“Waters! Sodas! Dabs!” the vendor yelled to the passing throng of attendees at the final day of the High Times Cannabis Cup. The sun shone bright over the Sonoma County Fairgrounds which played host to what was equal parts trade show and celebration of pot in all its forms.
Fifty dollars bought entrance into the main concourse, where rows of vendors served up typical county fair refreshments of hot dogs and kettle corn next to glass blowers, NORML booths, and massage chairs. The presentation of a medical marijuana recommendation allowed entrance into the gated area which proved the real draw.
The Cannabis Cup is half trade show, half farmer’s market. Vaporizer companies peddled their wares next to manufacturers of huge, steel concentrate extractors. Novelty t-shirts abounded, rap played from dozens of booths, it was the closest one could get to walking through a High Times advertising section. The patrons of the Cup ran the gamut, a man with two stalks of weed in the brim of his fedora walking past a group of young women in swimsuit tops. A leg tattoo read “if your not first your last.” A couple in their early thirties wearing polos sat on a curb and sparked a fat joint. When a thick cloud of smoke erupted, they offered the jay to those sitting downwind, excitedly declaring that the bud had come in second in last year’s cup and they just had to try it. Despite all their differences, most everyone had in common a mellow attitude and a desire to shop.
Dispensaries of all stripes represented from Los Angeles to Humboldt, with the same varying aesthetics as you’d find in any range of clubs. Some paid homage to the Apple Store design ethos, all white plastic and clarity, while others eschewed it for classic, down home hippiness. A few brought along scantily clad, fairly bored-looking booth babes, and a few had barkers who were way too intense given their surroundings. But two things were common to most all the booths: glass jars of bud, and dabs.
Dabbing is one of the more recent innovations in smoking practices, attracting a fair amount of mainstream hysteria. It’s the process of smoking hash oil with a dedicated pipe, hash oil itself being a gooey, amber-like THC concentrate made by solvent extraction. A typical dab setup involves a water pipe with an attachment called a nail, which more closely resembles a long ring with a hole in the middle. The nail is heated with a torch lighter and a small amount of the oil is scraped with a metal stick. The patient begins to inhale, then the dab of oil is pressed to the heated surface of the ring and releases its milky, thick smoke. It’s one of the more efficient, if involved, processes for consuming hash oil, and definitely meant for those with a tolerance. Maureen Dowd need not apply.
Hash oil’s production and accessories have become a cottage industry within the greater field of marijuana growing. Dabbing is mostly relegated to the west coast due to hash oil’s rarity outside of the states where cannabis is medicinally or recreationally legal. The production process typically requires butane, and sloppy handling can and has led to explosions, hence the scaremongering among media outlets. Many booths offered staff-assisted dabs for free or cheap, alongside samples of a variety of edibles.
The freshly fried cinnamon sugar donuts from Compassion Medicinal Edibles were one of the hits of the Cup, sold in support of advocacy group Parents 4 Pot. The tiny circles tasted more like funnel cake than a true donut, crunchy outside giving way to small bits of deliciously fluffy dough. One booth offered cannabis-infused chicken wings, another medicated snow cones. A macaroon from Madame Munchie proved delicate and crumbly in a fantastic way, later winning Best Edible at the awards ceremony.
The ceremony was a low key affair, the most interesting points being the presentations of the High CBD Concentrate Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award. The former went to Plant Essentials and Cannabis Extracts, who won for an extraction of the high cannabinoid, low THC strain Charlotte’s Web. The plant is named after Charlotte Figi, the little girl whose epilepsy had nearly killed her before receiving medical cannabis. One of the members of PEACE arguing for other farmers to make cuts of their high CBD strains and share them among the community, so that the most patients possible could benefit.
The recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were Valerie and Mike Corral, of the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana. The Corrals are one of the fiercest proponents of patient access, successfully suing the federal government after the DEA raided and destroyed their state-legal crop. They warned the grower community that, as more and more states legalize medical and recreational cannabis, it was important to remember that their main duty is to patients and their healing, exhorting all in attendance to “let the money people wait.”
The Cannabis Cup serves as a focal point for the medical marijuana community, a place away from the prying eyes of the increasingly militarized federal law enforcement which has plagued them. There was no danger of being shut down, of being hauled away for daring to smoke in public. Yet still, a faint paranoia lingered. In one of the rest areas, despite all the joints and blunts and dabs all around, a friend still asked if it was okay to light up. And it was.