HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup
Los Angeles Glendale San Burnadoobie 2013
An epic train journey up and down the West Coast, road trips across Southern California, and various observations of the first HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup of 2013
Dave’s Not Here, Man
It was a memorable Cannabis Cup in Southern California, once we found out where it was being held. I had boarded an Amtrak train in Portland, Oregon, to Los Angeles for the second annual HIGH TIMES Medical Cannabis Cup. Last year, we had an amazing time at the LA Center Studios and we were looking forward to a second run at the location.
However, early in the week there was a problem with permitting at the LA location. At the last minute, HIGH TIMES secured the Glendale Studios. I was staying near Los Angeles with Cheryl Shuman from Rapid Fire Marketing, so I checked the maps for the distance and Glendale wasn’t far enough to feel like I was imposing for a ride.
The train trip from Portland to LA is 33 hours, so I was leaving Portland and getting online when I learned that the Glendale City Council had passed an emergency injunction on the permits for that location, effectively leaving HIGH TIMES without a place for the event. I was seriously considering disembarking at Eugene and taking the train back north to Portland. However, HIGH TIMES had soon lined up the National Orange Show Center in San Bernardino – I had been there years earlier for a Cypress Hill Smoke Out and knew the layout would be great.
But San Bernardino is a long way from Los Angeles – 82 miles from where I was staying. How was I going to get from my crash pad to the gig, two days in a row, without renting a car?
While I considered that problem, a new one emerged. The bag containing my best digital video camera was gone, taken by another passenger at an earlier stop or forgotten in my haste to board, I’m unsure. I mentioned it to an Amtrak employee who chastened me for leaving a camera bag in the open luggage area. Her concern was underwhelming.
Traveling by Amtrak is nice, if a bit long. The seats have twice the legroom you’d find on an airplane and adjustable leg rests. I prefer train travel when I can, to avoid the airport TSA lines that force me to strip, unpack seven bins worth of electronic gear, and take naked x-ray pictures of me. There’s AC power right at the seat and with my mobile broadband, I can get a lot of work done on a train (like now, riding home).
I arrive in Los Angeles at 9pm. Cheryl picks me up from Union Station with my couch-surfing roommate for the event, Simmi from Vancouver, BC. We became fast friends as I explained to her nuances and peculiarities of American culture in general (“let me explain ‘medical bankruptcy’ to you”) and 420 culture in particular (“well, ‘dabs’ are just concentrated cannabis”). She is a brand new ‘traveler of the road’, having lived most her life as someone disgusted with pot smokers and marijuana. Now she’s like an herbal acolyte, amazed at the positive difference cannabis has made in her life and dumbfounded that everyone can’t see the obvious lies about marijuana. “Simmi,” I responded, “you were that person who couldn’t see through the lies. How do we get through to the people like you were without first getting them all high?”
Fortunately the loss of my camera bag wasn’t devastating as I have extra cameras. Cheryl was incredibly gracious and lent me a 60’s-model convertible Mercedes she had collecting dust in the garage. Now I could drive myself out to San Bernardino with Simmi along for the ride. I got online and booked a hotel near the event so I could just make one trip out and back from Los Angeles. The car was small, but we packed all my gear and headed out.
I think we’re parked, man
We arrived at the Orange Center and set up the gear. The entrance to the event is where all the non-profit booths like mine were located. I was delighted to find I was set up between Orange County NORML (whose “Hemp Radio” show is on 420RADIO) and Lanny Swerdlow (whose “Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense” is also on 420RADIO). I brought a bass amp to play our live show and busily set up the electronics while our volunteers, Mindy and Mike, set up the banner and the rest. Somehow, we were expected to share a booth with OC NORML; we were lucky they had a pop-up canopy to loan to us.
Mindy – who goes by “Dolphyness” in our chat room – is a vivacious young lady who always was quick to greet people who came to the booth, especially as I was busy working on tech. She always had a bright smile and promoted 420RADIO as well as I could. Mike was a bright man who engaged me in a number of interesting conversations on marijuana reform. He also served as 2nd Unit Director, taking the second hand cam around for video (a cam he still has, because I forgot to pack it. That’s a bit of a theme for this trip.)
Most of my Saturday I spent trying in vain to get a live streaming show set up. There was 4G coverage, so that wasn’t an issue. The Southern California sun and my old laptop overheating were the issue. The streaming would not work if the music was also playing. The old bass amplifier gave up a few times throughout that first warm day as well. It was beginning to look like the trip would be a bust.
