Despite what the plants had been through they still looked great and I couldn’t help but stick my face into the closest plant’s canopy and motorboat it.
My plane sits on the Denver International Airport tarmac while the captain explains: “Uhhhh folks, due to the snow we’re going to … be on the tarmac for approximately forty-five minutes or so…” “There’s ahhhh, a long line of planes waiting to be de-iced and our gate is currently still being loaded… But uhhhh, welcome to Denver International…” “Well, I hope I make my flight, it’s going to be leaving soon” the eighty year old woman, with the borderline paranoid personality that was wedged into the seat next to me, nervously voiced her concerns. “I think you’ll be okay. Your flight has to be delayed with all this going on,” I reassured her. “Well, I don’t want to miss out on Bakersfield…” At that point I tuned her out. There was no way I was going to pay attention to another forty-five minutes of her explaining about every member of her family in excruciating detail. Not when I was about to be released into the heart of Colorado!
These are great times that we are living through. Here in the heartland of the United States, the War on Weed is living out its last days. The call for an end to the federal ban on marijuana now seems not to be a matter of “if” but of “when.”
Yet, elsewhere in the world the battle is still an uphill fight and sadly in other places the mistakes of the past seem to be repeating themselves. In Amsterdam, the traditional homeland of marijuana liberty, the privilege to use marijuana has fallen into a downward spiral of political turmoil. Things there have regressed so badly that just last November the longest running Cannabis Cup was shut down by the authorities. With this polar shift in politics most of the marijuana universe now considers Denver the “Highest City in the World by a Mile”. Pun intended.
This is especially true on 420 weekend when the High Times Cannabis Cup is in town. In just a couple days tens of thousands of stoners from all around the world will flood into the city. Estimates range up to fifty thousand strong. With them they’ll bring vast amounts of tourist dollars and an unquenchable desire to consume marijuana in all its forms. While they’re in town they’ll take over the city by filling the hotel and motel rooms, exhausting the local junk and fast food supplies, and cornering the market on cab rides. For three fleeting days most will get to experience the kind of freedom they can’t have at home. Of course included in this group will be the investors with millions and millions of dollars looking to stake a claim in the new multibillion dollar cannabis industry. Until I could join them I had to accept the fact that for the next forty-five long ass minutes I was going to sit and fidget and try to ignore Bakersfield.
An hour and a half later I braced against the snow and freezing rain while packing my bags into the trunk of my rental car. Despite all the planning I had done for the past four months I had neglected to check the weather, or to pack a jacket. My rookie mistake was a bit embarrassing. Denver weather in April, ha! By the time I got the car’s heater going full blast I was on the highway to Boulder, a half hour drive northwest of Denver. I was late for my meeting at the Black Dog LED office. My friends there had been asking me to visit their Boulder location for the past two years and this trip I flew in a couple days early just to make that happen. On the way to Boulder I only got lost once, and with my track record that’s not bad.
The first crewmember to greet me when I walked in the door was Bodhi the real live “Black Dog” mascot of the company. Bodhi’s hobbies include getting sprayed by skunks and escaping into the neighborhood. Then one by one the rest of the gang popped in from random directions. First was John, then Noah and Corey, and then Kevin. After we all said hello and made some small talk, Corey took me on a tour of the much-envied tropical garden that dominates the main room. It was originally built to showcase the effectiveness of their lights, but in its own way it has taken on a life of its own.
There seems to be an unofficial contest to see how many different kinds of plants the crew can squeeze into the garden. Despite the variety, visitors will eventually notice that there is one type of plant that’s conspicuously missing, and that’s cannabis. One day they may be able to grow a little bud in the office, but until then they will have to do their growing at home and the office garden will continue to house rack after rack of tropical plants and just enough space for a couple of humans to squeeze in.
After the brisk walk through the parking lot the blast of warm humid air that greeted me when the door of the garden was opened felt like a welcoming sauna. To give you an idea of the tropical conditions inside, many of the plants, such as the tomatoes, are growing air roots right out of their main stems. Even with the door open I had to constantly defog my camera lens and quickly snap pictures before it fogged up again. The garden is a self-contained ecosystem featuring automated environmental controls and a clever layout that makes daily maintenance relatively easy. All this translates into an impressive display of happy exotic plants. We went over the garden’s construction and the custom built systems such as the plumbing and ventilation in great detail.
