Some of the many buds on display at the High Times Nor Cal Cannabis Cup, held June 3-4 in Santa Rosa, Calif. (screenshot from Marin Independent Journal video)

Nor Cal Cannabis Cup draws major crowds in anticipation of recreational sales

SANTA ROSA — You’d expect a lot of buzz at a massive marijuana trade show. Over the weekend at the High Times Nor Cal Cannabis Cup, the leaf was celebrated in hundreds of product booths hawking everything from vape cartridges and hash oil presses to cannabis infused cotton candy and joints rolled in the shape of a tyrannosaurus rex.

The man behind the cup competition itself, contest coordinator Sean Black, had on a tie-dye T-shirt as he sat behind a display case with some of the 500 entries in this year’s contest. Contestants were judged in 14 categories, including edibles, topicals, concentrates and flowers.

“It’s a pretty tough competition this year,” he said, holding up a pair of buds that would be candidates for the magazine’s vaunted centerfold spreads. “We used to come here to California and there would be only five really good things in each category. But now the playing field has really elevated in quality.”

The cutting edge in the industry, according to the experts at High Times, is in concentrates, extracts and edibles, all of which were in abundant supply on the sprawling fairgrounds.

“When I started out 15 years ago you could make pot brownies and that was it,” said Danny Danko, High Times’ senior cultivation editor. “Now you get seven-course meals.”

People interested in cannabis cooking could take in an infused cooking competition and chef Brandon Allen, the first High Times “cannabis connoisseur,” gave cooking demonstrations using cannabis-infused olive oil.

The trend toward legalization has also lessened the stigma around marijuana and opened the pot market to the “cannabis curious,” a new consumer group attracted to milder strains of the plant.

“There’s a huge crowd of people out there interested in lower dosages of THC, things that they can consume and not be incapacitated,” Danko said.

Another growing demographic is people interested in using cannabis for its medicinal properties and not to get high. Companies like Gold Drop in Oakland are making cannabis oils and sprays, extracts and edibles with low doses of THC, the compound that gets you stoned, and high doses of cannabidiol, or CBD, the non psychoactive compound known for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial properties.

“It opens up cannabis in general to a whole new group of people who don’t want any psychoactive effect, who don’t want to lose control of their mind,” explained Joe Encinosa, Gold Drop’s president and founder. “So now we’ve broadened who cannabis can appeal to, like children and elderly people.”

The rows and rows of white-tented vendor zones on the fairgrounds included a couple of areas with security guards admitting only those with active patient cards for medical marijuana. In those fun zones, pot got smoked, eaten, dabbed, pressed and absorbed through the skin in lotions and lip balms.

Clouds of vapor could be seen rising from dab stations set up by companies like Absolute Extracts with rows of glass pipes for fairgoers to inhale freeze-dried and solvent-less rosin — essential oils extracted from cannabis flowers through heat and pressure.

One exhibit hall was devoted entirely to machines that pressed plants into oils and rosins. Some of the contraptions cost upwards of $3,000. One dirt-floored pavilion packed with vendors was so redolent of marijuana that contact highs were the order of the day. .

As he strolled the fairgrounds in his Bob Marley T-shirt, first-time Cannabis Cup-goer Jeremiah Salazar, 27, who drove up from Fresno for the Cup with his wife, Vanessa, 25, compared California’s legalization to the end of Prohibition in 1933.

“I’m just happy that we’ve finally gotten to where we were way back then,” he said, smiling at the crowds partaking of the herb in all its shapes and forms. “I support this event 100 percent. Everybody here so far has been about hugs and love.”

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