Published on February 25th, 2016 | by gatsbyadmin0
High Times Cannabis Cup LA 2016
This February, the High Times Magazine Cannabis Cup at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino extended over five days, making it the single longest running Cup I’ve ever attended. It looked as if High Times, who happens to be under new management, was attempting to do things bigger and better than ever. However, this time the petty drama that is always present at these gatherings seemed to increase, almost as if to match the scale of the event. Even now, weeks after the event, vendors and attendees alike have continued to express their unhappiness; but are their complaints valid and are some of the more publicized conflicts really what they appear to be? Unfortunately some of them are, while you may be surprised at the story behind others. Time has now revealed that in each of these situations, there’s only one truth that applies: you can’t believe everything you hear because there’s always more to the story.
Although this feature covers some of the (possibly) uglier aspects of the Cup, I just want to emphasize that there really were more positive moments than negative ones. Say what you will about High Times, but facts are facts; they established themselves in this community long before marijuana became as widely accepted as it is now and there’s no denying that they’re regarded as a counter-culture institution. The organization itself isn’t perfect, but they’ve played a large part in making it possible for cannabis enthusiasts to congregate on a large scale in a non-threatening environment. Speaking of the overall atmosphere, its undeniable that this Cannabis Cup was an amazing musical experience. Despite any clashes that may have occurred, the vendor groups that had stages – as well as High Times themselves – provided entertainment of the highest quality. Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, Riff Raff, Waka Flocka, Young Dolph, Juicy J and Trinidad James all performed on various stages, representing some of the most popular artists currently in the music industry. There were also some acts that have been acclaimed for years including De la Soul, E-40, Kottonmouth Kings, Luniz, The Roots, Too Short, Paul Wall, Wu-Tang members Red Man, Method Man and Ghostface Killah as well as Kurupt and Daz of Tha Dogg Pound. MacShawn 100, who performed in the Emerald City, even received recognition in the form of a social media shout-out from another music industry giant (and one of the most legendary stoners of all time), Snoop Dogg. Cannabis Cup tickets may be considered too costly by some. However, these acts were worthy of a Coachella line-up, a festival that charges far more for admission. Regardless of anything else that may have happened at the LA gathering this year, the entertainment alone made it worthwhile to attend.
The first hint of negativity began in the weeks leading up to the affair when it became clear that a major competition was once again going to be the Battle of the Booths. With the rival groups advertising their performers, boasting of giveaways and taking shots at each other, the stage was already set with potential for major conflict. As usual, let’s just get this out of the way from the beginning; I completely admit my bias. Of the main vendor “stages”, I spent the majority of my time at the one my fiancee hosted, the “Emerald City” – and obviously that’s where my loyalty lies. However, since he hosted the “Vader Village” stage (this time renamed the “Conglomerate Village”) for almost every Cannabis Cup of 2015, I can also acknowledge that they had previous experience and know how to show patients a good time. However, the primary Emerald City organizers were Jason Beck and Dr. Dina, the duo who runs the reputable A.H.H.S West Hollywood dispensary (and Adam has over a decade of experience with event planning and hosting himself). Between these two, it was a pretty fair match up. I knew the least about he other vendor stages, “Raw Village” and newcomer CHR. They didn’t promote as heavily and refrained from the banter that was exchanged – on an almost daily basis – between the other two groups.
Saying that two of the teams were “taking shots at each other” may have been an understatement. At times, the comments and memes really appeared to get quite ugly, especially considering that some of these people worked together for quite a while. I know there are some who won’t like to hear this (since they jumped on the bandwagon for either side, vehemently and sometimes violently denouncing the opposing group), but in reality, this “battle” between the Emerald City and Conglomerate Village could be better described as a friendly competition. All of the boasting and seemingly cheap shots were really no more than hype to get everyone riled up and excited – and the proof was in what was occurring outside of the Cup. Between the two weekends of the event, Adam Ill, who hosted the Emerald City stage, was a special guest at an event at Nexus Social Lounge (where he made a tongue-in-cheek reference to the drama by appearing in a full Vader ensemble). Nexus, along with most of the other sponsors of the event, were all part of the Conglomerate Village – supposedly Adam’s rivals. Companies from both groups also stayed at the same hotel over the weekends and returned there each evening to hang out. After the awards ceremony, a large group of us also celebrated assorted wins together. This included Moxie, Nature’s Lab and Greenwolf, who happened to sweep the first place awards in the concentrate categories with their various collaborations – despite the fact that they were part of opposing teams. Doesn’t sound like much of a rivalry anymore, does it? Sorry to break it to everyone who took it so seriously, but there really wasn’t fire under all that smoke.
