In 2003, a small crowd gathered in Laytonville, California to take part in an event that was advertised only through word of mouth and a few last minute fliers. With just 23 entries and a handful of patients, the Emerald Cup became the only cannabis event to be held in the United States for seven years.
In 2017, the Emerald Cup holds the status of being the country’s largest organic outdoor cannabis competition, bringing in hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of attendees from around the U.S.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Emerald Cup founder and producer, Tim Blake about the festival, the transition into the legalization era, the state of the cannabis industry, and things to come.
We began talking about the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa where the Emerald Cup and other cannabis events take place and some of the difficulties they some have had in the past year.
“It went from just us to where there’s a corporation of events,” he said, “and it’s challenging because there’s so many events, everybody fighting for that audience. It’s getting to the point where some will have a harder and harder time because you gotta be more than just an educational forum because it’s harder just to get people in for just that.”
I asked if he felt there was more competition between the events from his standpoint.
“Oh yeah…But you know what? Everybody’s just trying to survive. The Emerald Cup, we have 500 booths. We had all of those booths sold out the first week. We put 1,500 people on a waiting list because we’re a Fall show, we’re in the perfect sweet spot, all the farmers are ready, it’s the holiday season, people are ready to start supplying, all the vendors do really well.”
He went on; “We are the best competition really, a lot of integrity based-respect. We pretty much sold out last year with 30,000 people, and we’re doing good this year too. All of our booths are sold, we’re gonna be fine. Still, I feel for everybody; I’m a producer. When you spend all that money and time and put all that effort, it’s just really sad not to get the attendees. And there’s nothing worse than an empty set of buildings.”
We discussed attendance contrasts exhibited by some of the other various large-scale cannabis events held across the state like High Times, Megasesh, HempCon, and Kushstock and how an event’s success can be affected by multiple factors like price, consumer value, booth prices, and taxes.
“I think that’s one of the problems with the whole industry,” he said about high booth rates, “is that the regulators, the communities, the counties, everybody’s trying to make a living off of these events. And not only that but the farmers, the product makers; you can’t just kinda tax ’em to death. It’s gonna change, the whole industry is changing very quickly, and we’ll see over the next couple of years, see all these taxes go down and they realize they can’t just kinda yank the farmers, the producers.”
In light of the new medicinal and adult-use regulations going into effect, I asked how he felt that would affect the Emerald Cup and other events.
“Well, they’ve set it up so that you can only do events at the fairgrounds across the state which means that we can’t really go into stadiums or traditional shows like Outside Lands and BottleRock, you know, anything. So it’s gonna make it tough for the next couple of years. I think that’ll break down as soon as they realize that you can get beer and wine at any festival…why can’t you go to a cool area and smoke cannabis? But for right now, it’s really putting a crimp on us for the next year or two. We’re already in at the fairgrounds, so we’re okay. We’re looking at a couple of sites in L.A. we’d like to go into.”
He spoke on California’s recently released cannabis rules; “Right now across the board, the regulations are stiff. The taxation’s really high, very restrictive policies, and not very realistic on their part. The thing of it is, they’re like two years late. They thought, ‘okay, we can come in and tax this and make bank for all our cities and counties.’ They’re already running, you know.”
He continued; “But with Colorado and Washington and Oregon coming in before us with legalization; those states have already got pretty large agricultural concerns going on, so there’s a lot of cannabis growing in Oregon right now. And frankly, let’s be honest—there’s not many people in Oregon. Where do you think most of that’s going? It’s going to California or the black market back east. And the same thing in Washington.”
He went on to talk about the effect that was having on price; “So they’ve lost a lot of that market, and now we’ve got a tremendous abundance of cannabis, and the prices have plummeted. You’re able to get 100-pound boxes on the streets now for $600-$700 a pound of A-grade because there’s so much. You’ve got so much being grown from Monterey to Santa Barbara, that whole agricultural belt in there…we’re talking 25-million pounds. I don’t think they did that this year but they probably will next year.”
We talked about how the dispensary prices should reflect the changes.
“I understand, I got a collective myself. But you can’t do any deductions on the cost of the good. And so you do your taxes and it’s really tough when you can’t deduct your rent, your labor, you can’t deduct anything. So fifty percent of everything you get is full tax. All of a sudden you’re looking at a thirty-percent tax on fifty-percent, so you’re really getting a massive tax.”
