Cannabis' Top Festival Celebrates This Weekend as Competition Concerns, Global Warming Loom

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The Emerald Cup has been called the "Academy Awards of cannabis" and in 2017 Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw invested in the event.

North America's best known cannabis competition and festival is set to take place this weekend, Dec. 14-15, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California.

The Emerald Cup -- named after Northern California's Emerald Triangle which is home to Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties -- features about 500 cannabis cultivators and a two-day festival with Flatbush ZombiesSantigold, Steel Pulse, Emancipator, The Polish AmbassadorExpendables and more. 

Rolling Stone has called the Emerald Cup the "Academy Awards of cannabis" and in 2017, Red Light Management founder Coran Capshaw and his promotion company Starr Hill Presents invested in the event.   

“What makes us different is that we highlight sun-grown cannabis and we push for organic farming methods,” says Red Light’s Jim Lewi, who has led the company’s efforts on its work with the Emerald Cup. “We’re also big on sustainable practices like regenerative farming.” Those have so far focused on carbon capture and restoring depleted soil. Food at the Emerald Cup is sustainably sourced and merchandise is made from organic cotton. 

The focus on sustainability comes as the cannabis community grapples with the effects of global warming and a string of wildfires in Northern California that are ravaging the region. The area has also been plagued by regular power blackouts, implemented by the state's public utility PG&E during high wind events to avoid causing future blazes, which have bankrupted the utility.

"We couldn't have been asked to endure more than we already have,” Emerald Cup founder and producer Tim Blake tells Billboard, adding that California's recreational legalization of cannabis in 2016 via Proposition 64 has brought increased corporate competition to the small farmers and product makers that serve the region. 

“We're all trying to figure out a way to stay alive -- who would have thought this far after legalization, we'd still be in the mess that we're in,” Blake says, noting that outside investors from Canada have been pouring money into California, North America’s largest retail market that has no in-state residency requirement for cannabis companies. 

Because of the high taxes the state levies on cannabis retail sales and cultivation, which are scheduled to increase on Jan. 1, a thriving black market of illegal stores and growers has led to a 17% decrease in legal sales in 2018. 

“They’ve been a nightmare for everyone,” Blake said. “In some ways, it’s pulling people apart. We used to all be on the same teams, just trying to grow a product and not get busted. We could sell it all. Now It's like you're competing against every other brand out there.”

Blake says he still ultimately supports the passage of Prop 64 legalizing marijuana and said the bill opened the Emerald Cup to a much larger audience. “The good news is that there's a whole new world opening up and we're going to go out and educate and teach people across this country and that’s really exciting.”

This year, event producers have announced multiple service-related endeavors in partnership with host city Santa Rosa, which was hard hit by fire in 2017. That includes planting and re-staking trees and hosting a food drive to benefit the Redwood Empire Food Bank.

This year’s cup will also include a marketplace with 20 different seed companies bringing exclusive releases to the event and more than 300 brands. HeadCount’s Cannabis Voter Project will also be registering voters. Guest speakers include former NBA star Matt Barnes, Peter Tosh estate executor Niambe McIntosh, Notorious B.I.G.’s son Christopher Wallace and reps from Wine Enthusiast magazine, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the pro-cannabis organization NORML.

“We’re always stepping up our game,” said Lewi. “The best festival promoters in the world are always upping their game and so are we, whether that’s art or the speakers or the music we book. Even things like joint rolling contests -- the idea is help people to program their day like they would if they were going to Coachella or Stagecoach.”

The festival's app, full weekend schedule and tickets are available at


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