Unfortunately that can’t be said of everything that happened. In what some considered to be an upset, relative newcomer CHR took home the first place for the best booth category, displacing Vader/the Conglomerate who had won almost every time in the past year. This caused a great deal of ill-feeling from Vader and set off an avalanche of bad-mouthing and attempts at revenge that were all too real. (At this point I need to draw the distinction between Vader and the rest of the Conglomerate; all but one other member of this group seems to have since disassociated themselves from the malicious actions and beliefs – at least publicly). To be completely honest and fair, I would probably be royally pissed as well if I had spent somewhere in the $300,000 range and didn’t win any of the first place awards that I wanted. But come on; were the excessive attacks – and the equally outrageous justifications – actually valid or necessary? If you look beyond simple rumors and vengeful social media campaigns, you probably won’t think so.
In short order, accusations of treachery (specifically tampering with votes) were directed at High Times by the Vader group. Citing their consistently large crowd as evidence, they claimed there’s no way they deserved anything other than first place – and that CHR only won because they provided a ticket promo code. I raised the subject with Matt Stang, High Times’ Director of Advertising and Sponsorships, whose reply was brief and to the point: “What can I say other than we always honor the will of the judges. So in this case, the judges liked the CHR booth better.” Now, I can’t tell anyone else what to believe because I’m not privy to the voting results – but personally, I call bullshit. Maybe their crowd wasn’t huge at all times, but between their giveaways, performers and Spearmint Rhino sponsorship, CHR was most definitely poppin’. Furthermore, if you attempt to look at the situation objectively, there may be a more relevant point: If your fans are stoned out of their minds and looking for freebies at your stage all damn day, when are they supposed to actually vote for you? This little drama all derived from one particular group – Vader – who took offense. And while it may be a reality to them, I tend to think its very much imagined. CHR obviously deserved to be in the running for this award and its not shocking that they won; their accomplishment shouldn’t be diminished by a group starting unnecessary problems out of a sense of entitlement.
Unfortunately, the animosity that arose from the best booth award caused further legitimate disputes. This time, an unrelated party got caught in the cross-fire and could possibly face substantial repercussions. The final day of the Cannabis Cup also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday. In a move designed to exact revenge, Vader played the game on their stage screen – and purposely tried to bring it to the attention of the NFL. Knowing that it violated Copyright laws in multiple ways, their mistaken belief was that if discovered, High Times would be held accountable for the violation. This gave rise to a confrontation between them and the event center’s security, who wanted to shut down their stage – and rightfully so. In the end, its not High Times (who rented the NOS Center) who would be held accountable for the violation, but the venue itself. This means that they, an entity with absolutely no involvement in the awards, would incur all penalties, most likely in the form of heavy fines. While they’ve been unreachable for comment, there have been whispers that they were, in fact, punished for Vader’s violation. I do hope this is nothing more than a baseless rumor. If true, its a completely unfair and unnecessary situation – and one that could come with repercussions for future canabis-related events held there in the future.
While the majority of anger directed at High Times may have been from one particular group, it seems to have encouraged additional ill-feeling toward them from others as well. It was already common knowledge that some companies who had purchased booth space were upset by the lack of return on their investment – and because of this, they appear to be more susceptible to Vader now calling for a boycott of corporate festivals. I happen to agree that High Times’ fees for booths are too expensive, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying that they’re responsible for others’ lack of profit. If a company can pay to have a presence at the Cup, I’m going to make an educated guess that they don’t usually have issues selling their product. So what’s preventing that from happening at one of the most heavily populated cannabis events in existence? Well, there’s one possibility that comes to mind immediately. Perhaps its because attendees no longer have reason to spend as much money; if they hang out in the right area, they can get practically everything for free. On one hand, its great for those who attend as they get their money’s worth from the cost of their ticket. High Times even seems to endorse it; below you can see where Dankbud Photography caught their cultivation editor, Danny Danko, shooting a “shatter gun” from one of the stages. On the other, its bad business for companies who purchase booths – they’re losing money just by being there. This particular conflict is very much a reality and unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a clear solution. But identifying the contributing factors – specifically the “stages” that compete to do the most giveaways – might be a good place to start. Call me crazy, but that seems to make more sense than blaming just the organizers; especially when its only become an issue after almost 30 years of Cannabis Cups.
Like I said, this year’s Cannabis Cup LA had more good moments than bad, especially when you consider that some of the nastier conflicts weren’t real at all. Maybe there were other incidents that had more truth to them and that’s unfortunate. But they were mostly less serious than they appeared – until they were circulated, built up and distorted. Its something that we’ve all heard a million times growing up; that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear. By now we should all know better and that there’s always more to the story than one side has to offer. Maybe its time for everyone to put down the electronic devices for a little while and join reality – especially while at social events like the Cannabis Cup – where we’re able to get high and get to know each other in real life. Who knows, you may just enjoy yourself and it might even decrease negativity: You’ll really know what to believe because you’ll actually be seeing everything with your own fucking eyes. What a concept…
Written & Photos by: Danielle Garcia @daniicalfornia_