The road to the Emerald Cup this year was a bit cold and wet, not unlike years past. Unlike the weather, the differences between this year and the past were clearly evident this year as this is the first year of legal Cannabis sales in California. Regulation and regulators have squashed much of the once free market spirit that once existed in California under Prop 215 (the proposition that voters approved and legalized medical use in California in 1996.) Now with Prop 64, the climate is certainly not the same now that legalization is in play. The new world order has changed the rules on all aspects of how Cannabis is handled from seed to sale in California. Now that I’ve bummed you out, let’s get to the awesome aspects of one of the finest Cannabis competitions worldwide, The Emerald Cup in Sonoma, CA.

We wanted to know how the process of the competition worked so we went direct to the source and asked associate producer, Taylor Blake for the break down. Taylor has grown up in the Cannabis community as her father Tim Blake is the founder of the cup. Tim has been producing and curating the event and competition since its inception. Tim is also a long time grower in the community. Taylor has certainly seen her share of change over the years with Cannabis and the event itself.  So, what are the rules and procedures for the competition Let’s find out.

How many entries were submitted on each category?  “This year we had just over 500 entries. It greatly varied from category to category but the most entries in one category was for the licensed sun grown category with a total of 135 entries.”  How many entries made it through the testing process?  “This year’s testing process was different than any year before. Most of our entries were already California compliance tested. Of the ones that we tested we had less than 20 failures.”

How does the judging process begin and end?  “Some of our judging categories meet in person (the flowers, solvent less, and hydrocarbon concentrate categories) whereas all others we schedule conference calls for their meetings. We try to pick judges from all over the state so in person meetings can prove a little difficult. The process for each judge usually starts by meeting their fellow judges, reviewing the score books and talking about their initial entries. It ends with the tallies of top scores, validating the entries placement, and a celebration of finishing the judging process.”

How is each product judged by?  “It varies from category to category. For example, for flowers it’s a combination of scores on appearance, smell, taste, and effect for each entry. For our openly branded categories, points are also given for packaging and ingredients.”

How are the judges chosen?  “Each year we have a combination of past judges and new judges for each category. It’s very important to have a different set of judges each year. We pick them through recommendations from the community, through meeting people throughout the year, and we also sometimes invite past winners to judge (that is if they are not entering).”

Who are the judges?  This year we had a total of 52 judges across all categories. For each category we have a different set of judges. We insure to select judges for each category that either produce the product in said category or are a huge consumer of said product. It seems like a super easy task but our judges take on a huge responsibility each year and they take it very seriously.”

What kind of hurdles or challenges were created now with the regulations in place? “Our entire intake process was completely changed due to our current regulations. We were extremely excited to maintain a personal use category this year, other than that one category- every other contestant had to have a current license with the state of California.”

Now that we better understand how the competition works, what else goes on at the Emerald Cup?

The excitement of finding your favorite growers, discovering new ones and tasting the finest California Cannabis is truly heaven.  There are well over 100+ booths that are displaying the best Cannabis on the planet. There are also plenty of booths promoting their products that complement growing or consuming. This event attracts the top talent on all aspects of Cannabis from the concentrate extractors, delectable edibles from top Cannabis chefs, and expert Cannabis farmers. Seed cultivars are also there to spread their genetics to home growers and professionals. The event also has top expert panels discussing the world of Cannabis to educate and elevate.

There is something for everyone. Generally, the only problem one has is the time it takes to get it all in!  This year the Emerald Cup had full reign over the entire Sonoma County Fairgrounds, so it felt more spacious throughout. Some areas like the PacEx sponsored pavilion was difficult to move around in on the busiest day, Saturday while the weather was pleasant. On Sunday the weather took a turn for wet and the crowd felt like it cut in half. The hard-core enthusiasts (ourselves included) and participants are in it till the end. By the end of Sunday night many of the tents flooring tiles that were keeping our feet dry were underwater and we were sinking into big pockets of water, but it was worth it for the stash we were taking home.

What was the purchasing experience like?

Unfortunately, the state regulators have strict rules on who can actually sell the Cannabis to the buyer and which license grants sales, etc.  In order to get flowers from one of my favorite growers Bon Viviant, I had to let them know what I wanted then they gave me an order form with my name on it. Next step required to wait in this hellacious line for what felt like forever with no real order. Luckily, we’re all happy Cannabis people and the line is much more fun than one where folks are drunk and belligerent at other events. Everyone found ways to chat and share tips while we patiently waited to pick up our purchases. So glad we picked up when we did as there were folks in our group that ordered flower that was no longer in stock. As an experienced Emerald Cup attendee, stock up on your favorite brands early, don’t delay on purchasing your favorites on the first day, by day two it could be gone.

The Emerald Cup Awards

It may have been raining hard outside but inside that auditorium was packed tight with a crowd of hopefuls and winners with their teams waiting to hear the results of the competition.  Unlike other cups this competition gets respect from the community. The competition procedures and the peer judges are part of that.  Many of the entries are from legendary master growers and family farms that compete by producing some of the finest Cannabis in the world inside what is known as the emerald triangle. That triangle is expanding as we saw entries from all over the state, including Southern California. One of the main rules of the competition is that the product is organic and sun grown. There are some categories that allow for mixed light, but sun grown is key. Many may argue which is best, indoors or outdoors? As Cannapolitans, we love it all!

Willie Nelson in the building

This year the Emerald Cup issued their activist lifetime achievement award to the legendary Willie Nelson. No one was sure when Willie would show up during the awards, but he managed to arrive in the middle of the ceremony to receive his award. The custom water-pipe was designed with Willie’s guitar “Trigger”  incorporated into the design. This award will be known as the Willie Nelson award for future cups.  He came on stage and thanked everyone proudly. He also promoted his brand, Willie’s Reserve along with his latest partner Margo Price (singer) with her strain Pineapple Wonder which is grown by a farm called Moon Made. We had purchased this strain and it is intensely pineapple and delicious.

The Struggle is Real

There were dozens of brands and growers that were not allowed to participate in the competition or able to vend and have a booth at the cup due to the new licensing hurdles and regulations. This past year was a difficult year for many family farmers throughout the state. Many were unable to secure licenses for a variety of reasons. Several counties have limited the number of cultivation licenses and the fees and requirements are heavy.  It must be noted that the fight is far from over. It is important that the small Cannabis farmer is allowed to participate in the market otherwise we will be left with big corporate Cannabis only and that is bad for everyone. It’s important you know where your Cannabis comes from, how it is grown and is the farmer being kind to the environment.

Know what goes into your Cannabis.

During the awards ceremony, time was taken to highlight regenerative Cannabis farmers and farms that are stewarding their land for the better. These farms were recognized for their leadership and efforts to push this movement forward for outdoor farming.  We were really impressed with the honored farms that had short videos each that explained their processes and why regenerative farming is crucial for the environment and for Cannabis.  Next time you walk into your favorite dispensary, be mindful and ask questions. Many brands have Instagram accounts and are happy to answer questions on how they produce their Cannabis. The more you know about a brand should give you a clearer choice on which farmers deserve your support.

In conclusion

The Emerald Cup in 2018 may have been challenging with regulations in the new legal market, but all in all it was another successful event that left us wanting more.  Make sure you plan your trip next year in advance for one of the greatest Cannabis competitions you’ll ever attend.

The Emerald Cup is certified Cannapolitan. Make sure to check out their site for details on this cup and future cups to come! Emerald Cup

Check out the winners lists and our extensive photo gallery below.