Then the guys brought out some marijuana plants and jars full of cured buds that they had taken to a tradeshow the day before. They told me that the plants had been badly manhandled by people who would walk right up to the booth and mangle the buds before breaking off pieces for themselves. I was told that I could do the same because these plants will be thrown out or chopped up in a day or two anyway. Despite what the plants had been through they still looked great and I couldn’t help but stick my face into the closest plant’s canopy and motorboat it.
The first plant I checked out was a small, fully flowered girl that still sparkled with copious amounts of trichomes. I picked up one of the sagging branches and examined its densely packed buds. It was understandable that anybody doing the same could easily be overpowered by a desire to grope them like a thirteen year old getting his hands on his first pair of boobs. I rolled the tacky resin between my thumb and forefinger, and then took deep breaths of its skunky scent. I could only wonder how good it had looked before hundreds of people got their hands on it.
Next, I examined a good-sized bushy vegetative plant that stood roughly three feet tall. The plant was about the proportions I liked to grow plants before training them into a SCROG net. I could easily fill the footprint under a good sized HID or LED with this one female. The third plant was a bushy two-foot tall mother plant that really caught my interest because it had multiple grafts from six different strains on it. While I read over the nametags written on green strips tied to each graft I talked about the benefits of making a Frankenplant with Kevin who told me his success rate was about 90%. I made sure to remember the details as he explained them because most other growers I have discussed grafting with routinely lose more than 50%.
Before long we started cracking open the pile of bud jars and each one wafted out waves of that old familiar smell. One tall jar contained a single fat cola grown from a Lowryder plant. Even though they’ve grown bigger, the guys liked to keep it around as a novelty. This year again my favorite was the Blue Dream. It has such a clean smell that it could make a popular scented candle for stoners. Having sampled Black Dog grown Blue Dream last year I knew it also packed a nice punch. Another jar was full of a Q4 strain which is heavy in CBD. I hadn’t gotten my hands on any Q4 before so I studied it closely. Corey pointed out that its buds are a little smaller and looser than the other strains which is apparently one of its inherent traits.
A special delivery was wheeled in through the backdoor: a single bushy plant on the kind of trolley used to move office equipment with. The plant was raised in a soil mix and trained to grow up into a metal screen that was attached to the trolley by adjustable metal posts. The whole thing was just small enough to squeeze through the doorway. For a moment I thought it might have to be turned a little sideways to make it. John, who had previously run a hydroponic store, raised this particular plant at home. I asked him the usual details about nutrients and lighting. He told me that it had been flowering for nine weeks and was fully mature, just in time for its debut at the Cup. Once his plant was safely in the center of the office, we all stood around it like it was a campfire on a cold day.
“Wait ‘till you see the three way grafted plant we’ll have at the Cup. One of its colas is a monster,” Noah advised me. I stayed about another hour talking with everybody and admiring the plants and garden, before I decided I it was time to check into my motel. I said goodbye and made my way back to Denver. After smoking a few bowls of Q4 and Blue Dream in the shower I ate a pretty tasty burger from a local hangout. The large size of the burger bordered on that of novelty.
Friday the 17th
Friday morning started with a hankering for two things, breakfast and some recreational supplies for the weekend. That whole morning it rained: sometimes it poured, and sometimes it just sprinkled, but it never fully stopped. Some of the automated highway signs I passed warned of standing water and accidents and at times I had to slow down because I couldn’t see the cars in front of me. But eventually I safely made it to my first destination: Fox Street Wellness where I stocked up on rolling papers, an O.penVape pen loaded with Golden Goat CO2 cannabis oil, and some Strawberry Cough and Girl Scout Cookies flowers. The staff at Fox Street were friendly and happy to help. They answered all my questions and I was in and out of the store in no time. This was for the best because my next stop was at the Craft™ facility, a company that produces extracts for medical marijuana patients.
I met up with Sean who gave me a tour of their nine thousand square feet of gardens lit by a combined 220kw worth of grow lights. We started the tour with the vegetative rooms. Each veg garden is enriched with CO2 and lit with a mixture of HPS and MH lamps. The plants are grown in a soil medium and hand fed a custom blend of nutrients. I was impressed with their centrally located water/nutrient room. Individual batches of nutrients can be mixed in fifty-five gallon drums and then pumped by a selective manifold system to any garden in the building. On the other end growers hand water each plant with a dedicated hose and watering wand. From this one room the staff have the flexibility to mix a nutrient blend for young seedlings and later send a batch of clean water to the flowering room to flush out excess nutrients.
