend to build on the popular High Times Cannabis Cup event series.
“To the typical consumer, it is a Cup as usual,” Cappetta said. “But walking around with the new team, everyone is really excited to take the next step. You can see the way things are building.”
High Times sold at a valuation of $70 million, Cappetta said.
Medical cannabis is an estimated $3.3 billion industry in California, and researchers believe the full recreational market in the Golden State could grow to $7.6 billion per year by 2020, generating $1 billion in tax revenue.
Behind the scenes at the Cup, the pending regulation of medical and recreational cannabis in California occupied many conversations.
“That’s very much on everyone’s mind,” Komp said. “Everyone’s alert and aware and realizes where things are and how we still need to keep pushing for human rights and reasonable taxation and regulations.”
“We all are ready for it,” Sofios said. “We want to follow all the rules. We’re excited. It’s going to be different, but it’s going to be great.”
Entertainers 311 rocked the capacity crowd Saturday night, and Bob Marley’s backing band, the Wailers, helped close out the event after organizers announced the Cup winners Sunday afternoon.
At its core, the Cannabis Cup bestows top honors on California’s best pot growers, hash makers and bakers. Winning the competition can send a brand’s reputation into the stratosphere. High Times received more than 450 entries this year in 14 categories, including best cannabis buds, hash, edibles and more.
“We went from 100 to 300 visitors a day to our website, to 5,000 visitors a day,” said Doug Gismondi, who co-founded Zendo edibles with his girlfriend, Chynna Parks. Sales of Zendo, which took first place at the Southern California Cannabis Cup earlier this year, are up 500 percent, Gismondi said.
Dozens of judges had to sample a daunting amount of marijuana to determine the best. Noel Manners, director of the Gooey Cannabis cultivators cooperative based in Mendocino, spent a week reviewing 25 samples in the sativa flowers category.
California’s pot crop is much better than in year’s past, Manners said.
“A couple years ago, there were a few stand-out entrants. This year, everything is excellent,” he said. “My wife said I’ve been dippy all week.”