“But,” he continued, “these dispensaries have been making bank. They’re picking up pounds for $1,000-$1,200, and that’s what, sixty bucks, seventy dollars an ounce and they’re selling it for $300. The next year with all this taxation coming in, it’ll change it again. But for now, it’s a really sweet spot for the dispensaries. They’re getting product for very cheap, and they’re not marking it down much, and they’re all making very good money.”
I remarked that it’s been interesting to see the price change over the years. How I always knew $50 to be the standard black market charge for an eighth of good cannabis, but changing times have made it common to find the same quantity now for half of the price or less.
“Oh yeah, it’s gonna be way cheaper than that,” he said, “there’s going to be so much it’ll become much more competitive. You’re gonna see people falling all over themselves to give deals out. It’ll be interesting to see what happens at the Cup this year and across the state as so much of this abundance comes on. I think it’s gonna be an incredible range of choices for the consumers as all this really comes in. You’re gonna see the ‘Two Buck Chuck’ end, and you’re gonna see the high end cheaper.”
He compared what’s coming in the cannabis industry to what happened with wine prices; “You’ve got the wine industry where people were doing hundred, hundred-and-fifty dollar bottles of wine and now you go into the stores, and you can find A-grade—almost as good a bottle for twenty or thirty bucks. You’re gonna see the same thing in cannabis.”
I mentioned that I thought the price drop was an important factor to take into consideration regarding legalization due to the fact that there were cannabis advocates on both sides of Prop 64. I told him I felt that lower prices meant that cannabis would generally be more affordable for patients.
“I agree completely,” he said, “I voted for 64. People were kind of against me for that; they were worried about the rapid demise of the small farmer. And I said, ‘you know what…as long as people are going to jail, and they’re having long prison sentences…as long as the patients can’t get really cost-effective, good access to medicine, we have to go for these legalizations.”
I said I thought that some of the industry might have some difficulty making the transition and getting used to operating under the new cannabis rules as well as other overarching regulations that already exist. I stated that some marijuana companies had been sued because they infringed on intellectual property owned by mainstream brands.
“You can’t just take,” he said, “this is a capitalistic free-enterprise country, and somebody has a name. And whatever business it is, you can’t just pilfer the name and go use it. I’ve been saying for years, these companies, when it finally gets big, they’re not gonna tolerate this. And it’s their right to own those names.”
We discussed how competitive the new legal market is expected to be and how there are things that companies need to be doing if they want to be successful. In addition to the money aspect, we talked about quality of product.
“People that make a great product or grow a great product,” he said, “they’re gonna be okay. But unfortunately, it’s been too easy for people to get away with less than top-quality merchandise and so there’s a lot of lazy practices that got in there. And that’s what we’re teaching people at the Cup. I’ve been telling people for years, you gotta get organic, and you gotta get living soil, and you gotta have a great terpene profile coming out of that. You gotta have something special.”
I said that I was looking forward to quality standards being put into place to help ensure that medicinal-use patients and recreational users have safe access in the legal market as I’ve had the displeasure of getting contaminated product in the past.
He agreed; “It’s gonna be great for people as that quality control comes in because people didn’t have that. You could eat an edible and not know whether you were getting twenty milligrams or two-hundred. There wasn’t a really true consistent marketing and developing aspect to these companies. But now you have to have that. Just like when you go in and get a Snickers bar, every Snickers bar is the same. You’re going to get that with an edible, and every full-melt gram that you get is gonna be the same because that’s the way it is. It’s part of that branding, part of that manufacturing.”
He talked about how until now, most people have had to manufacture illegally out of their backyards, garages, or wherever they could but that it would be changing to standardized manufacturing.
“We’re buying two (facilities). And we’re talking to people that actually do this for a living. They build and design manufacturing plants and scale-up so that everything is the same. Gonna watch this market just scale-up and change over the next couple of years to where it’s just like that. That’s not going to be old school outlaw cannabis people; these are manufacturing plant developers that do this. They get that consistency, and they’re gonna bring in those standardizations. The patient and the consumer deserve that, they’re gonna get that.”
We discussed the opportunities that cannabis’ transition from the shadows of the black market into the light of the legal marketplace would provide, and how people working in the industry will finally be able to do business out in the open just like any other mainstream company in the state.
“To me, it’s way overdue,” he said, “I’m glad that it’s here. There are some people that are gonna get sideswiped, but it’s good for all these counties and cities—all the taxation. If they just get reasonable, all the reasonable taxation is good. We need to pay our bills.”
