Celebrating Cannabis Freedom at the Emerald Cup

The Emerald Cup is a huge harvest celebration for outdoor cannabis. Cannabis Now Associate Editor, Greg Zeman, considers the struggles of the past while also joining in the elation and energy of the event in post-Prop 64 California.

There is no yellow brick road to the Emerald Cup, just a few fog-choked California highways packed past capacity with cars and battered with icy blankets of pounding rain. The traffic is unrelenting, the parking is impossible, the wristband system borders on Kafkaesque and the bitter, biting cold of the mud-flooded Sonoma County Fairground in December is all but intolerable.

But even with muck tugging at our feet and frigid winter winds whipping at our chattering bones, the assembled 15,000 to 20,000 cannabis aficionados are undeterred in our collective quest for fire.

In a way, the shared adversity of braving the elements serves as a grounding reminder of the struggles of the past (and those on the horizon) for a California cannabis culture increasingly losing touch with its roots. The sweet taste of freedom in this golden age of access is obscuring the enduring bitterness of prohibition, which despite massive victories for decriminalization, is not yet fully confined to the ashtray of history.

The cup itself — a massive clash of the terp titans, with all the music, food and frivolity of your typical state fair — will be breathlessly recapped by the mainstream press because of its unprecedented size. In the recounting of numbers, the listing of winners and the interviewing of potential investors, we will no doubt see the cup runneth over several times. But those stories will only hint at the tip of of much deeper iceberg.

Emerald Cup judges Swami Chaitanya and Nikki Lastreto

Because it wasn’t always like this. Because for every time I buy lab-tested, top-shelf cannabis products (in a safe, sanctioned space, at near-wholesale prices, directly from the people who made them) I think about the other times.

I think about the cell phones, the code words, the haggling, the driving, the waiting, the short sacks, the bags of trash… I think about all the times I had to meet shady dudes in filthy apartments and sketchy parking lots; I think about the ripoffs, I think about the time I almost got stabbed for $40; I think about the years of life my high school best friend lost to weaponized bureaucracy when an overzealous “school cop” found a quarter gram of stems in his car’s ashtray; I think about cops smashing our pipes, confiscating our herb, raiding our apartments, ruining some of our lives…

I think about the way roughly half of the people in this country still live under that kind of hellish prohibition; I think about the global legacy of America’s drug policy; I think about all of the human lives ransacked, ruined and lost over the social hysteria surrounding a beautiful, beneficial plant; I think about my friend who just got out of federal prison for cannabis — I think about the five years he’ll spend navigating a probation system structured to send him back into the belly of the beast as soon as possible.

“Come on weed!”

But I’m not depressed, I’m not even angry in this moment — I’m elated. I’m at the Emerald Cup. I’m at the Cannabis Now booth, which is outside the 215 medical use area of the cup, but within California state lines. And thanks to recent adult use legalization and the private nature of the event, we’re smoking the best, dabbing the best from my Cali Coil custom e-nail and giving away light-dep Goji OG from Berkeley Patients Group through our prize wheel game.

Maybe I bend the rules of the prize wheel game just a tad to generate interest. Maybe I start adding weed to a few extra win categories. Maybe the whole thing transforms into a promotional extravaganza/Goji giveaway in a matter of minutes.

“Come on weed!” I shout as I spin the wheel, and when it lands on a space other than herb, I just pivot accordingly. “You won a grinder card… and some weed! You won a year subscription to Cannabis Now — that comes with some weed!”

At the peak of this ecstatic state — standing there, soaring on the energy and excitement of the growing crowd thronging the booth, looking for their chance to “win some weed” — I feel an upward surging of spontaneous joy.

As my arm once again sends the prize wheel spinning, whirling and clicking its sweet song of pot and promise, a celebratory scream escapes my mouth.

“I f*cking love California!”

I yell this to nobody in particular, but an unseen speaker responds, “where are you from?”

I project my voice upward, hoping they can hear me, whoever and wherever they are.

“California, man! I’ve been here for years — I just f*cking love it!”

I feel the love, I feel the excitement of sharing free weed with other adults exercising their natural rights, I feel the pulsing positivity and passion of the crowd, I feel the personal excitement of working my first cup as a member of the Cannabis Now team — side by side with top-shelf editorial professionals and cannabis experts — I feel the buzz of a dozen cup-worthy buds and dabs, I feel the thrill of being present for an impromptu performance by Mendo Dope…

But it’s another feeling that overtakes me when I meet former VFW Commander and Vietnam combat veteran, Thomas Mundell. I speak with dozens of memorable individuals throughout the weekend — ranging from casual rap sessions with growers, extractors and cup judges like Ngaio Bealum, to dab sessions with other cannabis media makers and movers like Stoney Xochi and Coral Reefer — but my interaction with Mundell is different.

Emerald Cup judge and MC Ngaio Bealum

He talks about the hard fought battle he and other safe access advocates narrowly lost in Missouri, where medical marijuana fell just short of the number of signatures needed for ballot approval, and we’re talking single digits.

The pain and frustration in his eyes is evident, and it’s tempered by determination, but there’s something else that takes me utterly by surprise — gratitude.

When I thank him for his service, both abroad and towards the cause of legalization, he stops me. He thanks me, thanks the whole publication, and tells us he’s “proud” of the work we do, not just publicizing veterans issues surrounding cannabis, but working to normalize cannabis.

“All these years of it being illegal and now look at you,” he said, motioning to our latest issue on display. “Look at what you’ve accomplished.”

As he and I shake hands, I’m moved, but I’m also reminded of our common purpose. I feel the connection that holds all of us together, the generations of love and struggle that wove the fabric of the cannabis community. I’m energized, ready to face the coming challenges.

Because we aren’t just writing about cannabis, we’re fighting for it. And it’s moments like this that remind me why I fight.

TELL US, are you still fighting for cannabis freedom?

Greg Zeman is the Associate Editor of Cannabis Now Magazine. His previous editorial credits include Staff Writer at a national political news site (Politix), Editor-In-Chief of a bilingual San Francisco newspaper (El Tecolote) and Founding Editor of an investigative journalism non-profit (Bay News Movement). His writing has been featured in SF Weekly, SF Evergreen, 3200 Stories, Offbeat and elsewhere. He wakes up at 4:19 but doesn't leave the house until eleven past seven.

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