Next, I got to visit the explosion proofed extract room where master craftsmen feed about fifteen pounds of flowers a day into their state approved butane and propane extractors. What comes out is then purged of any trace amounts of solvents inside an industrial strength vacuum. The bubbling batches remind me of pizzas baking in an oven. Processing the amount of flowers that are required to keep up with demand has meant taking delivery of harvest clippings from various dispensaries. Craft™ turns those clippings into premium concentrates that are then sold back to the same stores. I asked Sean if they had to ramp up production or stockpile product for the 420 weekend. Sean told me that while this weekend is busy, because of their involvement with the Cup, they wouldn’t see much impact from the tourists because Craft™ is a medical company and doesn’t cater to the recreational market … yet. He further explained that they were used to constantly increasing production because demand for their product has been steadily going up since they opened. I told him that there were worse things that could happen. He laughed and agreed.
I could see why Craft’s™ products are in such demand: their gardens are packed with variety after variety of premium genetics heavily topped with healthy buds. Some rooms only had enough spare space to let the door open. To support the plants the growers at Craft™ use simple bamboo stakes and nylon netting stretched over PVC framing, which is suspended from the ceilings by cords or chains. In the flower room closest to harvest the average plant stood about six feet high. While looking over the upper garden I got to talk tradecraft with the growers, and as any marijuana farmer will tell you, it’s great to openly speak with people who know exactly what you’re talking about. Even if the discussion is over basic things like what makes a good soil mix or which breeder has great genetics.
Because Craft™ was so busy preparing for their booth at the Cup and taking care of the usual day to day business I kept my visit short and thanked Sean and the crew for having me out. Then I headed back to my hotel to relax and prepare for what the next few days would bring. On the drive back the rain finally stopped.
I woke to a pretty substantial “High Over” the next morning. The Cup would open in a few short hours and I had to get ready. After showering and packing my equipment I headed out the door for coffee, breakfast, and a bus ride. I have never had a desire to deal with traffic and parking lot fees, and I knew there was no way I would be able to drive myself back from the Cup safely so this trip I found a motel just two blocks away from a major bus route. For two dollars and fifty cents I could ride thirty blocks and get off on the corner of Washington and 58th street where the Cup was being held. Later on each evening I could slowly shuffle to the same corner and melt into a bus seat for the ride back. As a bonus the stop near my hotel had several restaurants and shops I could pop into before walking to my room. Turns out this was one of the things I had planned that worked perfectly. If you get a chance to go to Denver next year you can do a little research on public transportation and try the same thing.
When I got off the bus on Saturday morning the cup wasn’t scheduled to open for a couple of hours so I spent about thirty minutes shooting some B-roll fi lm and walked the entire line of people waiting to get in. Experience has taught me that the most people show up about an hour before the doors are supposed to open. So I secured myself a pretty good place near the head of the prepaid line. Just like clockwork at about 11:00am the hordes arrived and the maze of fencing behind me quickly turned into a winding sea of the marijuana faithful. As 12:00 o’clock came and went the crowd stayed in good cheer by puffing away on this and that and knocking beach balls around. While we waited, dispensary owners passed out free gear like water bottles or coupons for their best strains. There was even a couple in a golf cart that drove by throwing out bags of chips. At one point the crowd became fascinated with a single staff member that was setting up an inflatable display. Once he managed to get the thing working everybody cheered and clapped, and the man could only smile at the approving attention of hundreds of potheads.
The delay in opening was rumored to be caused by a single fire marshal nitpicking over a few last minute details, but if true she or he was only delaying the inevitable because the announcement we had all been waiting for finally came… “Ya’ll ready to come inside?”
Before my part of the line could get inside angry shouts came from dozens of people in the middle of the line behind me. I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying, but the security guards and staff dove into the crowd and were clearly looking for someone. Later I asked a guard what had happened and he explained that somebody had been selling stolen or counterfeit wristbands in the line. I quickly pushed this distraction out of my mind and addressed the gauntlet of identity checks, ticket checks, and security screenings that ate up the next twenty minutes, but finally after one last long hallway I entered into the actual Cannabis Cup. First came the three inside rooms comprised of an auditorium where lectures and awards were given, a food court was next, and the third room was the largest, crowded with vendors selling the latest and greatest gadgets in the world of cannabis.
The first booth that caught my eye belonged to a hydroponic company named Hanging Hydroponics. I met Cameron who gave me the details on their product. The modular system they’ve come up with consists of aeroponic grow tub(s) fed by a water pump connected to a central reservoir. Each tub uses a PVC manifold sprayer that continually mists the underside of a screen mounted halfway up the inside.
