Judging began the week prior to the Cannabis Cup, on Saturday, April 11. I arrived at the judging location to report for duty. I scanned the room full of people, young and middle-aged, and found a familiar face in Elise McDonough. I unzipped my Boise State hoodie to reveal my black shirt with white letters that reads “Where’s the marijuana?”
“Elise, I’m reporting for duty,” I said, as she gave me a hug. “What do I do?”
It turns out that I check in to get my judges’ samples and to register my username and password in the judging software. When I had filled in my judge’s application, I had selected Sativa Flower as one of my categories and I couldn’t remember what else I’d selected, because that was what I was hoping for. But as it turned out, I was selected for one of my other choices, Non-Solvent Hash.
Well, I couldn’t complain about that, could I? I looked in my judge’s bag to see 32 individually-packaged types of concentrates. Non-solvent means without any –ane – no butane or propane. So some of what I had was parchment paper-wrapped waxes, presumably of carbon-dioxide extractions, some were a consistency ranging from shimmering stained glass to melted Gummy Bear. Others were crumbly hashes, ice-water style, anywhere from fine powdery consistency to medium-sized sand grains. A few appeared to be old-fashioned finger hash, rolled up in little BB-sized pellets. There were honey-colored entries in glass jars, khaki-colored goo balls in plastic jars, olive green flaky globs, and dark caramel-colored flakes in silicon containers, and every color ever used in military camouflage among the slabs of wax.
It was the most varied amount of concentrates I’d ever seen. Like I said, I do Cups and have concentrate-makers as friends, so I’ve seen ridiculously large slabs of shatter, but never 32 different types of hash at one time. It is a little imposing. How in the world am I supposed to judge all this in the span of a week?
A Friend, Indeed
One of the benefits I have when I travel to Denver is that a friend of mine from Idaho lives there. We’ve known each other for two decades and as she’s lived in different cities, I’ve crashed at her and her husband’s place as I’ve traveled, first in my corporate IT consultant career in the 20th century, now in my professional pothead career in the 21st century.
In her spare room, I laid out the 32 samples in order. I logged into the judging software. It’s a simple interface that asks me to judge each sample on Visual, Aroma, Taste, Burnability, and Effects. On each category, I can rate it 0 to 5 with 0.25 point increments.
The Judge’s Handbook gives detailed information about the structure of the voting system and the process for entering and tallying the votes. I’m convinced it is as rigorous and reliable a process as possible, short of a double-blind placebo controlled scientifically-validated objective evaluation. That’s not what a Cannabis Cup is, though; it’s much more of a competition. There are lab results that make up a portion of the score, but what this is really about is satisfying a wide-ranging group of cannabis consumers.
But that Handbook made no mention of what the criteria are for judging the five categories. What does Visual mean to you? Is a sticky green wax more visually appealing than a sandy blonde crumble? Do I judge each type visually against similar types? What do I like, visually, in a dab? I’d never really thought about it before.
Then I realized I had a bigger problem. I don’t have a dab rig. I had driven from Portland across Idaho and Wyoming and I traveled clean, since my attempt last year to road trip to the Cannabis Cup in Denver led to me getting a free ride in a cop car to the Box County, Utah, jail, and a bill I’m still paying (that’s a whole other article). And my friend is a longtime pipe smoker – she doesn’t even do bongs or joints.
So I began by filling out the Visual category on each entry. I decided that I’d rank each wax against each wax, with the shinier, smoother, more consistent in color entries ranking from 3.0 to 4.0, and the stickier, uneven entries getting 2.0 to 3.0. If I found some entry really lacking I’d give it a 1.0, but every entry got at least a 2.0. I gave one wax a 4.0; it looked like a sliver of stained glass.
Then my friend asked, “Are you taking any of this back with you?” I shot her a “Hell No!” look only to find her smirking sarcastically. She had puked when she got word of my Utah arrest last year from a frantic call for bail money originating from my friend whom she’d never met, so she takes opportunities to razz me about it. “It’s your lucky day,” I told her, “by the end of next weekend, I’ll be leaving you with 32 samples of the best non-solvent hash in the world.”
“Then I should go get us what we need to test these out,” she replied. “What is it we need?”
“A dab rig,” I told her. This should be interesting, I thought, getting help on judging dabs from someone experiencing their very first dabs. Plus, she has a good sense of smell and I’m damn near nose-blind (what is the word for that… is there one?) so it should be a good partnership.