I took a break to visit the so-called “medicated area”. Our non-profit area featured a dozen and a half booths and some food carts and the traffic was generally light to moderate. Before you leave that area there is a semi-circle of people eagerly waiting to see The Green Doctors. This was where staff wearing green scrubs with pot leaves on them would assist these desperately ill people to consult with a doctor as to whether cannabis would be a valid treatment option for their… damn, I almost made it through the whole sentence with a straight face.
The Green Doctors were there as the gatekeepers to the “medicated area” (aka “the Cannabis Cup”) going on beyond. For just $40 people waited to get their doctor’s recommendation so they could get the magic wristband that gets them past the event security guards. Then they walk around the side of the expo building, past the stage set up for the Redman / The Game concert later in the night, and into stoner Shangri-La.
When you attend an event like this, it is a bit easier to understand why California has more difficulty legalizing marijuana. Functionally, what’s the difference to a toker who pays a pot doc $40 for a permission slip to smoke pot versus a drinker who pays the DMV a registration fee for an ID that lets him buy beer? Either way, if I want my drug, I have to pay some authority for some kind of permission slip. Prices, potency, selection, and availability are greater than ever and it’s still illegal enough for the people on the growing and selling side to make good money and for government not to have its regulators and revenuers all over it. It’s a selfish view, but there are many selfish voters.
We’re smoking Dab-rador!
Inside the medicated area, vendors have some of the most elaborate booths set up, with fees running as high as $12,000. Four different, bass-heavy hip-hop beats are thundering from all four corners and the place is packed with warm, happy, pot smoking, cannabis vaping, oil dabbing people. I’d have pictures of them, but my cell phone joined the tech revolt against my better plans and wouldn’t hold a charge long enough to snap pictures.
Dabbing, which to the uninitiated is the use of concentrated cannabis oils, known in various states as “butter”, “shatter”, “wax”, and “BHO”, has all but consumed the culture of the younger, hedonistic pot aficionados. Numerous booths were offering samples of their concentrates, with young, attractive, sexily-dressed female “dabaristas” offering samples of their collective’s best oils. This brings me to three points:
Other vendors in the medicated area include purveyors of fine glass and other accessory items for marijuana use and cannabis culture, like t-shirts and hemp packs. Some collectives still had the big jars of buds on display. The tech around dabbing has grown, with various vendors offering oil-specific tools, glass, and pocket vaporizers (thanks, Cloud Vape! The train ride home is more bearable because of your gift.)
I don’t think that’s gonna fit on the album cover
Much of the fun for me at these events is hanging out with all the people you meet at event after event. My first visit in the medicated area was to find Subcool, the horticulture genius behind Team Green Avenger, or TGA Seeds. His genetics have won multiple Cannabis Cups, but the normally-mellow fellow with the scrunched cowboy hat and easy grin was not the man who stood four inches before my face, angrily denouncing the failed logistics of the past week with me as a stand-in for HIGH TIMES. You can check out Subcool’s Facebook page for much of the detail he explained to me, but I’ll just put it this way:
I’m a one-man operation running a free booth for public information. You’ve read so far how the last minute schedule changes impacted my work. Without Cheryl Shuman’s generosity, my entire trip would have been a fail. As it was, it cost me double my budget. Now, imagine the hassles Subcool and his crew had to go through with an 80-mile relocation on less than one days’ notice. (Subcool and TGA later won a Cannabis Cup; Sub accepted graciously and professionally, but I think this was probably the last one where I’ll see my TGA buddy. That’s too bad, as he’s always really generous when he sees me at gigs.) Everybody understands “shit happens”, but they can take it much better with some notice.
Hemp Radio and Marijuana Compassion and Common Sense weren’t the only 420RADIO shows and cannabis media represented. I was interviewed by a new show whose name escapes me (but not in April when we add them to the 420RADIO lineup), a crew from Hemp Beach TV, and Gil and the gang from WeedMaps TV. Coral Fish was roaming and streaming; we compared leg tattoos (she has delightful pot leaves on her back thighs, I have Chinese “tai ma” on my back calves). And it’s not a Cup without Ganja Jon, of course. He arrived with Ganja Wife and our friends, comedians Todd Armstrong and Brian Blank. We crashed the mics with AdaMacaDocious and Manny Blunts from The PotCast, who were there at the Cali Collective recording their show.
