Craig Mann, 25 of Denver, samples the goods at The Green Solution booth during the High Times Cannabis Cup at the Denver Mart on April 20, 2014. (Seth McConnell, The Denver Post)

Opinion: No Colorado pot samples at Cannabis Cup = disappointment

If the 2014 High Times Cannabis Cup felt a little too good to be true, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (a.k.a. the MED) confirmed that with an early-April memo that warned licensed Colorado businesses exhibiting at the Cup about what exactly is and is not allowed this year.

Giving out samples? Banned. Being in an area designated for consumption? Think twice about that. Buying marijuana and personally giving it away? Absolutely prohibited.

(Mind you, these regulations apply to Colorado-licensed marijuana businesses only. Individuals can still legally bring pot to the Cup and share it. And the word is some out-of-state marijuana businesses are still planning on sampling their goods at the Cup, but how they got their cannabis to Colorado raises other questions.)

These late-in-the-game regulatory changes are’t exactly welcome news to an industry that shells out thousands of dollars every year for their single biggest trade show and is dealing with strict marketing regulations already.

The news is an even bigger disappointment to the thousands who bought tickets with the expectation that the event would be similar to last year. In the span of one year, Denver went from being one of the most progressive cities on cannabis to being on par with one that has become progressively worse: Amsterdam.

When news broke in November 2014 that the expo at Amsterdam’s Cannabis Cup would be shut down, an announcement that came just as the Cup was getting ready to open its doors, it was shocking to those in attendance. A couple who flew from Utah with their adult son were dazed (and not from the quasi-legal cannabis there) when I spoke with them. The event was a yearly sojourn they were no longer interested in taking as the city continued to crack down on the drug it had become known for. They told me they’d rather stay stateside and visit Denver in April after I relayed a few stories about my experience last year.

Given this week’s news, I sincerely hope they didn’t heed my advice.

The late notice was certainly avoidable, as it shouldn’t take 11 months to figure out a position on the largest ticketed cannabis event on Denver’s calendar. As an outsider looking in, it seems the industry rolls with the punches in regards to packaging requirements, procedure changes and reporting policies.

The legal cannabis industry deserved better from a department that’s had its fair share of struggles.

Companies are struggling to recoup anything, with industry leaders such as Bob Eschino of Incredibles now actively trying to sell his booth and avoid a perceived issue. As Eschino told The Cannabist this week, “We don’t want to be there. We don’t want there to be any sort of question on the legality of what we’re doing.”

Whether the MED likes it or not, cannabis has become a legitimate tourist attraction here in Colorado, and April is peak season. This last-minute clarification puts a black eye on the weekend, and if Amsterdam was any indication, I expect that it will dominate the conversation as people bemoan “what could have been.”

The comments section on The Cannabist’s news piece from earlier this week is already rife with complaints about how this was handled.

“They needed to let people know this before wasting money on a ticket for NOTHING,” notes commenter Brooke. At least she didn’t have to fly across the Atlantic for that disappointment, but it’s a shame that this is even the discussion that’s occurring.

Sure, there’s plenty to still see at the Denver Mart this weekend, and there’s no doubt that plenty of cannabis will be consumed. It’s just a shame that after last year’s event went off without incident that we’d see such a dramatic change of policy. Hopefully the Cannabis Cup returns to Denver in 2016, along with the revenue it generates for Colorado.