Cannabis Culture measures the Cup

Arjan from the multi-cup winning Greenhouse, inspecting a huge temple ball.Arjan from the multi-cup winning Greenhouse, inspecting a huge temple ball.After passing the security check in Vancouver airport I paused to get my bearings, and caught the eye of a customs agent chatting up a female cop. His finely honed powers of perception triggered his fingers to give his dog the secret signal, and Rover trotted over to me, led by the scent of joints smoked before the ride to the airport.
One strip-search later, I had discovered that the legend of the BC Love-Bud that took 3rd place at the Cannabis Cup lives on among customs officers, and they don’t want it to happen again. Poor, misguided fools.

The huge display rack at Kruydenhuis Coffeeshop.The huge display rack at Kruydenhuis Coffeeshop.Judging the Cup

I’ve been to three of the High Times Cannabis Cups, and it’s always hard for me to write a review. It is the premier cannabis event in the world, organized by the most well-known marijuana magazine there is. I want to be positive, upbeat and supportive. Yet although I always have a lot of fun when I go to Amsterdam, I cannot honestly give the Cup a rave review.

The major beneficial aspect of the Cannabis Cup is that it brings hundreds of Americans out of their pot-police-state homeland and shows them an alternative system. I always enjoy seeing people from a fervently pot-hating region experience the rapture of knowing true marijuana freedom for the first time in their lives.

And yet, at over $150US for a judge’s pass, this year’s 11th Annual Cannabis Cup didn’t deliver much value. There’s many excellent adventures to be had in Amsterdam, but they don’t require a pass. For your fee, High Times delivers a three-floor “Hemp Expo” of seeds, bongs and hempen wares. The fourth floor is the “Judges Lounge” where you can hang out, smoke up and eat snacks.

French pot-activist JP Gallard is stunned by the size of a joint.French pot-activist JP Gallard is stunned by the size of a joint.There’s also the opening and closing ceremonies, the fashion show, the awards ceremony, and a few seminars. These latter events are all held in a different hall from the expo. This is all pretty much the same setup as for the past four years.

Although there were some cool things in the expo hall, little of it was new or different. There was a floor devoted to seed sellers, but anyone visiting Amsterdam could explore the seed shops any time of year. Hemp clothing, cool bongs and seed snacks are all interesting and worthy, but most of this stuff is now available at your local hemp store.

The grow seminars and other interactive events are, to me at least, one of the most important aspects of an international cultural event like this. In the Platonic Ideal of a Cannabis Cup which I carry in my head and hope to one day manifest in Vancouver, there are grow seminars where each person gets to take a cutting from a plant, hemp classes where each person can make a sheet of paper from a handful of hemp stalks, and hashmaking tutorials where people can turn shake into fine hashish.

There were no hemp or hashish seminars at this year’s Cup. There were two grow seminars over two days, each with two speakers and a few questions and answers. The speakers were all educated and informative, yet sadly most of those who attended were forced to sit on a cement floor, watching slides projected at a skewed angle onto a bare concrete wall. The first seminar began over an hour late, which was true for many of the other events at the Cup as well. There’s no reason for this level of unprofessionalism, and it reflects poorly on cannabis culture as a whole.

Eagle Bill and his classic vapourizer.Eagle Bill and his classic vapourizer.Something else I must mention was the talk by Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine. Al and a porn starlet named Misty Rain gave a scheduled talk in the Judges’ Lounge, before a crowd of men, salivating as Al asked Misty questions about her porn star sex life. The first question from the audience was “can you show us your tits?”

I’m all for freedom of sexuality and I wouldn’t say I found their talk offensive (Misty does have amazingly perky breasts), but I found myself wondering why this time wasn’t being used for something pot-related. With so many brilliant minds of the cannabis world gathered at one event and so few scheduled talks, surely there was a better choice than Misty and Al? But the crowd of young men lining up to get their photo taken with the topless starlet all seemed happy, so who am I to judge?

Jack Herer takes a hoot break from the adoring masses.Jack Herer takes a hoot break from the adoring masses.Coffeeshop Capers

Ultimately, there’s not a lot to do in most coffeeshops, other than get really high and chat to others doing the same. That can be a lot of fun, but should be the background of the Cup, not the main event. Most coffeeshops are small, and all are especially crowded during Cup week. Although it’s fun for the first-timers to visit each coffeeshop and sample their wares, that’s not enough to build a successful annual event with ? coffeeshops are open all year round.

There’s a lot of inter-coffeeshop rivalry and competition, at least among those that enter the Cup. Rumours and scuttlebutt always swirl around the biggest coffeeshops and breeders. Who swiped whose genetics is always a favourite bone of contention.

Two coffeeshops pulled out of the Cup this year, and a few others that had entered previous cups didn’t enter this year’s Cup at all. One of the coffeeshops that withdrew did so because the official map incorrectly identified their location, while the other withdrawal was De Dampkring, a coffeeshop which has won numerous Cups in previous years.

In a press release made just before the Cup began, De Dampkring announced that they were withdrawing from the event because they felt that the Cup was too commercial and too competitive. They urged that High Times embrace a more unifying spirit, and reminded people that there are many excellent coffeeshops in Amsterdam which don’t enter the Cup.

