Even as cannabis farmers and businesses reel from hundreds of millions of dollars in estimated wildfire losses, the California cannabis industry is still gearing up for one of its most jubilant annual traditions.
The Emerald Cup, launched in 2003, returns to the Sonoma County fairgrounds December 9-10 for a celebration that is part competition, part tradeshow and part music festival. This year, a portion of the proceeds will be going to the farmers and businesses hit hardest by the fires.
According to county surveys, anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 cannabis gardens in Sonoma County may have been destroyed or damaged by the fires. Still, organizers anticipate that the 2017 cup will be their largest yet, with 10,000 revelers expected.
Over 500 farms, manufacturers and advocacy organizations will line the Hall of Flowers, the Good Seed Hall, Demo Row and more with decked-out booths. (More than 2,000 applied.) On the main stage, festival-goers will be treated to its highest caliber lineup of musicians ever: that includes the legendary hip-hop crew the Roots, arena rockers Portugal. The Man and the old-school Oakland MCs Hieroglyphics. (The lineup, however, sorely lacks female representation ).
Even if attendees don’t consume cannabis, they will be able to enjoy the party, and the music. Saturday will be headlined by the Roots, who have released nearly a dozen albums in three decades and currently spend their time off-tour as the house band for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. Although drummer and bandleader Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson has made it clear that he does not consume cannabis himself, he is an outspoken advocate for legalization nonetheless.
Sunday will feature a performance from the rock group Portugal. The Man. In conjunction with the release of their breakthrough 2017 hit “Feel It Still,” the band announced their own strain of cannabis of the same name, a collaboration with Oregon’s HiFi Farms. “‘Feel It Still’ is a summer song,” keyboardist Kyle O’Quin told the cannabis outlet Leafly earlier this year.
“The strain can’t weigh you down like a heavy indica high. It’s got to be a light, uplifting, fun, outdoor vibey, summer, … ‘fun in the sun’ weed.”
As The Emerald Cup crowds have grown over the years, so has the number of awards given out. This year, over 900 farmers and makers have entered flowers and products into a wide range of categories including best flower, best edible and best concentrated hash oil; the latter of which has organizer Tim Blake particularly excited.
”I’m reinvigorated for the whole industry [because of concentrates],” he says, pointing out that the now-ubiquitous vape pens didn’t even exist five years ago.
A group of over fifty judges spent the weeks leading up to the cup sampling the entries.
‘Though the awards ceremony will be joyous, memories of the historic wildfires won’t be too far away.’
Currently, the Sonoma County fairgrounds are home to about 80 FEMA trailers, serving as temporary housing for residents displaced by the fires, who will be welcome to join the festivities.
As Tim Blake, the festival’s organizer, points out, farmers and businesses lost not just their crops, but their savings as well -— many banks limit cannabis commerce, forcing farms to operate all-cash. It is often difficult for farms to obtain crop insurance, deepening their losses.
In response, the festival will donate $50 from the $400 fee for each contest entry to a general fire relief fund that will support the California cannabis community. Festival vendors will also chip in $25,000, bringing the donations to over $70,000 in total. So many people have been affected, Blake explains, that one challenge is determining how to distribute the funds.
“Everybody suffered, but [some] cannabis people who don’t have crop insurance, or [had their crops] in their barns lost it all,” he points out.
The cannabis industry has spent decades building its resiliency, and it promises to grow back bigger than before. Yet Blake anticipates an even larger expansion next year, once recreational cannabis is fully legal in California.
“It will be a different world,” Blake says. “Cannabis is going to finally take its rightful place as the head of agriculture in this country.”
“It’s just staggering, considering that we were just this NorCal ‘out in the woods outlaw tribe,’ compared to where we are now,” Blake adds. “I’m blown away.”
Listen to GreenState’s podcast episodes from The Emerald Cup.