‘Pot loves rain’: Annual ganja-rama goes on as planned in Santa Rosa, despite downpour
Old Testament rains lashing the 19th annual Emerald Cup Harvest Ball on Saturday weren’t enough to kill the buzz.
True, foul weather depressed ticket sales for the festivities at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. A year ago, this event attracted some 30,000 attendees — a number it is unlikely to approach this weekend. Still, the thousands of pot pilgrims who did show up for this annual celebration of all things cannabis arrived, for the most part, with good rain gear and upbeat attitudes.
“S---, we need rain, right?” said Bobby McGowan, peering out from under a stylish Stetson as he greeted passersby outside the CannaCraft space, which could be described as alpine warming hut meets high-end cocktail bar.
“If you hate rain,” said McGowan, whose title at CannaCraft is director of special ops, “you’re not a real farmer.”
“Pot loves rain,” agreed an elderly gentleman who was rocking a tuxedo emblazoned with universally recognizable, bright green, serrated palmate leaves. He identified himself as Mighty Mickey 420, the self-described “ambassador of goodwill for the Emerald Cup.”
Spry and youthful for 82 — “because I smoke weed!” Mr. 420 explained — he’s been coming to these gatherings since they were held at Area 101 in Laytonville, 45 miles north of Ukiah in Mendocino County.
That first year, he recalled, the event had seven entries. And the farmers who submitted those entries were reluctant to give their names.
“And look at it now. We keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” he said.
This weekend’s ganja-rama features more than 100 cannabis vendors, along with panel discussions and performances by musical artists E-40, Channel Tres, Flamingosis and Fleetmac Wood.
One popular clinic, described as a masterclass in how to roll a joint, drew several dozen attendees, with a handful of others outside, trying to decide if there was anything about joint-rolling they could possibly learn.
“I mean, between the three of us,” one 30-something man shared with his friends, “we could probably teach that class.”
But there was much spliff-rolling arcana to be gleaned from the class, taught by the white-haired Swami Chaitanya, who rolled his first doob in 1967, he estimated; the professional creative roller turned entrepreneur Grasshoppa, and the Dank Duchess, a hashish consultant specializing in larger joints, including the Lincoln Log-sized blunt she named “Uh-oh.”
The festivities unofficially had kicked off the previous night, with the Emerald Cup Small Farms Buyers’ Club Meet & Greet, an industry-only event connecting craft cannabis farms with the state's top retailers. The function, hosted by local cannabis merchant Mercy Wellness in the new “consumption lounge space” inside its Cotati store, was designed to serve as a showcase for smaller farmers across the state who are being squeezed out of business by California’s cannabis crisis.
Golden State regulators “did more to kill our culture and our way of life,” said Tim Blake, founder and producer of the Emerald Cup, than law enforcement did “in 50 years of chasing us as outlaws.”
Where there were once over 220 pot farms on Spyrock Hill in Mendocino County, only two dozen remain. “The rest have been wiped out,” he said.
That ongoing attrition underscores the need for this annual gathering, said Emerald Cup associate producer Taylor Blake, who is also Tim’s daughter.
The cannabis community “feels a little hit right now, just by the industry,” she said, “so coming together is more important than ever.”
The hugs she’d been giving and receiving, Blake added, “have been a little longer, a little more meaningful.”
Despite those headwinds — and the occasional maelstrom that blew through Saturday — this festival keeps growing, as cannabis comes further and further out of the shadows, into the mainstream.
Among the hundreds moseying through the vast Quonset hut — renamed for the weekend as the Hall of Flowers — was Pete Gately, who as a Mill Valley teenager in the early 1980s cultivated a patch of weed on Mount Tamalpais.
Gately still remembers helicopters from the state’s newly formed Campaign Against Marijuana Production flying directly over his plants. “That was about as scared as I’ve ever been,” he recalled.
Now farmers can raise crops without fear of choppers flying overhead blaring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Gately, attending his first Emerald Cup, is hoping to find work in the cannabis industry. His purpose Saturday was to attend a few panel discussions, network “and get some good herb, you know?”
You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ausmurph88.
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