Best of all, Jon was carrying around his Fist Place Cannabis Cup from Seattle, where he was the first person to win the award for “Concentrates” (previous Cups had been for “hash” before the category was split). “Everywhere I walk,” he told me, “people stare and look at it as I go by. It’s like having a twelve-inch dong.” That’s great, I replied, because there’s nothing quite like being a part of Ron Jeremy’s posse.
Open up the door, I’ve got the stuff
As the day concluded, I had spent some time at the booth wrestling with tech, only to decide it was hopeless. It was then Cheryl Shuman who showed up from LA to rescue us again, this time by letting us borrow her laptop to replace my overheated one so we could at least listen to music. I still had mics set up, so I exhorted people to visit Lanny’s booth and register to vote. I also brought people by for brief interviews and met several long-term fans who were very appreciative of the show. It’s truly the reward I seek, knowing that the work I do impacts so many people on a long-term, daily basis. Every meeting is like meeting a new friend.
By the end of the day we were all exhausted. For three days my beds were a train seat and a couch, so I was looking forward to crashing at my hastily-purchased room. I packed my gear into the back of Cheryl’s Prius so she could give me a ride to the parking lot to pick up her Mercedes. Once there, I’d drive to the hotel and check in and drop off my booth stuff, then we could all go out to eat.
However, my phone, still joining the technological coup against me, was almost dead, and I had no idea of the address of the hotel. I knew it was “Orange” something and it was within .48 miles of the event. I headed off to where I thought it to be, clumsily, as I couldn’t figure out the lights for the Mercedes and had to drive holding the lever for “brights” just to leave the parking lot.
After a couple of U-turns and no “Orange” hotel, I stopped in a 7-Eleven parking lot. I obviously was lost, so we regrouped and went back to the original parking lot, hoping the security guard might know where the “Orange” hotel was. He didn’t, so, frustrated, I told the group in the Prius to head back to LA and I’d work on solving my problem. They left, but soon called me back and with what must have been the last watt of energy in the battery, let me know the “Orange Show Inn” was across the street from that 7-Eleven, near the freeway exits.
I drove to the Inn and checked in to my room. Ah, a big King Sized bed and a huge Jacuzzi tub! Finally, I could get some relaxation. First, I should get my gear out of the car and find my phone charger so I…
Because I’d never bothered to take all my gear out of the back of the Prius before sending Cheryl & Crew back to Los Angeles. Rather than go enjoy the open-air pot smoking concert featuring The Game and Redman smoking a blunt onstage together and surfing the crowd, I got to put in some overtime crisis management.
Frantically I bring up my cell phone, still with a drop of energy left, and called Cheryl. No answer as, duh, you don’t talk and drive on cell phones in California. I texted her and that was the last iota of energy the phone had before dying. I was smart, however, and made sure to write Cheryl’s number down so I could call her from the room.
The room, however, had other plans, conspiring with the rest of my technology to defeat me. After dialing “9”, “8”, “7”, “#’, and “*”, I could not get a dial tone from the room’s phone. I called the front desk to ask how to call out. It turns out that is not possible; the Inn has no outbound calls. It’s good to know my $110 on a room was well-spent.
So I gather some money and decide to walk back to that 7-Eleven, in hopes of finding a pay phone. I did not, but I did find a phone charger. I ate a delicious Mexican meal at a restaurant next to the Inn while the phone charged and kept trying to reach Cheryl to no avail. I returned to the room to watch some TV; alas, the Inn has no TV service, either, of course. But the tub was really nice.
Before I can come to the terrible conclusion about tomorrow’s plans, I finally get a call in the room from Cheryl. She’s back in Los Angeles and read the text. We’re both awfully sorry about what happened but there is no blame between the two of us, as we were both tired and not thinking straight. Then we finalize the terrible conclusion: I was going to have to get up at 7am to drive the 82 miles back to LA to pick up my gear and drive 82 miles back to San Bernardino for the show, which was the whole round trip gas-at-$4.59 and four-hours-time expense I was trying to avoid by booking the $110 no-phone no-TV no-tell motel.
Give it up for Bob Bitchin’!
Sunday was a better day by far for 420RADIO’s booth. On the way back (again) from Los Angeles, I stopped in to the Target Store and got a case of water and some ice in a cooler, some markers and poster board, and a new digital still camera that was half-off as a display model. When I arrived at the event, Mike had brought along a tall column fan that we used to keep the amp and the laptop cool for the whole day.
