By Marguerite Arnold
In August, hot on the heels of the Feb. 6, 2015, decriminalization decision in Jamaica, High Times obtained the first permit granted by the Minister of Justice to hold the island’s first legal marijuana-centered gathering. The country’s first Cannabis Cup is now scheduled for Nov. 12-15 in Negril, Jamaica.
Started in 1988 in Amsterdam by High Times, itself an institution in the movement and industry since its founding in 1974, the Cannabis Cup has begun to hold similar expos in legalizing states across the U.S. Upcoming events are slated for Colorado, California, Washington, Oregon and Michigan.
Almost two years into legalization in the United States, the Cannabis Cup remains the only nationally branded expo and trade fair within the cannabis industry that also has high name recognition with recreational consumers. In fact, audience and consumer taste as measured at events by the awards process, is a trusted guide among marijuana enthusiasts. Winning a Cannabis Cup competition event can also now help launch a brand nationwide. Last year, after winning “Best Edible” at the Southern California Medical Cannabis Cup, California-based startup G Farmalabs expanded its footprint nationally almost overnight. By the end of the year, the company was operating its national operations from a new state—Nevada.
Last November, the organizers of the Cannabis Cup ran into problems with city officials in Amsterdam because of the prevalence of hashes and extracts, which authorities, at least in Amsterdam, are still fighting. Despite the fact that the Cannabis Cup failed to get a license for last year’s expo in Amsterdam, the event still held educational events and organized a “crawl” through the Red Light District’s many well and lesser-known “coffee shop” establishments.
In the United States, the evolving regulatory issues surrounding legalization are still playing out in terms of not only where the fest will be held, but if it can be held. In Oregon, for example, High Times tried to obtain a permit in 2015 only to run into local objections connected to the public consumption of cannabis. The organization is trying to organize an event next year. In contrast, the Bay Area Medical Cannabis Cup celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2014 with a sold-out crowd. In Jamaica, the organization will work with local organizers and hosts, the Rastafari Rootzfest which is already slated to be, apart from the cannabusiness tradeshow and expo, a reggae-lovers attraction.
Despite doubts by some that High Times and the tradition of the Cannabis Cup would survive, especially after the showdown with city officials in Amsterdam last year, the organization seems to be resilient and appears to be morphing to appeal to a new generation. There is a subtle rebranding afoot across the organization as the outfit has clearly begun to ride the wave of legalization across the United States to its advantage.
With this canny entry via partnership into a new international market, High Times and Cannabis Cup organizers appear to have proved that they are getting good at the game of expansion, while also working with local authorities and groups to do so as legalization rolls out across the globe.
The original event, held in Amsterdam on or around American Thanksgiving, has yet to be announced this year. It is traditionally announced in October.