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3 glass artists collaborated to create the 2015 Emerald Cup awards. Photo by Allison Edrington.
3 glass artists collaborated to create the 2015 Emerald Cup awards. Photo by Allison Edrington.

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For those who have been to the Emerald Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds before, the 2015 event was a dizzying, gleeful labyrinth. Familiar sights could be discerned but the layout was entirely different than years prior in order to accommodate the 21,000 people who came — more than double last year! The size and scope were allowed to increase thanks in part to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Getting lost is the first stage of discovering something new, and the Emerald Cup used its space well. Lose your way to the 215 area and you might stumble into one of several education stages, the beer garden, the exhibitor hall, or the music stage. But you definitely couldn’t stumble into the 215 area — security was on top of monitoring the entrances.

Check out info for all the Emerald Cup entries on their contest website, designed by Ganjier Solutions!

More than double last year’s attendance! That’s like if the entire adult population of Eureka made the pilgrimage down to Santa Rosa for this cannabis community event. The swell of people was most evident in the 215 area. The walkways were packed, streams of people moving through the rows of booths. Every booth was active, serving samples, discussing genetics and testing, showcasing products, and hardly catching a breath until Day 2.

That the cannabis industry is exploding and maturing at a fast pace is common knowledge — just over the last year, marketing and branding have become much more sophisticated and more targeted. This was evident at the Emerald Cup from the expansive booths set up with professional graphics in almost every booth space, from the large vape pen companies to the small farmer brands. The language they use has evolved and isn’t interchangeable from company to company (most of the time).

Cannabis brands are expanding into new target markets as cultural acceptance increases (including connoisseurs, elders, and the suburban middle class), but these are markets that expect to be catered to in particular ways. Marketing must mature to reach such audiences, but striking the balance between conforming to marketing standards and losing your authenticity is the real challenge.

Despite the uncertainty of the future, farmers and ganjapreneurs were on the whole optimistic as they happily embraced each other at this annual gathering. But that isn’t to say everyone is in agreement on the issues.

Heated Debates During the Day

The Emerald Cup set an educational standard for panels several years ago, and they certainly didn’t disappoint in 2015. The organic cultivation panel moderated by Kevin Jodrey touched on a variety of growing topics and panelists laid it out, one panelist even saying we shouldn’t need independent testing labs if a standardized option through the state becomes available.

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But the most talked about panel was the Adult-Use Initiative discussion held in Weedmaps hall. Moderator Matt Kumin of California Cannabis Voice grilled the three panelists. Only three? The big topic was the Adult-Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), nicknamed the Parker initiative because of the millionaire Sean Parker who is backing it. Though it might have financial backing, no one wanted to come defend it on the panel. But someone had to do it, so Nate Bradley of California Cannabis Industry Association stepped into the hot seat. His defense of the initiative was measured, recognizing flaws and progress in the bill.

Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake entered the discussion by lining up to ask questions. “This is my house, so I’m going to take longer than 15 seconds” he told the woman who was expediting the line of people with questions. In that time, he all but officially endorsed the AUMA initiative, not because it was good but because it would likely pass. The AUMA has problems — it creates new jail penalties for certain types of possession and fines for smoking in public, and it reduced but does not eliminate some jail penalties on the books. But it does protect small farmers for at least the first five years, and to Blake this 5-year period will give the state time to figure out how to regulate the industry better.

The other panelists didn’t agree, and Kumin turned his moderator fire towards them. “Why haven’t you raised the money? Where’s the money?!” The reply from panelists? The cannabis community including the farmers haven’t been giving significant amounts of money for the initiative so progress has been stymied.

Blake brought the AUMA up again at the award ceremony with less pronounced support, leaving room for the possibility of a better initiative moving forward but it would have to come from the sweat, tears and coffers of the community to make it happen. “If farmers put up the money, we could write our own initiative.”

The Awards and Trophies

Luckily, politics wasn’t the main topic on the award’s stage. Honoring the progress and unity of the community was. Before rewarding the competitors, the judges donned green robes and presented Tim Blake with a painting of himself meeting Jesus in a cannabis field, and of course Jesus was coming out of a spaceship. This may seem bizarre, but that’s probably because you’ve never been to Area 101, where Blake calls home.

The physical awards themselves were the best the cup has yet to see. Three glass artists created about 2 dozen awards in all shapes and sizes, from usable pipes to necklace pendants to decorative tincture bottles, each piece was well-crafted and beautiful in its own right (and some also glow!).

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The full results will be posted on TheEmeraldCup.com and you can check out all the Cup entries, but a few of the winner highlights include:

  • Flower competition AND Breeding award: Mean Gene Jackson of Aficionado Seeds with Cherry Limeade
  • Tincture competition (a new category pulled from larger edibles category): Esther Benemann of Humboldt Harvest
  • Dry sieve: All but one of the 8 entries were disqualified based on testing results, so Mendo Marmalade took home the prize.
  • Rosin competition: 3rd Gen Family swept this category

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