Part 1: The Joy of the Cannabis Cup

Dabs at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

Dabs ruled the day. If you can take your eyes off the lacy top hat, note the refined touches like the designer industrial torch (Vector Nitro Chrome Torch, $65) and the extraterrestrial oil rig. Going the extra mile like that shows they care.

The past year has not been kind to the legalization cause. Lowlights include:

  • The Netherlands, aka “Holland,” pulling the plug on cannabis tourism — a lowlands lowlight.
  • US Attorneys and the LA City Council giving new meaning to the phrase “wipe out” in SoCal. It’s not going to be endless summer for LA’s beleaguered dispensaries. The sands of time run out in a few weeks.
  • MMJ States from another planet, like New Jersey, with pro-gambling, anti-pot Governor Christie at the helm, have had MMJ laws in place for four years without selling a single skinny joint. How ironic is it that in “The Garden State,” Mafia style gambling = go; rasta style cultivation = fuggedaboutit. If states had brains, this one would be selling eighths at every toll booth from Cape May to Montvale. When’s that gonna happen? “Birds singing in the sycamore tree, dream a little dream for me.”
  • Learning that “medical marijuana,” that is, the constant contention the words have come to represent, not the product itself, has had a devastating impact on prohibition … as in it keeps it alive indefinitely.
  • The University of Colorado — an annual contender as the nation’s top party school, located in Boulder, “Where the Hip Come to Trip,” a school that runs Ralphie, a live buffalo, up and down the sideline before every home football game — decreeing that 25,000 devotees celebrating 420 as one organism would no longer be welcome, as if the scenic seat of knowledge had been a seminary in the past.

Kicking field goals in Folsom Stadium when we were hippies tripping out of our minds on Orange Sunshine in 1970 was a blast. You can kick ’em long and true when you think you’re a golden god.

Pardon the flashback. Anyhow:

University Regents ingeniously dumped umpteen truckloads of fish fertilizer on the hallowed Norlin Quad 420 grounds — dissuading anyone of sound mind or altered mind from gathering there.

Now, if only herbal rights activists displayed the same ingenuity …

trimmed buds on the branch at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

Cannabis at a cannabis convention. What a concept!

There’s more dismal news we could wallow in. But this time, we’re not going there.

We plow that ground in Ten Reasons Why Medical Marijuana is Cannabis Commerce’s Ball and Chain and all over this website. And we reserve the right to howl about it some more, that is, as long as MMJ gets to sit up front while repealing prohibition rides at the back of the bus.

But not today.

We’ve brought you the agony.

Now for the ecstasy!

We offer, for your entertainment and edification, a little diversion we call … The Joy of Pot.

Join us, as typically sober and somber poteconomists get unusually goofy and giddy over:

  • Dabbing at the Cannabis Cup
  • Opening a new dispensary
  • Marketing medibles
  • Trimming some of the most luscious buds on god’s green earth
  • Frolicking in industrial grow facilities
  • And whatever else we dream up along the way
dude exhaling at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

Cosmo exhales with satisfaction as some chick breaks into his backpack.

And what better way to kick things off than with a trip to the Cannabis Cup, held 420 weekend at the EXDO Event Center, a converted warehouse located, appropriately, on the fringes of town.

The Cannabis Cup is a judged competition, with side action typical of cannabis conventions including product demonstrations, information dissemination, and live entertainment with a hip-hop bent. I’d never been to one. Unlike the talented, dedicated growers who’d been nurturing and nourishing their entries for months — dialing in the soil, the nutrients, and the lighting — I wasn’t exactly on pins and needles over the prospective winners and losers. For once, I wasn’t in the minority.

The main attraction for me and most Cup-goers was free samplesas in free samples which you could actually sample on site with no limit on how much you could try! In fact, losing track of how many hits you took seemed to be the general idea. If there’s a god in heaven, that was probably “his” intention all along. Here on earth, it’s pretty much unheard of.

That was the scenario sources-in-the-know kept talking up, anyway. There’s a reason it sounded too good to be true: every previous cannabis convention in Denver has been notable for the star commodity’s absence. Verbotten was the operative word.

At Kushcon II, one wit quipped, “going to a cannabis convention without cannabis is like going to a whorehouse without hookers.”  This one had the hookers and the hookahs.

Believe it or not, I almost didn’t go. I figured all the good stuff would be gone by 1 PM, and I had a planet to save beforehand.

That fear was unfounded. It was all you could smoke, all day long. Every exotic strain under the sun was there for the taking — an astounding selection of edibles, medibles, and combustibles you’ve been dying your whole life to try!

When I arrived, Ganja Nation had turned out in full force. Human excitement mixed with the pungent stench of singed sativa. It was better than advertised!

