The Cannabis Cup is a 5 day long celebration of the many wonderful things about marijuana. It's official purpose is to bring cannabis experts together so that they can "taste" the latest varieties of marijuana and hashish, and vote for the one they like best, much as a panel of wine experts might gather to judge the year's wine offerings.
But there's much more to the event than that. This convention was basically the same as many other conventions I've been to, like Beatlefests, science fiction conventions, and gaming tournaments... except of course that the focus of the event is illegal in our country.
Stephen Gaskin summed it up best during one of the 4:20 councils. "Somebody said to me, 'Steve, are you going to Amsterdam to smoke pot?' and I replied, 'No, I smoke pot every day, no matter where I am. I'm going to Amsterdam to hang out with people who seek the freedom to smoke pot legally.'" The event isn't really about voting on which strain of pot gives the best high. It's about the political movement to decriminalize marijuana.
The 4:20 councils are a key element of the Cannabis Cup. Held each day at 4:20 in the afternoon, they provide a venue for the interchange of ideas and opinions. There's an open microphone and anyone who wishes to address the group may do so, and many people do. Steve Gaskin tends the run the event, though, encouraging others to get up and say a few words and taking the mic back when their done. When no one else has anything to say, he keeps the discussions going.
But speeches and debates aren't the only things that happen during the council meetings. Every now and then, the speakers make way for the Rainbow Gypsies, who get up on stage and dance and sing. Usually the songs are about marijuana, with lyrics like "You and Me and Ganja make Three", or a parody of the rock classic "We Will We Will Rock You," re-written as "We Will We Will Smoke Pot."
The event is surprisingly spiritual. It's almost like a religious cult. Many of the speakers talk about how marijuana brings them closer to God. On the night before Thanksgiving, a woman named Elizabeth offered an incredibly moving prayer of thanks, for the creativity, the relaxation, and the beautiful feeling that cannabis gives.
The whole thing was kind of like a Youth for Christ Jamboree, with inspiring speeches, worshipful prayers, and energetic song and dance numbers... except that the songs were praising pot instead of Jesus. "We give thanks to the holy Mother, for this wonderful herb," sings the Queen of the Gypsies over the loud music of drums. In many ways, these are spiritual prisoners, yearning to breathe free.
Another thing that happens during the 4:20 councils is that people give out free marijuana.
The coffeeshops are a lot like microbreweries. Each one grows and develops its own stock of cannabis, which is why there is such a wide range of different flavors to sample.
But like any industry, the quality of the product itself is only part of the story. Advertising is also a major factor in the determination of who comes out on top. Some of the coffeehouses put a great deal of effort (not to mention money) into impressing the judges and trying to win their favor.
When we first arrived, we were given a package of goodies from the Sensi Seed bank, including a pipe, rolling papers, lighter... and a catalog of the seeds they offer. Later, during one of the 4:20 councils, they gave out samples, individually wrapped in plastic and packed in small boxes.
The Green House, not to be outdone, gave out samples too... but these were distributed to the judges by the Green House's "Cannabis Girls", a pair of attractive women in colorful outfits.
The Bluebird threw a big party to celebrate their 15th anniversary, and the Dampkring threw a party as well, plus a free breakfast, advertising it all with a thick "Survival Kit" that they gave to all the judges, which was a manual with tips for enjoying the event, complete with more rolling papers, matches, aspirin, and other goodies.
Other places gave out samples too, often in nice, pre-rolled joints, and many of the coffeeshops gave out laminated cards to add to clip on to your judge's badge.
The numerous entries all have names, like Warlock, Bubblegum, Super Silver Mist, and Yellow Cab. People talk to each other about them. "I really enjoyed the Warlock over at the Bluebird," one will say to another, and he'll reply "Yeah, that was good, but I liked the Dampkring's White Russian a little bit better." Someone asks me what I've liked so far and I have no idea. "Why am I a judge?" I think to myself. "Oh yeah," I reply to myself, "I'm really from the press, covering the event for my webzine, but everyone who comes to this event is considered a judge."
The stoner meanwhile is gazing back at me, wondering what, if anything, he had said to me that had pushed me off into this haze of distracted thought. Suddenly I realize that I'd never answered his question and, remembering something I heard someone else say, I tell the stoner that the Warlock over at the Bluebird is really good.