Multiple tubs can be linked together side by side or in a horizontal grow tower supported by a simple cable system. The part I liked the best was that by simply changing out the lids of the tubs the grower can either start a batch of clones, grow a sea of green, or raise a single large plant. The company will order whatever light a grower wishes, but they prefer to use LED lamps in the vertical tower because the lamps won’t excessively heat the tubs above them. Hanging Hydroponics originally designed the system they had on display for chefs that wanted to offer their guests fresh herbs and greens, but the healthy marijuana plants taking up a third of the display showed what they could do for the home-based marijuana grower (www.hanginghydroponics.com).
This year my favorite technology booth was the “Root Devil.” A robust waist high trolley with a heavy metal screen on top and a couple of shop vacuums underneath. The purpose of the Root Devil is to clean the remnant bits of roots out of expanded clay pellets so they can reused. The owner explained that he had spoken to dispensaries that threw out five hundred pounds of used pellets at a time. With one or two Root Devils they could clean the pellets sterilize them and save a substantial amount of money. He recommended using a simple water/bleach solution to disinfect the clay pellets. Things like the Root Devil shows that there is still room in the Green Rush for the home inventor to introduce an impressive product. It’s one of those things were you wonder why I didn’t think of it first? Check them out at www.rootdevil.com
I had to swing by the Black Dog booth to check out the plant with the monster cola that Noah had mentioned. It was indeed impressive: a three way grafted plant with Blue Dream, Blue Kush, and Sweet and Sour Candy buds basking in the violet glare of one of Black Dog’s 750-watt lamps. The much anticipated monster bud was as long and thick as my forearm. We talked a little more shop and I met some of the crew I hadn’t seen on Thursday. Then I headed outside to where the smokers, dabbers, and vapor users do what they do best.
The outdoor part of the Cup is expansive, taking up two parking lots. In tented booths vendors hocked wares and some demonstrated dabs for hungry lines of attendees. The booths were laid out in a simple grid system that to me makes up the best stoner bazaar in the world. The quality of people watching one can do at the Cup is impressive. There were performers and artists plying their trade, pot zombies stumbling around from their first ever dab, professional stoners, girls in shorts offering fl yers, people who hadn’t been high since the 70’s,and the cream of marijuana celebrities. I had been waiting a year for this so I took a deep breath and threw myself in headfirst.
On this 420 weekend I made a lot of new friends and hung out with old ones. I sampled dabs, smoked countless joints, and puffed on my vape pen like it was oxygen. Every time I found myself stoned as fuck I enjoyed the absence of that nagging paranoia that used to come on at such times in the dark and scary past of total prohibition. I was in the friendliest happiest place on Earth, and everybody else knew it too. With events like this the western world is finally getting to see firsthand that regulated legal marijuana doesn’t lead to riots in the streets and rampant crime. Even the authorities are getting the message. Over the weekend the Denver Police sent the following Tweet: “We see you rollin, but we ain’t hatin HAHA… Seriously though, #Denver, please remember to #ConsumeResponsibly this 4/20 weekend.”
The tongue-in-cheek Chamillionaire reference met with general approval. For weeks prior to arriving in Colorado I had been telling people that if anybody could find me at the Cup before 4:20 I would split a joint with them. On the first day I met a young couple named Greg and Anna. Anna told me that she had read my magazine column before and I rewarded them with a pre-rolled Strawberry Cough joint. We talked about where they were from and what they had seen at the Cup so far. It was their first time in Denver and they already knew that they would be back next year.
Just for fun the next day I played a little game in my head and kept my eyes open for anybody that pulled a “Stoner Move” in front of me. It happened to a girl when she almost dropped her coat on my feet while she got up from a curb. You’ll have to take my word for it that it was a lot funnier seeing it in person than reading about it. I introduced myself to her and her friends and explained that she had won the stoner move award. Her prize was a pre-rolled Girl Scout Cookie joint to share with her friends. Part of being at the Cup is having fun and they really seemed to enjoy the surprise.
Further on in my hazy wanderings around the grounds I ran into Ryan Nerz the host of The Cannabusiness Report on the Fusion channel. I told him I enjoyed his show and he was funny on social media. He remembered some back and forth commentary we had on a few news stories and we laughed about running into each other. Later that day I spied famous author/grower Jorge Cervantes in his booth meeting fans and autographing his new book. When he saw my press pass he came over to talk to me and I introduced myself. I explained how I had learned a great deal from his writings and enjoyed watching his video series. He showed me his new book and we talked a little about writing. He asked me to say “Hi” to Phil at Weed World and I promised to do so: “Hey, Phil, Jorge Cervantes says Hi.”