I abandoned any attempt to try to live stream the event. My appetite for live broadcast is bigger than my technological abilities at this point. Someday I hope to have better equipment and a tech to work it, but until then, I decided to concentrate on selling 420RADIO to the people at the event and to run an activist booth like I did in my earliest days of reform work.
Using the markers and poster board I created the 420RADIO Multiple Choice Drug Test. The prize was an ice-cold bottle of water for a contestant who could answer a ridiculously easy Drug War question, like:
Which of the following is NOT considered a medicine by the US Federal Government?
Which population is larger?
Who is higher right now?
We had a dozen contestants and you can see the results on our show later this week. It generated a lot of interest from people passing by and I feel we got a lot of positive exposure from our time in San Bernardino.
Then to top off a perfect afternoon, Ganja Jon and his posse rolled up to the booth, with Brian Blank bringing me an In-N-Out Double Double Animal Style, which I always crave in California, but I hadn’t the time to pick up (it was too early on the drive back from LA, I stopped and checked.) This was going to be a great day.
“They made me an activist”
Tommy Chong was the headliner of the Cannabis Cup Awards Show that closed out the event. I saw Rick Cusick backstage and asked him how I could get access. He just opened the gate and let me in. I began taking pictures, but it wasn’t three minutes before the Orange Show Goons were escorting me out, as I lacked the “black wristband” or a “press pass”.
So I hung around the side stage for the awards ceremony. It’s always enjoyable for me, even not knowing most of the competitors, just to watch the thrill they get when they win a Cannabis Cup. It’s not just a pride in competition. For many of these entrepreneurs, a Cup win equals doubling to quadrupling their business and their asking prices.
One of the most pleasing things about seeing so many of these competitions is the amazing artistry of the glass blowers. I saw so many intricate and amazing designs that I was as shocked as the locals laughing behind me when Pure Glass was announced to be the fan favorite for “Best Glass”. Their product is certainly a quality smoking device, but it is a standard “beaker” style bong. What was notable about their booth was the comely full-size nude promo of a buxom model with nothing but her blonde hair covering her breasts and her Pure Glass covering her vagina, as well as the very attractive live models they had selling the products. It would be like a Ford F-150 pickup winning a car show against Lamborghinis, Jaguars, and BMWs because the Ford booth had the prettiest girls.
Tommy Chong made his appearance following a short film detailing his career and activism for his Lifetime Achievement Award. He spent about ten minutes onstage delivering some of his comedy routine and some of his life experience, including how he got put in prison for nine months for selling a bong on the internet. He explained how he was sober from marijuana for three years because of that (due to pre- and post-prison drug test probations) and being straight was like “a new high”, but that he also blames that three years without marijuana for the appearance of the prostate cancer he is now fighting.
I’ve seen Tommy’s routine a few times before now, and I’m always struck by the fact that it took his own experience behind bars to catalyze him into marijuana activism. The comedian who’d received so much fame, love, and money playing a stoner trying to stay one step ahead of The Man didn’t grasp just how many his fans were suffering under marijuana prohibition until it happened to him. He often says how Mary Beth Buchanan, the US Attorney who handled the government’s prosecution made a huge mistake busting him, because “they made me an activist”.
I enjoy the celebrities, politicians, and reform leaders I meet in this job, but the people who always impress me most are the extraordinary everyday people I meet whose lives were turned in an instant through some application of the Drug War. This weekend, that person was Jacob Jones. He visited 420RADIO to tell us about how his dad, a Vietnam veteran, was tending a small medical garden for his pain and post-traumatic stress injury on their land near their trailer in Kentucky. The state police arrived one day with helicopters and many men with automatic weapons, demanding that his father cut down the crop and surrender for arrest. His father decided to come out armed, but never fired or aimed at police, saying he was standing his ground for his land, his medicine, and his rights.
Kentucky State Police shot his father to death and wounded his mother right before his eyes. Jacob was four years old. You can learn about the family’s story in the excellent and tragic book, Shattered Lives: Portraits of the Drug War.
Jacob, after years of coming to grips with his own post-traumatic stress injury, is now an activist traveling the country in “The Cannabus” to raise awareness of so many stories similar to his in the War on Drugs. I marveled at how he was able to transform what must be such rage and despair into something positive. He just looked at me and said, “that day, whether they knew it or not, they made me an activist.”
Don’t let it take something tragic to make you an activist. Let’s give the next Jacob Jones a childhood with an intact family.