Somehow, Cup sponsor High Times magazine persuaded City of Denver officials and State of Colorado regulatory agencies to look the other way while the scenes of decadence, degeneracy, and debauchery you’re viewing were captured.

We’ll find out how in the world they pulled that off and get back to you.

My Cannabis Cup kicked off with a big smile from Kristen at Green Man Cannabis. I’ve manicured my fair share of buds at the Green Man grow facilities (The Joy of Trimming is coming up later in this series). They’re always a favorite to take home a prize or two. They’ve done it before.

Green Mountain Wholesalers at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

When Kristen from Green Man wholesalers isn’t turning on 2,000 people in a weekend, she cracks the whip as head of operations at two major cultivation centers.

all you can smoke at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

For one glorious weekend, no one had to pretend it’s a medicine or converse in Patientese.

The well-stocked Green Man booth offered a choice of about a dozen primo strains. Hmm. Which one to choose?

I hesitated for a moment. There’s definitely something otherwordly about “all you can smoke” in a public space. I’d stepped into what seemed like a parallel universe, but, startlingly enough, it wasn’t — the endless ganja smorgasbord had materialized in this dimension. It was as if thoughts had became things simply because this is the way everyone always thought things should be.

Snapping out of the reverie, I picked Jack Herer, a classic sativa with a rep as an “up” strain. After all, I figured to be there for a while and wanted to stay energized.

Moments later, the Cannabis Cup was beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I’ve been around tons and tons of weed in my time, but never so much free weed.

Conical buds, smartly trimmed, beckoned like miniature trees inside their receptacles. Beautiful as they were, another suitor was vying for the public’s affection, and, by the looks of things, winning it: dabs.

That’s dabs as in “dabfest,” or what the “Cardholders Only” outbuilding on the EXDO Events Center grounds had become.

A carol, “Joy to the Weird,” popped into my head: “Joy to the weird, the dabs have come … ”

decadence at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

I’ve been around a lot of weed in my time, but never so much free weed.

Some attendees, myself included, had not previously dabbled in “dabs.” The practice ritual has already shot past phenomenon and into the annals of cultural anthropology.

  • Does it represent a custom? Check.
  • Does it represent a belief? Yeah — the belief that 25% THC just doesn’t cut it anymore.
  • Is it a cultural development? That, too.

It’s worth nothing that philosophers like Joseph Campbell have decried how our cold, distant, cyber-society lacks rituals which instill the primitives with a sense of community. They’d approve of the Cannabis Cup — after all, looking for bliss is exactly what adventurers set off to do when they embark on what Campbell calls “the hero’s journey.”

The dabbing ritual may not be quite as dramatic as marking the transition from boyhood to manhood by hanging initiates from their scrotums, a custom obscure tribes in Borneo perform in lieu of bar mitzvahs, but it contains key elements which make it riveting in its own way.

Preparing the holy sacrament begins by dissolving our beloved green matter with butane solvents. Afterwards, only a scattering of waxy flakes remain. Gone is any part of the plant that doesn’t get you high; left is a THC-rich rocket fuel capable of levitating you.

It’s worth mentioning that the State of California has banned the use of butane extraction.

Why’s that, you ask?

  • Reason numero uno is it’s way too easy to blow yourself and your lab assistants up. Anyone can do it. I’m re-reading the sentence before last. OK, it’s not that easy to blow yourself, though it’s doable; but blowing yourself up is definitely easier. That’s what I was getting at.
  • Secondly, butane extraction can elevate THC percentages to levels that generate out-of-body experiences. That has its advantages and disadvantages — depending on where you happen to leave your physical body and what you were scheduled to be doing at the time of lift-off. For instance, if you’re supposed to be working and instead you’re curled up for four hours in a fetal position at the base of a cottonwood tree in a public park, that could be considered a disadvantage.

Note that the latter kernel of knowledge was acquired after I ran with the devil, not before.

Back to the ritual:

So, You take-a the wax, and you impale-a it on a “nail”, then you “dab” it delicately onto a tiny titanium quartz tray — that is, after the quartz has been preheated to hash-searing levels by a specialized blowtorch (I’m getting to them). The intake apparatus generally consists of basic to elaborate bong-like glass piping — “hash bubblers” or “oil rigs” in street parlance — customized with a nifty “titanium swing,” a titanium nail, or the cutting edge “domeless nail.”

american worker making glass bongs

Who says American ingenuity is dead? This American worker proudly crafts dab-ready bongs in the good ole US of A. Note the multiple blowtorches; cannabis commerce is an incredible boon to the burgeoning blowtorch industry. Made in America, baby!

