Passing judgment

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

I heard you were a judge at the Emerald Cup this past weekend. How was it?

—Vic Arias

I did indeed go to the Emerald Cup. But since I am writing this before I went, I can’t really tell you how it was, although I imagine that Damian Marley was fantastic, and that it was good to see all my farmer homies. I can tell you that I was selected to be a judge of cannabis flowers for the second year in a row, and the experience was difficult yet sublime.

There were over 650 strains of cannabis to judge over a three-week window leading up to the cup. There are about 20 judges, and every judge is either a fantastic grower or a club owner or known to be a chronnissuer from way back. It took me three years of standing outside the temple and low-key lobbying to finally be invited to the judge’s table. And apparently, I was fast-tracked. Go figure. I must be living right.

We met twice a week in Laytonville; it’s a three hour drive from Sacramento each way—dedication is important—to go over scores and pick up new entries. Entries were judged on looks, smell, flavor and effects. The first three categories are worth 1-10 points each, and effects is worth as many as 20 points, because what good is a great-looking, fantastic-smelling, tasty bud if it doesn’t get you stoned? There were some ugly buds that tasted great, some pretty buds that didn’t do much to create a head change, and about 50 strains that had it all.

We had three days to smoke all 50 (and, really, there were about 70 that made it to the final round, because judges were lobbying for certain flavors that other judges may have overlooked). I was a huge fan of entry No. 176, a very chocolatey, subtly smooth, very pleasantly stony weed that went great with coffee and good company. It almost got cut from the finals, but I managed to talk it back into to the group and it finished in the top 20. I felt extremely proud, for some reason.

Anyway, the top two strains were definitely head and shoulders above the others: The champion, entry No. 262, was a Skittlez strain grown in Southern Humboldt, and second-place finisher, No. 101, was a delicious Blue Dream variant (known as Purple Candy Cane) that was grown just outside of Willits. Good to see Northern California folks repping the quality outdoor, er, sungrown, cannabis. I am sure the list of winners will be posted on the Emerald Cup’s website ( by the time you read this column.

All of these cups and festivals are great for cannabis in general, and excellent for cities bold enough to get aboard the cannabis train. Thirty-thousand people having a party at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds in the middle of Winter? That’s a win-win for all the hotels, restaurants, head shops and hydro stores in the area. Cannabis is good for business.