What It’s Like to Judge a Cannabis Cup

Ever wondered what it’s like to judge the world renowned Cannabis Cup? Your opportunity is here!
Winners of the 2019 Central Valley Cannabis Cup
High Times

Growing up a pot smoker there were a few clear milestones I crafted somewhere amidst the haze in my head of what would make me feel satisfied on my journey with this plant—meeting Cheech and Chong, smoking in front of the White House, visiting Amsterdam, finding real Thai sticks, the list goes on. The biggest goal on that list, however, and one I never thought I would actually reach, was judging an official High Times Cannabis Cup.

For those that don’t know, the High Times Cannabis Cup is the world’s leading marijuana competition—or battle of the buds, as I prefer to call it. Originated in Amsterdam in 1988 by former High Times editor Steve Hager, The Cannabis Cup has evolved into a globally recognized championship of the best cannabis products any given region has to offer. Although it’s evolved many times—from in-house underground judging in Amsterdam in the late 80’s/early 90’s, to the first American Cups focused solely on medicinal products, to the limelight-driven expert-led competition of today—the Cannabis Cup has moved through the ebbs and flows of the industry, and from prohibition to recreational legalization remains the title prize for producers in the game.

Typically this award show would take place during one of the brands high-profile Cannabis Cup events—a touring festival type celebration that brings hundreds of cannabis brands in to provide attendees a deep dive into the magical world of marijuana, as well as performances from world-class musical talent like the Wu Tang Clan or Nas, to celebrate the winners of the competition, as well as rally around the communities favorite plant. These events have helped spread legalization and fight the ‘stoner’ stigma for decades, and have helped open the minds of millions.

Flash Forward

Flash forward to today: with COVID-19 locking consumers in their homes across the globe, High Times realized that there was a unique opportunity in front of them—an opportunity to expand this exclusive competition into a much more inclusive and informative way for the general public to learn about the best products in their respective regions, all from the safety of their own homes. Complete with a digital award show crowning the victors, HT has figured out a way to pack all the information one would typically gain at their festivals without needing anyone to leave the house. 

And just like that, the High Times Cannabis Cup People’s Choice Edition was born. Its idea is simple: let actual consumers decide what the best products in their region are. If you’re reading between the lines let me just confirm for you: THE OPPORTUNITY TO JUDGE A CANNABIS CUP IS COMING YOUR WAY!

The Process

Most recently the competition has rolled out like this: 30 leading connoisseurs of each product type (from Indica, Sativa & Hybrid flower all the way to Edibles & Topicals) from each region would receive a kit of blind samples from dozens of brands in their area. The judges would then try all those products and rate each of them on a 1-5 scale, judging their look & feel, aroma, burnability, and effects. There’s also a fill in the blank portion for thoughts from the judge on the entry. These categories vary slightly by product type, for example, there is no burnability rating for Edibles—it has been replaced with taste—but you get the idea. Normally judges would receive between 7 to 30 days to judge their kits.

The actual judging process varies depending on the typical rituals of each judge, but for me, as a joint guy, it’s pretty standard: 

  1. Crack open an entry and huff those beautiful fumes for a few minutes, get thoroughly acquainted with the aroma. I personally am turned on by unique terp profiles, but it’s hard to beat some good gas.
  2. Report Aroma Findings.
  3. Spend the next few minutes admiring the look and feel of the bud – is it trimmed well? How dense is it? Does it look like top-shelf? (Remember, this IS the battle of the buds, after all)
  4. Report Look & Feel Findings.
  5. Next, I’ll grind up the entry and fashion it into a J. After it’s rolled up I’ll dry toke it a few times to get a flavor idea. Once I’m satisfied there, spark up.
  6. Report Burnability Findings.
  7. Enjoy the buzz, and after a few minutes start to think: Do I feel particularly sedated/stimulated? Does this feel better/worse than normal? Anything different about this feeling?
  8. Report Effects Findings.
  9. Now, this is my favorite part: detail your thoughts. Obviously you’ll be a bit more excitable than normal, but do your best to jot down as expansive notes as possible for the producers of this product. Sing its praises, let them know what you think could have been better, or simply let them know you thought it was standard, but this is an opportunity for you, the consumer, to impact the products you see on the shelves. If you’ve got a great idea for how a brand can stand out, here’s your opp to tell that idea directly to the creators of the product.
  10. Repeat as necessary.

Knowing that getting through an ounce of product will take time for the general consumer, HT has established the maximum judging period of 30 days for the upcoming People’s Choice competitions.

The results are then pooled together across judges and High Times provides trophies and bragging rights to the top 3 ranking entries in each category. This may not seem like the absolutely insane big deal that it is but let me tell you – winning this award has propelled brands into the stratosphere, taken strains from the unknown into household names—there simply is no bigger crown in cannabis. This is the Oscars of Cannabis and YOU are the Academy. 

Want your turn?

Sounds amazing, right? What’s not to love? Well here’s the best part: if you think you can hang, High Times wants you! 

Unlike the past Cannabis Cups, High Times has massively increased the judges pool for this competition from 30 to 227 judges per category. That’s right – all of the brands that entered this competition have put up a HALF POUND of product for their chance at the crown, and YOU have the opportunity to help them get there. 

If you think you’ve got what it takes, head on over cannabiscup.com/apply to register and stake your claim! 

*WARNING* By purchasing a kit you are agreeing to fully judge all the products included in the kit in order to ensure the legitimacy of our competition. If for any reason you do not complete the entire judging process you will not be allowed to participate in the future. We’re essentially voting products into the Hall of Fame so please, take this seriously! 

Upcoming People’s Choice Competitions:

(P.S: We’re taking this format on the road and will be landing in a city near you shortly. Confirmed dates and schedules below, but keep an eye out for announcements coming soon in Michigan, NorCal and SoCal!)

Oklahoma:

Kits On Sale: 5/18
Judging: 5/23-6/24
Award Show: 6/27

Colorado:

Kits On Sale: 6/13
Judging: 6/15-7/16
Award Show: 7/18

This article will be updated with information on High Times’ active People’s Choice Cups as they become available.

7 comments
    1. As Sammy said, depends on the category but they’re usually under $300 for around an ounce of top shelf flower!

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