A concert by GZA, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan, plus the presence of a huge Ferris wheel are just two indications that the Bay Area's premier cannabis event will reach new heights this weekend. Somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 people are expected to attend the fourth annual High Times Medical Cannabis Cup San Francisco at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond on June 22 and 23, and organizers say that despite the ongoing federal crackdown, ticket sales are very strong and the event is bigger and better than ever.
"I am pretty psyched," said Santa Cruz-based Elise McDonough of High Times. "This is going to be our strongest headliner ever at the biggest event we've ever had in San Francisco."
Californians legalized medical cannabis in 1996, and while the plant remains federally illegal, cannabis culture is surging nationwide. The two-day celebration combines a concert and industry expo with a county fair-like cannabis competition. Trophies will be awarded Sunday at 7:30 p.m. to the best strains, marijuana foods, and hashes, and each category has at least twenty entrants. Regional dispensaries like Harborside Health Center in Oakland are competing for top honors, which can lead to increased sales and notoriety. "I want to win so bad this year," said Rick Pfrommer, general manager at Harborside.
"What drives the entire event is the contest," McDonough added. "It's a huge deal for people who win. They're ecstatic and it really helps their business. They become a major name."
High Times' elite panel of judges also will provide some much-needed guidance in the quasi-legal world of pot, said the editors of Alameda-based blog Stuff Stoners Like. "We're always looking for the best genetics so we can grow the best WEED," SSL told us in an email. "For decades, we considered High Times to be the definitive source of what's good to smoke. So if they lay down the seal of approval on a particular strain, it must be good, right?"
Members of the iconic New York City rap collective Wu-Tang Clan are huge fans of High Times magazine, which led to the Saturday night set from GZA, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah, said McDonough. "We wanted to go for a full Wu reunion, but it just wasn't possible. We got I think the three best guys. This is a special thing they wanted to do because they're big fans of High Times."
Fans are stoked. "Them motherf*ckers are gonna 'bring da ruckus!'," Stuff Stoners Like added.
Another big draw will be the medication area — a fenced-off zone in the Craneway parking lot where adults with a valid state ID and doctor's recommendation for cannabis can consume the drug, which studies prove can treat pain, nausea, muscle spasms, and seizures, among other problems. The smoky acre-size group session can be a bit of an eye-opener for newcomers, though. "I wouldn't say people are shocked," said McDonough. "They're more curious. We'll get a lot of passersby who will come over saying, 'What's happening here? How can I get involved?'" The 2013 medication area will bigger than ever before and divided into three sections. Nonmedicated food and drinks will also be for sale. "And don't forget the Ferris wheel!" said McDonough.
High Times has also programmed some excellent panels this year on vital topics like pot law, the "dabbing" craze, marijuana cooking, and social media. Judging by the increased number of vendors, this year's event hasn't been affected by the nineteen-month-long federal crackdown on marijuana businesses in California. "We do pretty well regardless of what's going," McDonough said. "As more and more people catch on to the cannabis movement, it continues to grow. We're always getting new, different vendors. You see a constant revolving door with federal harassment. There's definitely been a lot of turnover, but still the industry is growing strong in California. It really is."
More people are using dabs (concentrated cannabis, such as hash oil) for medical and less-than-medical reasons, and the Cup's dabs panel brings some much-needed expert information to the topic. "It's not right for everybody," McDonough said. "But dabs can be helpful medicine for many patients."
The social media panel should be a hit, too, with web favorites like Oakland video blogger Coral Reefer, members of Stuff Stoners Like, and an administrator from Reddit, which has a dedicated space for stoners called "/r/trees." "It's a do-not-miss event," said Coral Reefer.
Facebook, Twitter, and its ilk are a revolutionary force in American cannabis policy, Stuff Stoners Like argued in an email. "Social media is doing for the cannabis community what it did for the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen — enabling us to organize, communicate and raise awareness to enact great change."
"It think it's normalizing cannabis," added McDonough. "Because everybody has got at least two stoner friends who reach out to everybody in the world through social media. Even if you've never smoked pot in your life, chances are you know three, four, five people who you can trust their opinion on it. The news that gets out there, especially these cancer-curing stories that get shared, I think it just really, really gets people to change their opinions."
Final tips: Take transit. High Times will run a shuttle from Richmond BART to the Craneway. Bring a valid state ID and doctor's recommendation if you want to consume in the medication area. And McDonough noted, "Stay hydrated, medicate responsibly, pace yourself, and have a great time."