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Like the proverbial dinosaurs who watched an asteroid split the sky on its way to unleashing their oblivion, the legacy cannabis growers in northern California watched the approach of their own cataclysmic event back in 2016: legalization. 

At least, that’s how Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake describes it. 

“The legacy farmers here are going through an extinction event,” Blake told Rootwurks, adding, “they did more in 5 years of legalization to destroy our way of life, our culture, and our industry than they did in 50 years of chasing us around like outlaws. They didn’t phase us in those 50 years, but they wiped us out in 5 years.”

Unable to afford the costs of going legal and with no ability to compete with the juggernauts of legal cannabis, many of these legacy farmers have lost their livelihood and way of life, Blake said. 

But while he regrets his support for Proposition 64, which legalized recreational cannabis in California, Blake can also see the positives of the legal cannabis industry.   

“I'm really happy that 64 went through even though they screwed us because mainstream people are getting access to cannabis, and people aren't going to prison for long prison sentences.”

This year’s 19th annual Emerald Cup is the latest chapter in a career selling, trafficking, and growing cannabis that has spanned the past five decades of Blake’s life.  

Blake’s story pours out as he speaks. It begins with a 13-year-old kid in northern California smoking weed he got from older artists and musicians, which quickly led to selling cannabis. By 18 or 19, Blake said he was moving thousands of pounds of Mexican and Thai weed from the California coast to all points beyond.  

"It was a beautiful business"

“Now I'm the old guy, but I was thought of as the kid back then,” he explains. 

“It was a beautiful business. Basically, what you had was all these surfers and hippies and the Italian boat guys, everybody working together in this business to bring in Thai weed and weed and hash from South America.” 

But those halcyon days of weed smuggling had to end eventually. Blake traces it to the early 80s, the formation of federal mandatory minimum sentencing, and the dawn of the private prison system. The same bust that would have gotten a Humboldt County cannabis grower six months in jail one month could get receive a minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison the next month. 

How has the Emerald Cup changed?

Blake is an encyclopedia on the strains of yesteryear and their ripple effects. When he first started the Emerald Cup 19 years ago, “it was the very beginning of all the kush [strains], and then the purples [purple strains] came in.”

Balke said the first winner of the cup was a purple kush, adding that the first cup was a wildly different game. They wouldn’t let any seeds or hash into the competition because “the laws were scary back then.” He added that because it was a felony to have more than 100 seeds back then, it was much more difficult for growers to “pheno hunt” to get optimal results.   

Today, all that has changed. As Blake describes it, there is an incredible amount of diversity in today’s cannabis strains, and growers “are so much genetic freaks, and they know all this stuff, and I love it, it’s beautiful to see.”

Today, Blake is an elder statesman of sorts. He is currently preparing for the upcoming 19th Emerald Cup

“A community celebration”

According to the event’s website, Emerald Cup “is a community celebration that has grown to become a global movement honoring the year’s finest, organic, sun-grown, cannabis harvest.”

The competition has grown to include more than 40 categories for cannabis cultivators (and attendees who love the cannabis plant), including indoor, mixed light, greenhouse, and “homegrown personal use buds.”

On December 10th and 11th, organizers will hold the annual harvest ball at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. The harvest ball is a community celebration to mark the fall cannabis harvest. The ball kicks off the annual Emerald Cup competitions, culminating in the 19th annual Emerald Cup Awards Show in May 2023 in Los Angeles. In May 2022, organizers held the Emerald Cup Awards in Hollywood, where they presented actor Woody Harrelson with the 2022 Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Is cannabis really that much better now?

When discussing today’s cannabis versus the marijuana grown in the past, the assumption is that contemporary cannabis is far superior. To Blake, it’s not so simple. 

“We’re chasing the THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the cannabinoid most known for producing the intoxicating effect of cannabis] now. We used to look for something over 20, 25, or 30 [percent amount of THC], but we all know that the more THC you have, the less you have of other cannabinoids, and you can have an anxious high. We need to stop that and realize that well-rounded cannabinoid profiles are better for most people, and you need to find what's best for you.”

He did admit, though, that “I love the diversity [in today’s cannabis]. At one point, if it wasn't an OG [strain] or sour diesel [strain], it wouldn't sell.”

Blake also warned that the emphasis on the levels of THC in cannabis products could lead to an increased risk of negative experiences for new consumers. 

“Somebody goes in and has an experience with a high THC thing the first time that may alter their perception of cannabis forever.” 

Cannabis education is key 

When asked if cannabis consumers are becoming more sophisticated, he said, “no, I think we still need massive education for people because I think most people are going in for the highest THC, the biggest bang for the buck, and they don't know better.”

Blake says budtenders can play a crucial role in fixing this - if they only had the cannabis education they need. 

“I think what they really need to do, bartenders need to be more educated and spend more time with these people,” Blake said, though he admitted that the high turnover rate among budtenders makes this more difficult.  

He added, “it’s about more education across the board. It's all about education.”

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Ben Hartman, Content Manager

Ben Hartman is a cannabis writing and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in journalism and digital content creation. Ben was formerly the senior writer and research and analysis lead for The Cannigma.

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