SMOKE RISING :: A DAY AT THE CANNABIS CUP

Text and photos by Joshua Cobos 

On our way out of the Cannabis Cup, Philip and I were less stoned and hungry than we’d imagined we’d be by the end of the day. But we were undoubtedly more informed, having spent a day fully immersed in a culture that is finally shaking off the stereotype of the lazy, uneducated do-nothing stoner. The Cup was populated by yesterday’s grassroots community and tomorrow’s bustling economy. Well connected cannabis activists have been underground for years — watching the political cycles and plotting their moves like chessmasters or dare I say, politicians. It was obvious that wheels have been turning in the minds of these attendees, who have long used as a cultural hub the monthly magazine High Times, in circulation since 1974.

Earlier this year, San Bernardino hosted the SoCal edition of the High Times Cannabis Cup, a multi-day indoor-outdoor expo that incorporates various aspects of business, news, politics and entertainment in the marijuana industry. The event is held in five locations worldwide (check for its Bay Area edition June 21 and 22), and originated 26 years ago in Amsterdam.

Philip took a 6 a.m. bus down from San Francisco on the first day of the Cup. I picked him up and we made the hour drive from downtown LA to San Bernardino. We stopped at a fast food joint so I could watch him eat some monstrous $1 menu combination of a meal he’d devised: jalapeño poppers inside two different burgers, combined together into the unholy mess you see above.

The Cup was located at the National Orange Show Events Center, which has in the past hosted the EDM festival Nocturnal Wonderland and the hip-hop mainstay Rock the Bells. We entered at midday, just before the sun started to set. The orange trees that lined the venue would soon be plucked and pilfered by the stoned and sluggish, leaving trails of peels discarded in their wake.

The 4 p.m. “California Pot Politics 2014” seminar was held inside a mysterious Kubrickian dome that looked more compact from the outside than it revealed itself to be once you were inside. Throughout the weekend you could find conversations addressing relevant issues in weed culture in the dome. Cooking advice, controversial ways of ingesting pot, political issues facing private marijuana-using citizens as well as medical dispensaries, even a lecture entitled “Pot and Parents.”

The first pot politics panelist was Dale Gieringer of CA NORML, this year’s High Times Freedom Fighter of the Year. He had the most to say and was perhaps the most rabble-rousing of the hour-long presentation. “I predict that over the next 10 years we will see the eventual repeal of federal marijuana prohibition,” he said, seguing quickly into his thoughts on the upcoming political season. “California is not quite ready yet. It takes about three million dollars to make the California ballot in 2014. Three million dollars is a pretty steep hill. The Control Regulate Tax Marijuana Act is, unfortunately, the one that has the closest connection to getting the money out there, it’s sponsored by the Peter Lewis Group. It’s the only one out there that doesn’t solve the problem, it doesn’t repeal a single marijuana law in California. We want marijuana legal, you’ve got to repeal the marijuana laws.”

The panel was moderated by Rick Cusick, associate publisher of High Times. “According to government figures — take those for what you will,” he said. “50 percent of monthly marijuana smokers in the United States are women, 50 percent are men. It breaks right down the lip. If you talk about daily marijuana smokers, 80 percent are men, 20 percent are women. Where that come from, I’m not really sure. The NORML Women’s Alliance was created in order to make sure that the woman’s voice, that’s 50 percent of marijuana consumers and stakeholders in this country, that their voice is heard.”

Which brings us to Cynthia Johnston’s portion of the presentation. Johnston, an activist with NORML Women’s Alliance Los Angeles chapter opened by recounting Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous meeting with labor activists after his 1932 election. To the audience of Sidney Hillman and other major American labor leaders who were lobbying for pro-labor legislation, FDR was said to remark, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”

She likened that speech to our current president’s reluctance to legalize pot. “Everything we are doing, everything you are doing, everything we’ve all done up until now, every single piece of it is part of making [Obama] do it,” Johnston said. “It’s like Jaws. There’s this thing that’s going on underneath the surface and it’s grabbing people. It’s grabbing our growers, it’s grabbing our dispensary owners and it’s putting them in prison — sometimes for life without possibility of parole, for a plant that heals. The NORML Women’s Alliance nationally exists to reach beyond the cannabis community, to women who would agree with us that prohibition is far more dangerous their family, their children and their community than cannabis will ever be.”

But it wasn’t all speechifying at the Cup. A valid medical marijuana prescription was required to enter the patient’s-only section of the festival. Near its entryway there was a checkpoint where attendees had to verify one’s doctor recommendation. Those without paperwork could make an appointment to see a medical professional, wait times were ranging from 45 minutes to an hour. Vendor booths, resting lounges and crafters were set up in swap meet-style rows, inviting guests to swap cash and contact info for entry to stoner heaven. Dabbing was a popular activity — small devices were set up at almost every single booth I saw. The practice is relatively new to the marijuana community, vilified in the media for its risky chemical extraction process involving butane and closed spaces. However, one can glean double or triple the amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, from dabbing. Judging from the traffic at the vendor booths, the marijuana economy seemed to be thriving.

When I talked to Kelly Barbieri, High Times’ digital content director, she said she considered this year’s SoCal Cup a success. “Four times more people than we expected were walk up ticket buyers,” she told me. At day’s end, the fair had ran out of the commemorative bags, books and T-Shirts that were being given away with weekend VIP passes.

Asked about his plant purchase, this unidentified man said “this is my new baby.” He then handed me his business card advertising that “quality medicinal cannabis” was available from Quality Genetix, open seven days a week in Los Angeles.

I’ve been asked a few times about what a medical marijuana dispensary looks like by non-patients unable to get past the typical several sets of doors and bouncer at a cannabis club’s entrance. Guys: they typically look like a mix of a dentist’s office and a head shop. This outdoor booth had a set-up that mimicked a conventional dispensary. Weed girls behind the counter and a grab bag of assorted goods were a few less conventional of its features.

Plants flourished under grow lights, with visions of Vegas in the background.

No, they’re not drug dogs. It seemed that every SoCal dog owner/cannabis gourmand had decided to bring their dog to the National Orange Show Events Center for the Cup.

The outer perimeter of the patient’s-only area served as a makeshift rest stop. Most booths were handing out free samples of edibles, etc., so everyone walked away stoned. Once the sun was gone, sleepiness started to set in, in earnest.

The night would close out with hip-hop artists B.o.B. and Young Dro headlining an event entitled “Jack Herer Legalization Party.” But my buddy had decided to book a return flight back to San Francisco that same day, so we left the Cup before they took the stage. The following evening B-Real from Cypress Hill would receive the vaunted High Times Stoner of Year Award, which only seems appropriate for the lead rapper of a group who birthed such bangers as “Stoned Is the Way of the Walk”, “Hits from the Bong”, “Legalize It” and the epic surrealist tale that is “Dr. Greenthumb”.

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A lifestyle magazine by Kelly Lovemonster and Caitlin Donohue. Not a total vanity project.