I don’t mean to overly romanticize the ritual … but everyone who was anyone was dabbing. Not being anyone, lacking ritual in my own tortured existence, and wondering what it might be like to bring out my “Iron John” [the “wild man” within], I too sought self-discovery through dabs.

And blowtorches. Dabs just wouldn’t be dabs without them.

I don’t mean to overly romanticize the blowtorch … but everyone knows the flame makes the ritual. Think about it: the more pagan you want your ritual to be, the bigger the bonfire you want to dance around.

While I always try to maintain a heightened state of readiness, thinking ahead and preparing for any conceivable eventuality, the truth is I was taken aback by the diversity of industrial and designer blowtorches on offer.

Previously, I may have looked down on these devices with condescension; they’d never served any conceivable purpose in my life, nor did they figure to do so in the future.

Clearly, I’d figured wrong. This was the future, a future where blowtorches play a prominent role.

Basking in the joy of the Cannabis Cup, yet unable to completely cut off my cannalytical mind, I reconsidered the utilitarian implements. As I surveyed the phantasmagoric scene unfolding around me, it was undeniable that many — if not most — of my fellow participants were already experiencing the joy of blowtorches.

I pondered their emergence in cannabis commerce terms.

Exhibitors must have leafed through stacks and stacks of industrial supply catalogs in pursuit of the perfect blowtorch. They come in two main classes: industrial [the old standby, Benzomatic] and designer [Vector, the elegant touch for the discriminating shopper].

It occurred to me that Benzomatic executives must be scratching their heads trying to account for a recent spike in sales. There’s precedence for that: the Ziploc company had a similarly “unaccountable” spike — which exceeded its most exuberant sales speculations — when “drug dealers” started consuming the company’s sandwich bags and freezer bags in earnest, circa 1979.

Some lucky company’s blowtorch was about to serve a useful purpose in my life: dabification had intersected with destiny. But who’s dab would do me? Every booth was cranking ’em out like there was no tomorrow.

I hovered at the booths of several prominent dispensaries, looking for a sign. Ah, familiar faces — Jake and friends from Broadsterdam landmark A Cut Above — ready, willing, and able to aid the cause of scientific research.

A Cut Above dispensary staff giving away dabs at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

Dabs for Denver? Jake & Co. from Broadsterdam landmark A Cut Above at your service. Note the locked and loaded Benzomatic .

It looked like industrial was going to win out; Benzomatic was A Cut Above’s weapon of choice. I waited patiently in line behind Cuppers who just shrugged after I asked them how many dabs they’d tried already. One guy finally mumbled, “Twenty?” The clock had not yet struck 4 PM.

Finally, it was my turn. I stepped up to the plate and took a swig. It didn’t seem like much at first. But then …

Suddenly, tuning out the pulsating, misogynistic hip-hop tunes, the elbow-to-elbow throngs, and the thick, skunky smoke wafting through the hall was no longer an option.

I was getting more lightheaded by the second.

Things began looking a little blurry.

things get a little blurry at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

I needed fresh air. Fast. So I headed out to the alley, hoping to clear out the cobwebs. It didn’t work, but the sightseeing wasn’t too bad.

babeage at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

I’ve often fantasized about a special lady who shares my fetish for license plate holders.

At that point I could still operate a camera. It wouldn’t be long before a one-pound device felt like heavy machinery.

a splendid time had by all at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

No miniskirt? One black leg/one white leg’s a superb Plan B.

Was my Cannabis Cup over after one dab? Afraid so. Two hits, total? That’s it?

Well … yeah … that’s all she wrote.

An Olympian effort it was not.

The gold medal for Getting the Most Out Of the Cannabis Cup for Your Money will be going to another worthy attendee, one whose winning effort I’d guesstimate would be somewhere in the vicinity of fifty hits. Then again, if humans can stuff sixty hot dogs down their tracheas in an hour, that guess could be way low.

The cannabis gods know what they’re doing: if my Cannabis Cup hadn’t ended so abruptly, it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable.

The brief yet meaningful encounter salvaged 420 weekend; it even made up for the fish fertilizer debacle in the yuppie hellhole where the hip come to trip.

dabs ruled the day at The Cannabis Cup Denver 2012

Another grower extraordinaire, Boulder MMC’s Frank Horwich [glasses, brown shirt], goes out among his people, taking the pulse of Ganja Nation.

This member of Ganja Nation barely dragged himself to caffeination. A quadruple cappuccino had no effect whatsoever on my drugged state— the dab still held me in its sway. All I could do was stare, transfixed, into the white froth of truth: the joy of the cannabis cup wouldn’t relent anytime soon.