Big green future

Or what one writer learned at last weekend’s High Times Medical Cannabis Cup

Vern Phillips, award-winning extract expert.

Vern Phillips, award-winning extract expert.

Photo By Priscilla GarciA

Inside, it was mostly business. Outside, it was a party.

On the patio at the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup conference and competition last weekend in San Francisco, people crowded the Proposition 215 patients’ tent and lit right up.

Indoors, collectives and dispensaries set up in dozens of tents outside the main exhibition hall. Many of them pumped reggae and hip-hop beats through portable speakers. Others set up comfy couches for lounging. Just for signing up as a new member, dispensaries offered hash samples, bongs hits, even “medicated” cotton candy—much of it gratis.

Inside the exhibition, testing facilities like Steep Hill Lab and Pure Naturals Certified offered their cannabis-quality testing and certification services.

Bay Area company Ferrari 420 Tours advertised guided dispensary tours. (From its website: “Have a 420 wedding, we can make it happen!”)

And of course there was all the expected smoker gear for sale: grinders, charcoal-lined deodorizer bags, bong-cleaning machines and flameless lighters.

For instance, coming soon to your local dispensary: MedBox, a point-of-sale cannabis vending machine.

More mainstream businesses showed up that weekend, too. Lawyers and law firms passed out business cards offering their legal services.

But of course, the marijuana business still has its opposition. The rep for one solar-panel installation company asked not to be named, because her bosses didn’t know she had set up a booth at the Cup.

As one man and his buddy pushed through a crowd gathered around a hash bar, he laughed, “Man, this shit is crazy.”

Indeed, it was. Cannabis has gone so mainstream. Consider the venue: The second-annual Cup took place at the Concourse Exhibition Center, just a few blocks away from the San Francisco Giants’ home AT&T Park, and where next month the San Francisco Marathon Expo will set up shop.

And, except for the jars of buds and hash on display, the Cup was pretty much like any other convention: booths, tables, women in skimpy outfits handing out fliers. There was even a goody bag with free samples of rolling papers and hemp wicks. Score!

Last year, High Times magazine brought its first cannabis competition to San Francisco, “where we assembled an all-star panel of experts of and tasked them with judging the best buds, concentrates and edibles,” wrote David Bienenstock, West Coast High Times editor, in this year’s guidebook.

This year’s Cup again centered around judging entries from California’s medical-cannabis dispensaries and growers. But there was a certain open, partylike feel to the event.

Inside, however, discussion panels talked serious business.

Florin Wellness Center’s Eric Solomon (left), Phillips and Paul Clemons enjoy the fruits of victory.

Photo By Priscilla GarciA

At one Saturday-afternoon panel, three attorneys and one dispensary CEO, working in the trenches on marijuana cases, shared their thoughts on the legal limbo wherein the medical-cannabis industry operates.

Steve DeAngelo, CEO of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, pointed to the legal victories in favor of medical cannabis, such as Delaware becoming the 16th state to legalize medical marijuana last month.

But he said the medical-cannabis industry faces several challenges from the federal government on multiple fronts, such as the Internal Revenue Service auditing dispensaries nationwide, and the Treasury Department threatening sanctions against banks that provide financial services to dispensaries.

“In the last two years, Harborside has had to change its bank accounts three times and its credit-card processors once,” DeAngelo said.

Attorney Omar Figueroa, co-founder of the Cannabis Law Institute, says he was surprised to learn that the majority of Americans are in favor of permitting medical-cannabis use.

“Support for legalizing medical marijuana spans all major political and demographic groups and is equally high in states that have and have not already passed laws on this issue,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa cited a recent nationwide poll where only 18 percent of Americans opposed legalizing medical cannabis.

He urged the legalization movement to unite together on future cannabis-legalization ballot measures. “Even if it’s imperfect, it’s better than prohibition,” he said.

Another panel that afternoon addressed the environmental impact of cannabis cultivation and urged growers to adopt, well, greener methods.

Panelists Tyce Fraser and Jesse Hill grew up in the idyllic, off-the-grid hippie enclaves in Humboldt County.

They don’t cultivate, and it took a while to recognize the environmental impact of their neighbor’s grow operations. Fuel trucks hauled up and down twisty mountain roads day and night, keeping the diesel-fuel generators running to power the light arrays inside.

Fuel spills were common. Used oil from the generators was dumped anywhere. Just after growers met to discuss those environmental issues, a diesel spill contaminated their local creek.

Fraser said at one point they calculated the environmental impact of Humboldt’s indoor farms: It took 70 gallons of diesel fuel to grow 1 pound of pot; each pound pumped some 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Fraser also said that some 50 percent of energy use in Humboldt County goes toward marijuana growing.

Now, some of the growers who once pioneered massive indoor growing operations are trying to reverse the damage. Fraser and Hill are now part of Grow It in the Sun, a group educating growers on how to make their operations more Earth-friendly.

Of course, it might be tough getting growers to scale down operations. After all, there’s plenty of money to be made.

This story has been corrected from its original print version.