At Santa Rosa’s Emerald Cup, medical and recreational cannabis converge

Shawn Molsberry moseyed past the Emerald Mountain Seeds booth at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Saturday and was offered a complimentary hit of concentrated cannabis.

The 26-year-old Petaluma resident obliged and inhaled deeply on a glass device known as a dab rig, then exhaled a funnel cloud of smoke with a big grin on his bearded face.

“That was tasty,” Molsberry said. “There’s so many amazing flavors here.”

The Emerald Cup, Northern California’s premier marijuana festival and competition, descended on Santa Rosa for a two-day celebration of all things cannabis. The event, which continues today, was expected to draw 25,000 weekend attendees, most of whom paid $70 for the privilege.

Part trade show, part party, the post-harvest gathering, now in its 15th year, provides cultivators and their customers the chance to reconnect and celebrate their abiding passion for sun-grown bud.

Now, with legal recreational sales to adults expected to begin in 2018, and the state’s cannabis industry in the throes of a turbulent expansion from medical cannabis, the event came at a momentous time for marijuana fans and entrepreneurs.

In addition to standard panels covering organic farming practices and safe extraction methods, speakers this year weighed in on subjects that sounded right out of an MBA curriculum, including effective cannabis marketing strategies, understanding patents and intellectual property, and navigating employee labor agreements.

“If you get sued for copyright infringement, your costs are going to be astronomical,” Oakland-based cannabis attorney Amanda Conley counseled a room full of budding pot businesspeople.

There were other signs that the old rules still applied, however. Attendees, to the surprise of many, were still required to show they were legal medical cannabis patients to get into most areas of the sprawling event, which played host to more than 400 vendors.

This created long lines and some frustration at the vendors who were selling the “215 cards” on site for $100. Plenty of attendees and exhibitors, however, seemed to drop the pretense that marijuana is now purely medicine.

A man wearing a tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirt who gave his name as Perry smiled as he walked through the crowd smoking a particularly beefy blunt. Perry said he grew up in Sebastopol, and tried marijuana for the first time when he was 12. While decrying the new commercialization of the cannabis industry, Perry, 58, said he comes to the Emerald Cup “for the freedom” to get high, “and to pick up chicks.”

Santa Rosa resident Robert Mendez and his two friends were also clearly recreating as they sampled the wares of various vendors. Mendez took an eighth of an ounce of weed whose flavor he liked and went to the Rosin Tech Products booth, where he had it turned into a concentrate.

There, Ben Whalen, also known as Benny Buds, placed the cannabis on a sheet of paper, folded it over and placed it in a machine called a rosin press.

The contraption compressed the cannabis and heated it to 215 degrees for about 40 seconds.

When Whalen removed the paper and opened it, there was a dark green cannabis cracker in the center surrounded by the amber goop that had oozed out the sides and stuck to the paper.

A woman then used a tool to scrape the rosin together into a thumbnail-sized dollop, folded it up in a triangle of paper and handed it back to Mendez, who was invited to sample the extract at a type of water bong called a dab rig. After inhaling deeply and exhaling a long plume of smoke, Mendez, his eyes watery and his speech halting, explained the concentrate “would get us way higher” than the flowers and without the harsh taste.

Rosin presses are typically for cannabis users who want concentrates they know have not been manufactured using solvents, Whalen explained. The model he used retails for about $2,900, he said.

For still other attendees, the distinction between medical and recreational cannabis has always been a false one, and its elimination is a welcome change.

Karen Robinson of Willits emerged from a panel discussion in a building dubbed “Hybrid Hall” and met up with her husband, Bill, who was holding a six-pack of tiny seedlings they had purchased for $35.

Karen Robinson, a medical cannabis educator, said she hoped the little plants would one day provide a strain of cannabis with the right ratio of pain-managing cannabinoids - called CBDs - with the psychoactive compound THC that it could possibly serve as a substitute for opiates.

As a staunch believer in the medical benefits of cannabis, Karen Robinson said she doesn’t mind the industry transitioning to recreational trade because she believes even that market will translate to health benefits for users, including stress relief and the body’s absorption of beneficial compounds.

“They say all this medical use is really recreational, but what I’m saying is all cannabis use is medical,” Robinson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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