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Comedian, marijuana advocate Tommy Chong, local cultivators honored at Emerald Cup

California is catching up with Tommy Chong, according to the actor who portrayed a stoner protagonist in the 1970s and '80s, when it would have been hard to imagine the kind of cannabis-loving festival that took over the Sonoma County Fairgrounds this past weekend.

During its final awards ceremony Sunday, the Emerald Cup's hosts presented Chong with the second annual Willie Nelson Award, created to honor people who helped push marijuana into the mainstream. Chong's fearless comedy and self-expression made him a fitting recipient for the award, bestowed last year on Nelson, the iconic marijuana-smoking Americana musician, Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake said to a standing-room-only crowd.

Chong, a cancer survivor who also faced the harsh hand of marijuana's federal prohibition for his involvement in a company that made bongs, offered Zen-like reflections on how he has just done his thing and waited for the world to catch up.

“People ask me if you ever thought this day would come. I never thought about it because I never thought that far ahead,” Chong said from the fairgrounds stage in Santa Rosa.

The 2019 Emerald Cup awards ceremony celebrated individuals like Chong for their roles in marijuana advocacy, as well as marijuana producers from throughout the state who won over the judges in a variety of categories of marijuana products. From pot-infused edibles and beverages to smokable concentrates and flowers, contest judges evaluated more than 600 entries.

The Emerald Cup began as an after-harvest party for clandestine Emerald Triangle growers 16 years ago in Mendocino County, and it continues today as a powerhouse promoter for cannabis grown under the sun, a distinct shift of focus away from widely popular warehouse-grown marijuana. The festival was expected to draw 30,000 people. The event's signature award is for the state-licensed sungrown flower, a title won for the second year in a row by southern Humboldt County's Ridgeline Farms for a flower it dubbed Ridgeline Runtz.

The regenerative farm award goes to cultivators using environmentally sound practices. This year's winner was a Humboldt County couple behind the farm Organic Medicinals, who grow marijuana and vegetables using dry farming practices in the Eel River Valley.

Cheering from the audience, Sonoma County resident and longtime cultivator Shivawn Brady recalled going to the Emerald Cup years ago when it was still held in northern Mendocino County, and everyone wore bandanas on their faces to protect their identities from undercover detectives in the room.

This year, her colleague Barbara McCall took the amateur photography honor for her image capturing a Sonoma County spider's silken handiwork spanning the leaves of a cannabis flower at Justice Grown's Bennett Valley cannabis farm.

Brady, who is vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance for Justice Grown, contrasted a business-focused national cannabis event she recently attended to the ethos of the Emerald Cup, which she said reflects the history of cannabis in Northern California.

“The Emerald Cup is rich with culture, and the awards matter,” Brady said. “When you win this contest, it immediately creates your brand.”

After cannabis legalization in California brought strict regulations, the Emerald Cup organizers created a special award category for private cultivators who grow for personal use. This year, the award went to Nevada County resident Paula Jobe-Hudgons.

Jobe-Hudgons tearfully dedicated the award to her late father, who taught her to grow the plant. Offstage, Jobe-Hudgons said she's grateful for how marijuana has helped her withstand the chronic pain from degenerative disc disease in her spinal column.

“The medicine I make is for a reason,” Jobe-Hudgons said. “It's not supposed to be something a person pays for.”

See the complete list of winners at theemeraldcup.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.

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