Tim talked about how the cities and counties that let the cannabis industry into their gates will experience new tax money benefits in the form of improvements to roads, parks, schools, and health facilities. I noted that it should have a reducing effect on crime as well.
“Oh absolutely,” he agreed, “once people can’t come up there and rob people and you know, have people hiding away, and a lot of money in safes and houses. It all can just be regular business that goes in and goes out into banks and stuff. You get rid of most of that element.”
He talked about some of his own negative experiences in the black market; “I’ve dealt with fear. I’ve been robbed, had my teeth kicked in, almost murdered a couple of times, I’ve seen it all. It’s not pretty, and it’s not glorious, and after you’ve run through it a couple of times, you’re ready for it to be over.”
I mentioned that California is a trendsetter state and how voting to tax and regulate cannabis seemed to have kicked the nationwide trend into a higher gear. I asked if he foresaw federal marijuana legalization coming.
“Oh yeah, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon combined are only like the size of L.A. in business. California’s the 6th largest economy in the world. I mean, we’re gonna go and be twenty-billion dollars a year in cannabis in a couple of years. We’ll equal half the United States.”
He mentioned the Attorney General of California’s defensive stance to protect the cannabis industry in the state from federal interference.
“It’s not like the feds can come after small county district attorneys anymore. They’ve gotta go after the Attorney General of California and our governor, and they’re not. That’s why you see Sessions and them standing down, because it’s over. Chiang, our Controller, wants to get the banking and the money done so we’re not carrying all this cash around. Once California legalized, it’s all downhill from here.”
He talked about some of the violent crime that is often associated with some of the harder illegal substances like methamphetamines and opiates and how that isn’t really how cannabis consumers generally behave. He quoted a family member who had retired from law enforcement who had said, ”I would put every one of these speed freaks doing crank…I’d put ’em all on cannabis. They’d actually start eating food again; they would mellow out. We could maybe stabilize them.”
He referenced a Forbes article he’d read about the rejuvenating effects of cannabis in the aging of brains. Primarily, he noted, when used in conjunction with other herbs.
“Think about every American over fifty years old, when they find out that cannabis with other herbs will activate brain regeneration and detour aging…every person in the country should be on that.”
I commented that cannabis is helping epileptic children and people who live with neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Massively so,” he said, “and where’d they get those degenerative problems? You’re gonna find out very quickly that a lot of that was pharmaceuticals they’d been fed from the time they were kids. All these antibiotics and shots that we get, everything we do, they start breaking down these neurological functions. Especially the crank and the stuff like that, and the pharmaceuticals.”
He continued, “I don’t wanna go into the heavy conspiracy thing, but basically these pharmaceutical companies knew that. The medical community, pharmaceutical reps…they knew this in Mississippi forty years ago when they were developing all the cannabis. At some point, those guys realized what a healing plant it was and from there on it was a crime against humanity not to bring that to the American public and the world at large. Because look at the healing it’s going to give to so many diseases and illnesses, and how it’s gonna be a miraculous part of people’s lives.”
I mentioned that I felt that the electronic age that we live in has contributed to the legalization movement in a very significant way, pointing out that information that is widely available and easily accessible in the modern world has served to disprove false messages and propaganda that the public has been fed for decades.
“Well you know what they did,” he said, “they built the internet, and they wanted to spy on us but what happened was we got access to get information to everybody. And so if you look at the same thing with cameras and everything else. All of a sudden these phones came in and they were gonna use them so they could keep track of all of us, but what did they do? They gave us the ability to drop a photo and have it go viral immediately. So really, this instant media age has worked to our advantage to be able to re-educate the masses very quickly.”
We discussed the domino effect and how, as time goes by, and more countries implement cannabis regulations, it will affect other industries.
“It’s gonna become the biggest legal product dollar-wise in the world within three or four years,” he said, “it’s going to affect everything, into our clothing, into every aspect of our food, into the medicinal side. And then, of course, you go and use the recreational side. It’s really an exciting time. I’m glad I lived to see it, and I’m glad I get to watch this all get ushered in.”
In closing, he had some advice for people looking to participate in the legal cannabis world in California; “Get your permits, go legal, do it right, get an A-grade product, become part of the marketplace, pay your taxes, and be thankful that you’re one of the people in the industry.”
The 14th annual Emerald Cup will be held on December 9 & 10 at the Sonoma County fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. For more information, visit the Cup’s website at theemeraldcup.com