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Looking Ahead After 15 Years of Judging for the Emerald Cup

How Marijuana Legalization Changed the Emerald Cup
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Joint Opinions

Looking Ahead After 15 Years of Judging for the Emerald Cup

Things change, but good ganja is a guarantee.

It’s been 15 years since I started judging for the Emerald Cup. What commenced as a pipe dream around the trimming table towards the close of last century (or should I say millennium, just because I can?) has now blossomed into a world-renowned festival that honors cannabis grown in full sun with organic methods.

We all grew up studying history in school where we learned about great moments in the past when important documents were signed or movements started that eventually changed the world. We have been blessed with an opportunity to actually live those moments in the emerging cannabis world and that alone is enough to spur us on every day.

This year at the cup, Swami and I will sit on a panel about Cannabis and Spirituality and I will serve as a judge for the Flowers division. We’re both thrilled to be able to raise appreciation of the sacred herb to the next level and honor her in a public setting. Compassionate activists Mikki Norris and Chris Conrad will sit on the panel with us, along with attorney Omar Figueroa. Figueroa is an expert on the technicalities that surround affiliation with cannabis churches as a legal justification for possession and use.

Flower entries in the 2018 Emerald Cup. Photo courtesy of Nikki Lastreto.

It is easy to forget that cannabis is not legal everywhere already. We live in a bubble in northern California, while much of our country continues to wallow in archaic laws around such an innocent plant. It’s like putting a strait-jacket on a lotus flower.

We’ll be bringing several of our large bronze statues down to the Emerald Cup this year, all in a conscious effort to raise the vibe even higher. Plus, we are proud to host the launch of the Judges Lounge together with the AREA 101 tribe, which is the original home of the cup. The goal is to recreate that Mendocino feeling at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. If only we could transport the giant trees, rushing rivers and fresh air to Santa Rosa as well as our excellent cannabis products; but some things are just too precious and elemental.

For 15 years now, late November and early December have meant judging season in our household. This is when we once again prove that stoners are not idle do-nothings. Lethargy is not a concept around here. Today, for example, we have already sampled 16 cultivars and taken copious notes about each one, along with our regular ranch chores and the never-ending cannabis business duties. And we’ll get through at least 10 more samples by the time we end our judging session tonight!

Pearl Moon, Nikki Lastreto and Dr. Joyce Centofanti happily judge the 2018 Emerald Cup entries. Photo courtesy of Nikki Lastreto.

After so many years of doing this, I feel that I am able to judge fairly, giving consideration to the time of the day, to what else I may be doing, or to when I smoked the last joint. Although there are fewer entrants than in years past, the challenge is to not take any entry for granted, while always having all your senses alert for the Best in Show.

Being the first year of full legalization, the whole ballgame is totally unpredictable, just like most things in this canna-business. We wondered how many people would actually send in their samples to the cup in 2018. It’s taken months of diplomatic bartering with state regulators to figure out how this whole event can be conducted under the numerous new laws that affect it on every level.

Distributors must transport all cannabis samples and sales items to the site and a permitted vendor must be responsible for all sales. The Emerald Cup is now open to anyone over 21 years of age to smoke and buy cannabis in every form available, as long as it is legally permitted. Gone are the days of dubious deals happening in every corner.

Emerald Cup judges work to score the entries for the 2018 event. Photo courtesy of Nikki Lastreto.

The “legally permitted” part of the equation is the biggest difference this year. As of now, there are only about 3,000 legally permitted cannabis farms in the State of California, and we have roughly 150 entries in the legally compliant Full Sungrown category, so that’s 5 percent. We also have a Personal Sungrown category, for those who grew six plants for their personal use only and are not legally permitted. It’s sort of like entering homegrown favorite flowers in the 4-H Club competition at the state fair. We are judging the two categories separately.

Also new this year, we are separating the Mixed Light grown flowers (aka “light deprivation grown”) from Full Sungrown. And just to confuse matters, of course we must have two separate categories for the Mixed Light as well: Legally Compliant and Personal Use. It’s like they are trying to confuse us on some kind of stump the stoner show. How many rules can they give us to follow while smoking the best cannabis in the world? But we will prevail!

Each year the entire system is more organized and efficient, and this year is a big leap in the right direction. Our dedicated team of eleven judges takes this very seriously, and we have a good time doing it. Yesterday we convened for a full six hours to evaluate over 100 Mason jars full of gorgeous flowers. The samples we take home to individually test are only one gram, so we always check out the full 3-ounce entry in the jar as well and take notes. We also collectively sample a few of the most promising contenders. In six hours, we went through a hefty amount of bud — all for a good cause.

Swami, Jessica Hwang and Mickey the Clown share a smoke. Photo courtesy of Nikki Lastreto.

We have a little over a week left to complete judging many more samples, and I have absolutely no doubt that once again the judges will concur about the winners. Experience has proven that the cream truly does rise to the top. During the testing, about twice a day on average, we’ll light up a joint and exclaim “Whoa! That one did something special!” and that’s when you know you have a contender.

This year, we have more “whoas” than ever before; it must be another sign of the ever-improving organic techniques of sungrown cannabis farming we witness every year. It is such a privilege to be the experimenters for this R & D.

TELL US, do you plan on attending the Emerald Cup this year?

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