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Radical Rant: Confessions of a Cannabis Cup Judge, Pt. 1

Russ Belville

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I was selected to be a judge at the 2015 HIGH TIMES U.S. Cannabis Cup in Denver. Let me assure you, this selection in no way indicates that I am any sort of expert in judging cannabis. I first began smoking pot in 1990 in Idaho, where there were just two strains: “got some” and “don’t." I’m no marijuana snob; I’m a marijuana law reform advocate. What we’re smoking isn’t as important to me as our right to smoke it.

But I’m no newbie, either. I’ve had the benefit of interviewing the people I consider experts in judging and producing cannabis. I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy every HIGH TIMES U.S. Cannabis and Medical Cannabis Cup, except the one in Detroit that got raided. I’ve gotten spoiled in the Pacific Northwest by sampling some of the best genetics produced from the Emerald Triangle to British Columbia. The first dab I ever took was produced by Ganja Jon, the first guy to win a concentrates-specific Cannabis Cup.

Maybe I do have some expertise to offer. I know this: I can write up the experience of being a judge. I can’t tell you everything; there are some security and legal issues to consider.

But I can give you my own perspective and interviews with some of the other judges.

And I wrote it down in real-time. I didn’t want to have to rely on memory while judging a Cannabis Cup.

On the Road Again

I rented a car in Portland and convinced my colleague, Kaliko, to make the road trip with me from Portland to Denver. I usually fly to events not on the West Coast, but for the Denver Cup, I like to take more promotional gear than I can fly with or afford to ship.

Besides, I love driving across America. I am the son of a touring country musician and grew up on 10-hour road trips when "Slug Bug" was the in-car entertainment and my car seat was the back window of a Lincoln. Driving would also give me the opportunity to visit my parents in Idaho, which I wish I could do more often.

Driving a long road trip with a colleague can be one of the best ways to cement a friendship and brainstorm business ideas. After exhausting my music collection—three decades of hip-hop favorites, select heavy metal and the best of Hall & Oates (don’t judge me)—Kaliko played a great podcast about a radio guy forming a podcast company, which couldn’t have been more perfect for me to hear.

I also got to dazzle my millennial generation friend with some of the obscure trivia cluttering up the corners of my brain and disproving the contention that marijuana fucks up your memory. For instance, when we approached Ontario, Oregon and saw the Ore-Ida plant, Kaliko remarked how much he loved their potato products as a kid.

“Yup, Ore-Ida, right here on the Oregon-Idaho border; clever, huh?” I remarked. He had no idea that’s how the company got its name.

“See all this out here,” I told him as we crossed the empty parts of south central Idaho. “This all used to be under water—a great sea. There are trilobite and other marine fossils all over this place, look, there, a sign for the Hagerman fossil beds. When the Rockies were formed and the land rose, some of that sea receded into what is now the Great Salt Lake, which is why it is so salty; it’s the remnants of a sea.

“And over that exit, you can head up to Hailey, where Bruce Willis and Demi Moore once lived. It’s also the only town in Idaho to ever successfully pass marijuana reform issues on the ballot.

“Or if you go that a-way, you cross the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s this huge expanse of black lava beds. It looks like an alien landscape. Then you exit there into the town of Arco, the first place in America ever powered by atomic energy. A bit further and you end up at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, where they still do top secret nuclear stuff for the government, because if you’re messing with radioactivity,” I gesture to the emptiness, “this is the place to do it.

“The Continental Divide? You don’t know that? What do they teach in school these days? It’s the line down the Rocky Mountains where rivers on one side run to the Pacific and rivers on the other side run to the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic.”

Portland to Denver through Wyoming (because, fuck Utah) is a 19-hour drive. We drove Portland to Boise on Thursday, Boise to Rock Springs on Friday and Rock Springs to Denver on Saturday.

NEXT TIME: A Game of Concentration – Judging 32 Non-Solvent Hashes

(Phone Courtesy of Mark January)

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