Of course, De Dampkring still managed to eke out publicity for themselves in the process ? their well-timed withdrawal ensured that they became the most talked-about coffeeshop during the Cup. Yet I agreed with many of their sentiments. I have always found the Cannabis Cup to be a strange and uneven mix between Rainbow Love and crass commercialism.

Fine hash on display at the Bluebird.Fine hash on display at the Bluebird.Dutch Marijuana

Unfortunately, almost all of the marijuana I smoked in Amsterdam had not been properly “flushed”, and so tended to spark and sizzle and dry out my tongue. Joints rolled with such pot go out halfway through and defy relighting.

This problem isn’t related to the quality of Dutch genetics, but rather to their need to get the most bud to market as quickly as possible, especially during the Cannabis Cup when demand is so high. As a result, the time is often not taken to properly flush and cure the bud. Besides, the locals mix their bud with tobacco so they don’t notice the difference, and the tourists are just happy to be in Amsterdam buying glistening bud over the counter. Why bother with the extra effort?

I don’t know much about the underground pot market in Amsterdam, but I imagine that true Dutch connoisseurs don’t buy 3 gram bags at coffeeshops. There is surely another network for tough-puffing locals to ensure that they get the kind grass without the tourist tax, grown for love and headstash instead of profit.

Part of the problem is that I come from Vancouver, where we enjoy a level of pot tolerance which, while not comparable to Amsterdam, is still far better than most of North America. What I appreciate about my home-town is the emphasis upon growing organically. Although there’s certainly many Vancouver growers using hydroponic or aeroponic techniques, there is usually an effort made to properly flush the bud of fertilizer salts, and a general recognition that organic soil produces the cleanest, tastiest buds.

In Amsterdam they don’t use the term “organic” the way North Americans do. The categories in the Cannabis Cup are for Best Hydro and Best Bio. Bio simply indicates that soil was used as a medium, regardless of whether synthetic nutrients and raw fertilizer salts were used.

However, what is a nice treat for me is Amsterdam hash. I rarely see good imported hash in Vancouver, while in Holland I can enjoy the flavour of Moroccan, Jamaican, Afghani, Charas, Manali, Nepalese, and more, as well as a decent selection of Nederhash and a variety of pressed trichromes. This is truly a delight.

On a whim, I taped a few pieces of fine hash to a cute postcard and mailed it back to Hemp BC in Vancouver. It arrived with all hash intact, once again confirming my faith in the powers of international post.

Misty Rain showing judges her big buds.Misty Rain showing judges her big buds.The Best Buds?

Part of the Cup is the 4:20 Council, where anyone who wants can say a few words to the crowd. The loudest applause I heard was when one fellow said “Each judge should get a sample of each strain entered in the competition!” I assume the reason that this isn’t done is that judges are supposed to visit each coffeeshop themselves. Yet with over two dozen entries scattered at many coffeeshops across the city, it’s almost impossible to sample them all in one week, especially if you choose to participate in the Hemp Expo and other official Cup events.

A truly accurate judging system would have each judge provided with 1-2 grams of each variety, numbered but not named, so that the decision would reflect solely on the quality of the bud, and not the popularity or quality of the shop where it was sold. This would also alleviate some of the cost of having to buy all your marijuana at prime retail prices.

As it stands, the Greenhouse Coffeeshop won all significant awards, much as De Dampkring won them last year. Yet did Greenhouse truly provide the best bio, the best hydro, and the best hash? Or did they just give away the most bud and have the most happening coffeeshop? They certainly had nice buds, but I lean towards the latter conclusion.

Each celebrity judge got a box like this from Sensi Seeds.Each celebrity judge got a box like this from Sensi Seeds.Evolution of the Revolution

The High Times Cannabis Cup has changed over its 11 years. It began with a few HT staff heading over to Amsterdam to rate the seedbanks, and has evolved into the largest and most infamous marijuana event in the world.

Yet I would prefer to see the Cup being run and presented in a more professional way. I’d like to see the seminars given in an auditorium, with comfortable chairs, a quality slide projector, and good lighting. I’d like there to be far more interactive, hands-on activities and forums. I’d like to see the judging done in a more official, less popularity-contest kind of way. I think there is still plenty of room for improvement, and that the Cup organizers should strive to make each year’s cup an expansion and evolution of what has come before.

But the last few years of the Cup have not seen any real change or improvement. In fact, the Cup has begun getting smaller, as I estimated this year’s crowd at about 1300, down from last year and the year before. In conversations with people both at the Cup and on the internet after the event, I found that many people shared my sentiments. Most had fun, but said that they enjoyed themselves despite their Cup Pass, not because of it.

The Cannabis Cup can likely continue on for a few more years without any changes, as there’s still a huge audience of people who would like to explore Amsterdam and need the extra push to get them there. Yet if the Cup is going to win back the admiration and heady international publicity it received back in ’96, they’re going to have to do some serious evolving.

And yet, perhaps I should not be so critical, and just enjoy the event for what it is. For one good week, over a thousand North Americans travelled to Amsterdam to gather together in celebration of the miraculous cannabis plant, and of the city which leads the world in tolerance and acceptance of their forbidden culture.

Until someone else does it better, the High Times Cannabis Cup continues to be the biggest and best marijuana event in the world.Each celebrity judge got a box like this from Sensi Seeds.