For the second year in a row, the U.S. Cannabis Cup — the largest event in High Times magazine’s portfolio — kicked off Saturday at the Denver Mart with speakers and vendors from throughout the country, and plenty of free marijuana.
The free pot samples came as a surprise to many after Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division released a memo threatening sanctions against state-licensed cannabis shops that took part in the Cup’s tradition of distributing samples of marijuana and pot products to attendees. Instead, marijuana flowers, hash and edibles were distributed by out-of-state companies with nothing to lose. With plenty of tourists in the crowds, the sight of the complimentary cannabis was a welcome one.
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A steady crowd of thousands of marijuana enthusiasts lined up around the block to be the first to see the latest in growing, extraction and smoking accessories at the annual expo. Bill Stewart, 63, drove from Madison, Wis., to see his first Cannabis Cup.
“I’ve been smoking for 40 years and just visited my first dispensary,” said Stewart. “It’s kind of unbelievable.”
Others, including black market dealer Mark Charton from Arkansas, were here to pick the brains of expert cultivators and equipment manufacturers.
“This is a business trip for me, I just can’t write it off,” quipped Charton. He said his customers a few states away now demand the same kind of products, including edibles and hash, they see offered in legal Colorado shops.
“It’s an inspiration” to see all of this in person, Charton said.
Some Colorado businesses were less enthused about the event, watching booths that don’t hold state licenses freely distribute marijuana and amass large lines in the process. Tiffany Goldman, director of operations at Colorado pot shop The Health Center, said, “It’s really frustrating for dispensaries who are trying to be compliant. For us, it’s our license on the line.”
For Seattle-based edibles maker Cory Caudill, the Cup is an opportunity. Caudill drove 400 infused samples from Washington to Colorado after winning an award last year. His major concern was running out of samples of his s’mores-like treat, noting, “I have just the medicated marshmallows, if I need them.”
Some vendors further took advantage of the regulatory ambiguity by haphazardly (and illegally) selling marijuana at the event, with cash coming in as fast as they could weigh bags.
Law enforcement seemed focused on public safety on Saturday.
“Out-of-state vendors are not licensed by the state of Colorado, thus they are not bound by Colorado business regulations,” said Sergeant Aaron Pataluna, public information officer with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. “It is the understanding of the Sheriff’s Office that samples provided by an out-of-state vendor would not be a violation of Colorado criminal law unless they possessed more than an ounce of marijuana, they provided marijuana to a person under the age of 21, or they exchanged it as part of a financial transaction.”
Marcus Lentz, owner of Oregon-based Medi Brothers, heard about the MED’s restrictions and opted to leave his samples in Portland: “I made 25,000 edibles that are sitting at home right now. At $20 a sample, that’s a lot of money.” Instead of backing out of the event, Lentz created cannabis-free samples for his third year at the U.S. Cup.
While many come for the marijuana free-for-all, large crowds also flocked to the event’s speakers Saturday including the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzmann. The Dead, via Kreutzmann, will be inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame during the Cup’s award ceremony on Sunday night, when the Cup continues with a screening of the new CNN docu-series “High Profits.” The event will wrap on Monday, a.k.a. 4/20, with more samples at the expo and a screening of “Super Troopers” with the Broken Lizard comedy troupe in attendance.