The largest, most-respected organic outdoor cannabis competition in the world returns to the North Bay this month when the 16th annual Emerald Cup returns to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds on Dec. 14 and 15.
Encompassing over 500 contest entries from sungrown flower cultivators and currently licensed California cannabis businesses, the Emerald Cup is the premiere place to support local, small-business growers and vendors still struggling to make their way in California’s newly legalized cannabis industry.
“I wish I could say it’s been an easier year (than 2018), but it’s actually in most ways been even harder for most people,” says Emerald Cup founder and producer Tim Blake. “Continued over-taxation, restrictions, lots of regulations—it’s a perfect storm. You’ve got not enough dispensaries opened up, so you don’t have enough places to sell product to, you don’t have enough product makers because they haven’t got their license from the state.”
While Blake foresees the market doing well in the next few years, he cites the state’s inability to be proactive in helping cannabis businesses thrive as a major problem for small-time merchants.
“The Cup’s going to do well this year, but we’re still watching people go through a lot of challenges,” he says.
As the Cup’s grown in size and status over the years, it’s been a boon to small farmers and makers who enter the respected contest, as well as a magnet for larger brands to make a splash on the scene.
“One cool thing that we’ve been able to maintain in the contest is the personal-use category,” says Associate Producer Taylor Blake. “The Cup started as a competition among friends—there were no brands—and it was important that a grower who wanted to have their six plants in their backyard could participate in the Emerald Cup. Last year was our first year with the personal-use category and we just did it with flowers. This year we are extending that to Solventless Concentrates, which we are excited about and had a lot of interest in last year.”
In addition to the cannabis competition, this year’s Cup boasts musical acts from headliners like dancehall-inspired indie-pop star Santigold and reggae legends Steel Pulse (see music, pg 22), as well as informative sessions on everything from federal cannabis legalization efforts to regenerative agriculture to psychedelics and plant medicine.
This year also features special guest Tommy Chong, who will receive the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We’re excited to have Tommy come and join us,” says Tim Blake. “He’s been an amazing advocate for our industry and our community.”
Other Emerald Cup highlights include live art, expos, organic food and a marketplace packed with vendors.
“Between all the speakers, music, VIPs and community; we’ve gone to great lengths to make it a unique experience,” Blake says. “Knowing that the whole tribe comes in to hang for the weekend is what it’s all about.”