For the entire weekend Mother Nature was kind and avoided dousing us with any major thunder and/or snow storms while we celebrated all things cannabis. On the outdoor stage music act after act cranked out tunes for ecstatic fans. While enjoying the show I came across a man wearing an intricate devil mask made out of hand blown glass. It was clearly worth a lot of money and people gathered around to take pictures. The only thing that I didn’t like about it was the mental image of a horribly impaled and lacerated face that would result if they fell down or were hit by anything. Still, it was really cool.
Later, I found myself filming a crowd as they competed for the attention of a vendor that threw expensive vaporizer pens to the people that made the most noise. Between any such spectacles, when I needed a break, I could sit in any of the tent-covered rest areas or find a spot on the curb behind the rows of booths. Here I could drink some water, check my equipment, and roll another joint or two. This gave me the energy to browse more vendors and interview them about their products.
Being a grower, I gravitated towards the booths with garden equipment. I spent hours handling things like lights, bud trimming machines, and growing mediums and asking the vendors details about each one. One vendor proudly showed me his straw bale system that replaced containers and soils. I did something similar in my vegetable garden so we compared a bunch of notes.
When I wasn’t touring booths or filming the craziness around me I would catch myself randomly staring at some mesmerizing thing or another. Like the vendor that entertained the crowd by blowing smoke filled soap bubbles between sales, or the 420 nurses that mingled with the crowd. The three days I spent at the Cup became a happy chaotic blur of networking and fun. At the end of each day I needed to clear the human carnival from my mind before heading to the bus stop so I would spend a few minutes walking by a gallery of paintings in the auditorium. Even though most of the paintings had a psychedelic theme to them I found that they centered me and prepared me to reenter the outside world.
As with all things, my 420 weekend adventure had to come to an end. Before I was ready for it I found myself flying back home. On the way I thought about all the people I’d met and all the things I’d seen. I thought about how this irresponsible prohibition against medical and recreational marijuana will soon come to an end. I thought about what the world will be like when it’s completely gone. I understand that there will still be bad things going on that cannabis won’t fix, like people killing each other over nothing, poverty, and hunger. That stuff will still happen. Politicians will keep on doing whatever it is that politicians do, and I’m pretty sure that the mainstream media will continue to make me cringe. But, at least I know that when cannabis use is legalized things will get a little bit better. It will be one less stupid problem we’ll have to deal with, and the domino effect that comes from legalization will spread out to better the lives of people that don’t have anything directly to do with marijuana. People who might have loved ones in prison for minor marijuana violations will see them be freed and returned home, and hopefully have their records expunged. Or those sober people that have a chronically ill relative(s) that can’t currently use medical marijuana will finally be able to see them get some relief. We are all watching this green tidal wave roll across the land and the change it brings with it. If you live in a place where there is still total prohibition, rest assured it is coming and when it does you too will be able to breathe the fresh, skunky air of freedom like I just did. ‘Till then you can always get involved in some local marijuana activism or simply buy an airplane ticket.
The Winners at the 2015 Denver High Times Cannabis Cup were announced in the smoke filled auditorium to hundreds of cheering spectators. Over the next year I guarantee that these strains and products will be in high demand.
The People’s Choice Flowers category awards went to:
1st Place – Cindy White – The Green Solution
2nd Place – GRiZ Kush – Native Roots
3rd Place – Bubba Kush – The Clinic Colorado
The People’s Choice Concentrate winners were:
1st Place – Sour Diesel Shatter – The Green Solution
2nd Place – Kosher Kush Live Resin Butter – The Clinic Colorado
3rd Place – Orange Herijuana Shatter – Native Roots
The Best Glass winners were:
1st Place – Qbert – Vader Extracts / Freeek / Pinky
2nd Place – Mothership Glass – Beehive Concentrates
3rd Place – Hitman Glass – Hitman Glass
The Best Vaporizer awards went to:
1st Place – 710 King Pen – Loud Pack Extracts
2nd Place – Cloud V – Cloud V
3rd Place – Icredibowl Milkshake Machine – Incredibowl Red Eye Saloon
The Best Booth winners were:
1st Place – Vader Extracts
2nd Place – Rx Green Solutions / The Ethos Collective
3rd Place – The Green Solution
The Best Product winners were:
1st Place – Moxie Mix – Bader Extracts
2nd Place – Cloud V – Cloud V
3rd Place – Oil Slick – Oil Slick
By Professor Lee
Originally published in Weed World Magazine issue 117