Judging The High Times Cannabis Cup (Part One)

As someone who writes for three newspapers, I’ve learned that most publications have two sides: editorial, which produces articles and artwork, and sales, which sells the ads and produces the events that pay for what editorial creates.

This can lead to conflicted feelings for their readership, who might enjoy the publication’s content, but have issues with how an event is produced—ticket and refreshment prices, crowd management techniques, the quality of the experience for attendees, etc.

You can love the publication’s team who wrote and designed their event’s guide. and still want to slap the taste out of the mouths of those who executed it.

Last year, I faced this dilemma when fulfilling a long time wish: Serving as a judge for the inaugural Oregon edition of the High Times Cannabis Cup (CC).

It was an eye opener as to how the quality of work provided by each side can dramatically differ.

The breadth and quality of the content and reporting by High Times magazine is remarkable, including work by Mount Puffmore cannabis icons The Guru of Ganja, Ed “Ask Ed” Rosenthal, Chef Ra, Jorge Cervantes, and Editor-in-Chief Steven Hager.

An entire column could be written about the vast number of pioneering cannabis projects, editorial undertakings, and events Hager has created.

One such event is the Cannabis Cup, which began in Amsterdam in 1988. Celebrity judges voted on a short list of awards for best flower, hash, seed company, dispensary, and other categories.

The famed coffee shops offered ticket holders the opportunity to try some of these products, often via free samples. The big-name musical performers and reports from judges and attendees made it a bucket list event for any serious stoner.

2010 marked the first American CC, and due to various regulatory and legal changes, the last Amsterdam-based CC was held in 2014. Since then, High Times has produced Medical and Recreational CC in northern and southern California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Michigan, and other states.

In November of 2014, they announced an Oregon edition of the CC in Portland. Earlier that year, Denver had hosted the largest version thus far, with 37,000 attendees over two days.

It had morphed into a trade show setup, with opportunities to sponsor elements/stages, buy booths, etc. Needless to say, expectations for Portland attendees were sky high.

But by September 2015, High Times had called off the Portland show, citing issues such as finding a large enough venue to satisfy the OLCC, and they eventually moved the event to Milwaukie, just outside city limits.

The organizers were quoted as saying that producing the event “has proven to be a Herculean task—in fact, it’s been the most difficult of all of our Cannabis Cups to get off the ground.”

I was excited to hear that High Times would try again in 2019, and by summer, word began going around that the CC would be held at Portland’s North Warehouse.

Time passed, and in late September I saw a website confirming the October 26 date, and providing (lucky me) a link to apply as a judge! A short survey about what I preferred, methods of ingestion, and favored effects was completed, and on October 17, I received an invite.

From the categories I had selected, I had been assigned vape pens.

I was informed that judges’ kits could be picked up at the Pure Green dispensary between October 18 and 20, and I had been assigned a category of products.

“Categories have been assigned based on what you requested to judge,” my instructions read. “No switches or additions will be accommodated. If you are unhappy with your category, please let us know and we will cancel your kit and assign it to someone on our waitlist.”

Furthermore, “Judges’ kits do NOT come with tickets to the awards show. We welcome you to purchase VIP tickets and join us… to hang out with us and witness the winners.”

VIP tickets were $100, and general admission were $80. Um… okay. A bit steep for the “witnessing of winners” perhaps?

On October 18, I got in line to pick up my judges’ kit. Things went downhill from there.

Next column: The kit, the Cup, and hitting an all-time low.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies OregonCannabisConcierge.com and CaliforniaCannabisConcierge.com. His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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