Cannabis Cup is Making Marijuana the New Normal

I had to walk about a half-mile from where I parked to the entry gate at the Auto City Speedway in Vienna Township for the Midwest Cannabis Cup last weekend. It's normal to walk that distance across vast parking areas when attending big events like concerts, fairs, and — I guess — car races.

It was the normalization that I felt the most about the Cannabis Cup. As I approached the speedway on Saginaw Road I passed a dispensary and a grow shop nearby. A sign said something about the Emerald Triangle, an allusion to the region of Northern California that produces more marijuana than anywhere else in the country. But this isn't California; this is a rural area of Michigan not far from Flint. And marijuana is normal.

Things weren't so normal in 2011 when the first Michigan Cannabis cup was held in Detroit at Bert's Warehouse Theatre. Police showed up on the first day and declared there would be no medicating in the area, and maintained a heavy presence the entire weekend, putting a damper on the mood.

I'm sure there were police somewhere at this year's Cannabis Cup, but their presence was subdued as vendors offered samples of their wares to the festive crowd. It was huge, with booths offering marijuana as far as the eye could see. There were trimmers being demonstrated and sold. Plant clones were offered. Buds and oils of all kinds were on display for smells and tastes. Edibles too. After all, the Cannabis Cup is a celebration of the best in marijuana. It's held to give recognition to those who grow the best stuff, make the best oils and salves, and prepare the best edibles. Actually, more than the number of vendors at the Cannabis Cup, I was amazed at the number of categories for the awards.

There were 19 categories with first-, second-, and third-place recognition for each. We're talking about categories like Best CBD Edible, which was won by the Peanut Butter Brownie Medicated Custard with Protein Supplement by Kozmic Gardens in collaboration with Radicle Genetics; Best Indica Concentrate, which went to Hell's Fire by CoCo Extracts; and Best Hybrid Flower, won by Midnight Roots for its Sunshine No. 4 bud. There was even a prize to Puffco Plus for Best Vaporizer. There are a lot of angles to judge cannabis from, and the list of Cannabis Cup categories has grown over the years. You can see the full list of this year's winners at High Times' website.

There were products of all kinds in the spotlight there, and people of all kinds too. It's interesting that although only certified patients were allowed inside, there was still a huge crowd — at least a few thousand Sunday afternoon when I was there. Even though there was a place to seek certification on-site, that couldn't come close to accounting for the mass congregated at the Cup.

There was signature gathering for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol petitions and I ran into Robin Schneider, who is director of finance for the initiative. We chatted a bit about how normal these kinds of events have become. Later she hooked me up with Josh Hovey, spokesperson for the campaign, and I asked him about the normalization of marijuana.

"It's definitely becoming more mainstream, which is encouraging to see," he says. "The Cannabis Cup had music acts, people were openly talking about and willing to partake and consume in a setting that is very similar to a beer tent that you might see at Oktoberfest or events the Michigan Brewers Guild hold. There's a culture that's beginning to become public around the state."

Normal. That's what legalization efforts are counting on across the country. As cannabis culture spreads, it's not seen as deviant behavior.

"We've had medical marijuana in place since 2008," Hovey says. "As a state we're getting used to the idea that cannabis is a normal thing. It's not for everybody and that's OK; alcohol is not for everybody. But it's nothing to hide and shouldn't be forced into the shadows."

The organization collected plenty of signatures at the Cannabis Cup. A few days later Hovey said that the numbers weren't in yet, but that they were "running ahead of schedule in our collection effort."

While the Cannabis Cup is an excellent opportunity for pushing the legalization effort, Hovey doesn't anticipate open marijuana smoking if prohibition is overthrown. Events such as the Cannabis Cup where cannabis products are openly displayed, sold and used aren't the projected norm.

"I think there is kind of a taboo about smoking in public overall, tobacco or anything," he says. "What we see is a continuation of that. When smoking anything in public you don't get to control where it goes after it exits your lungs. The (Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol) proposal does not allow for the use of cannabis in public. It's where we think the public is comfortable."

That's a bit of political sophistication, seeing where the public is comfortable. It's a bit of savvy that may not have been in abundance on the legalization side not so long ago. At the same time, it wasn't that long ago when the majority of the public wasn't comfortable even talking about marijuana, let alone legalizing it.

It's no longer normal for folks to hide in the shadows every time they want to use marijuana. I'm not even sure that smoking bud is the norm for marijuana users with all the dabbin' and waxin' and whatnot going on.

What I am sure about is that it would be really hard to make marijuana abnormal again. That's what hanging out at a Cannabis Cup can show you.

Music and marijuana have always been good buddies. The Cannabis Cup maintained that togetherness with a good lineup of cannabis-friendly music acts that included Trick Trick, Atmosphere, 50 Cent, Wu-Tang Clan, Nelly, Devin the Dude, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and Danny Brown. I have to admit that the last time I saw George Clinton, some five or six years ago, it was a sloppy show that was not impressive. His Cannabis Cup show was a different story. His set was tight and "Maggot Brain" was probably the best version I've heard. He had material that I've never encountered before, and the whole thing revived my thinking about the P-Funk mob.

If you check out the September edition of High Times magazine, on newsstands in a week or two, check out the photo of grasshoppers fornicating on a marijuana leaf in the Pix of the Crop section. I took the shot when visiting an outdoor grow. Let's just say when hanging out with some fresh plants, it's not hard to get in the mood.

(This article previously appeared in metrotimes.com and was written by Larry Gabriel)