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High Times hosting Cannabis Cup NorCal Festival this weekend in Santa Rosa

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Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts are returning to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa this weekend for the two-day Cannabis Cup NorCal festival held by counterculture media company High Times.

Expected to draw about 4,000 people attending each day, the event is among four large cannabis festivals and trade shows at the fairgrounds this year expected to bring thousands of visitors to the area. They’re paying sales taxes, staying in hotel rooms, eating in restaurants and otherwise spending money here.

Joining events like the Ironman triathlon race, the Granfondo bicycle ride and the Russian River Brewing Co.’s Pliny the Younger special beer release, these events are increasingly providing economic boosts to the region, highlighting the potential for tourism focused on Sonoma County’s place within California’s newly legalized cannabis industry.

“Cannabis events became a revenue driver of us,” said Raissa de la Rosa, Santa Rosa’s economic development manager. “The sales tax revenue from these events is really good.”

The 2018 Emerald Cup, the iconic Northern California organic cannabis festival held in Santa Rosa the last six years, generated more than $17 million for the county, according to an independent economic impact report commissioned by the organizers.

That value places the Cup up alongside the Ironman triathlons held on two weeks in Sonoma County, which brought an estimated $20 million economic windfall to the county.

Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake said he spent roughly $20,000 on the study because he knew the event benefited Santa Rosa and Sonoma County in the six years since he moved the event here from its origins in Mendocino County — but he wanted proof.

“Numbers help the politicians,” Blake said. “When they can see this brought in $17 million (in economic benefits) to the county, they can have an answer to people who question, ‘Why we do this?’ ”

Included in the larger figure, researchers said, was that the Emerald Cup generated an estimated $4.2 million in revenues throughout Sonoma County from income, property and other taxes generated through event-related spending.

Santa Rosa city alone received more than $45,000 from sales tax and registration fees from the event, which was held on a rainy weekend in December.

The event supported more than 200 jobs and 271 local vendors, and nearly 7,000 of the event’s 14,027 attendees stayed at hotels or private home rentals.

Event producers spend between $40,000 and $125,000, or even more, on rental rates for spaces within the fairgrounds, said Kaitlyn Findley-Thorn, chief operating officer of the Sonoma County Fair.

“There’s obviously a huge opportunity for us to see impact from these events, which only helps us continue to be able to serve our community,” Findley-Thorn said.

Last month, a trade show called the Hall of Flowers held its second annual conference at the fairgrounds, drawing an industry-only crowd and celebrities like comedian Chelsea Handler, who used the event to announce a venture with Santa Rosa-based manufacturer NorCal Cannabis to launch a brand of female-focused cannabis products.

Two of the top five events that draw visitors to the area and fill rooms at the Flamingo and Sandman hotels are cannabis events, according to staff. Stephen Yang, whose management company Point Hospitality Group owns both properties, said attendees “tend to be a pretty refined crowd.”

“The cannabis industry is a very important economic driver to Santa Rosa, and we see it will benefit us further into the future,” Yang said. “It helps bring confidence in our investment in this area.”

Cannabis Cup NorCal is a consumer event with tastings and toking for anyone 21 and older. This year’s musical acts include pop duo Capital Cities and Claypool Lennon Delirium, an experimental psych-rock project of Primus bassist Les Claypool and Sean Lennon.

Jon Cappetta, vice president of content at High Times, said the event is designed to appeal to pot novices and aficionados interested in seeing “just about any way the cannabis plant can be used today.”

The Santa Rosa event stands out among other High Times cups because of its proximity to the Emerald Triangle known for decades as the country’s top marijuana production area, said Cappetta, a self-described “weed snob.”

“We love Santa Rosa. This is one of our special events,” Cappetta said.

The High Times Cannabis Cup NorCal runs this weekend from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $50 for a one-day admission. Parking is $10. For more information, visit cannabiscup.com.

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

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