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Cannabis Cup NorCal debuts in Sonoma County new type of open-consumption event

Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts descended on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa Saturday to be a part of history at this weekend’s Cannabis Cup NorCal - the nation’s second-ever on-site recreational consumption event.

People from across California and as far away as the Caribbean blazed through temperatures that touched the low 90s, making the distinct aroma of cannabis prevalent even before entering the gates of the High Times magazine-hosted showcase.

Across the event, held on the fairgrounds lawn, attendees smoked joints and vape pens while making the rounds of the trade show-meets-pot-party.

Reggae blared from speakers most of the afternoon before performers including headliner Phil Lesh, a founding member of Grateful Dead, took the stage. G. Love & Special Sauce and Blues Traveler were also set to play over the two-day event.

Hours ahead of the live music Saturday, an emcee testing the sound equipment thanked people for coming out and set ?the tone.

“Who’s high out there today?” he asked, reminding guests not to forget about munchie hour at 3 p.m. “Let’s get higher. Yeah, it’s going to happen.”

Zach Ferreira, 29, who bought a VIP pass and made the drive from Sacramento to attend, said the live music was a nice bonus. But the opportunity to legally smoke out in the open was a main draw, as was the chance to buy seeds and starter plants, known as clones in the industry, for his garden back at home.

“It’s just one of the things I really enjoy about it,” he said, sitting with a glass pipe and lighter resting on his leg. “It just makes it more friendly, and say if they had the same event and you weren’t allowed to smoke, I probably wouldn’t have come.”

Promotional models made their way through the crowds handing out coupons and marketing materials for giveaways such as rolling papers and samples of the newest ways to imbibe the now legal adult-use drug. The business of marijuana was on full display at the grid of booths, with products ranging from waxes, extracts and oils for aficionados, to edibles and health and wellness strains.

“It’s come a long ways, that’s the first thing I thought when I walked in,” said Max Pace, 58, of Lake County, who has previously entered marijuana into competition at the Emerald Cup, another cannabis-centric festival held at the fairgrounds. “I’ve smoked weed since I was 14 years old. Times are changing. It’s gotten commercialized, and, I mean, it’s good in a way and it’s bad in a way.”

Sonoma County was well represented among the growers, retailers and glassware makers who made up the rows of vendors. They included AbsoluteXtracts of Santa Rosa, Hands In The Earth commercial farm in Healdsburg and Petaluma-based Curidor, which makes a marijuana-specific humidor for individuals and businesses.

Hands In The Earth has been growing medical marijuana since 2007 and specializes in an organic, pesticide-free product as part of a movement toward craft cannabis that founder Jamie Ballachino compared to the beer industry. He said the Cannabis Cup, where they’ve entered into the hybrid flower category, is the company’s first public event, and that such expos help answer critiques from people who remain skeptical of marijuana.

“When stuff like this goes down, people are all chill,” said Ballachino, “It’s a different type of atmosphere. There’s not going to be a riot and all of a sudden people just start stealing stuff. People are smiling at each other.”

The afternoon was not without its hitches. A few hours into the event, plainclothes officers with the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control shut down the booth of a Santa Rosa-based marijuana delivery service called Louie’s Gouies for selling seven 1-pound bags of marijuana to customers, according to Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Justin Farrington.

Officers arrested a man and an underage woman linked to the booth for marijuana violations, Farrington said. The company was booted from the event by High Times staff and the two people detained were released on citation to appear in court on misdemeanor charges.

“This was not an easy process to get to a full recreational event,” said Jon Cappetta, a High Times publicist. “Unfortunately there are people who take that as an opportunity to skirt the law, which is not uncommon for this industry. We have a lot of people who have been operating in the shadows for a long time and they think they can still get away with it. But that’s not the way things work.”

Outside of a handful of people who needed minor medical aid from some combination of overconsumption or heat fatigue, he said the event ran smoothly. Cappetta saw it as another step toward a broader embrace of the marijuana industry.

“We’re trying to be as above board as possible,” he said. “These are all still trials, but … it’s all part of the growing pains for figuring out how this stuff works. We’re pushing the envelope out here. People have voted this into legality, and we’re trying to make their wishes happen.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. ?On Twitter @kfixler.

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