It's Time for the Cup 

Local dispensaries are gearing for the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup.

Bay Area dispensaries are submitting their best buds this week for judgment in the second annual High Times Medical Cannabis Cup San Francisco, hosted by the iconic counterculture magazine on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26.

Called the Academy Awards of cultivation by some, the combination expo/concert/weed contest gets bigger this year, taking over the spacious Concourse Center, deep in the city's South of Market area. Tickets cost $50 for the two-day event. A $100 VIP pass includes shows by Junior Reid, Curren$y, and Kottonmouth Kings. Tickets and passes, however, do not include cannabis.

According to High Times west coast editor David Bienenstock, qualified patients can bring their own herb for use in a special "215" area of the show, while medical professionals will also be on hand, presumably to write recommendations for qualified patients.

Arguably the most prominent, branded cannabis cup in Northern California, the event drew 4,000 people last year and its share of detractors. Contest methodology, for example, has been hotly contested. "The winners tend to think it was brilliantly done, and the losers ...," Bienenstock said.

Last year, Fred Gardner of the East Bay medical marijuana newspaper O'Shaughnessy's reported that the cup's nine celebrity judges tested 42 sativas in six days. "It's impossible for judges, soon after sampling strain #1, to distinguish the effect of sample #2," Gardner wrote.

"God's Pussy," from the Crescent City dispensary Grean Bicycles, took the 2010 Sativa Prize, while "Cali Gold," from Mr. Natural Inc., took the Indica Award. The name of the winning sativa immediately elicited groans and online protests, and has since been changed to "Vortex" to reflect its true origins, according to High Times.

According to seed seller, Grean Bicycles grew the Sativa Cup winner from "Vortex" seeds, created by TGA grower SubCool. It's actually a 80-20 hybrid of Apollo-13 and Space Queen.

The SF Cup adds a "hybrid" category this year, and Bienenstock said ticketing will be much less problematic than last year, where the sold-out show drew very long lines. "I think there was definitely a learning curve and I think we've learned a lot of different lessons and we're going to apply those to this event for sure," he said.

Oakland's Steep Hill Lab will again test all cup entrants. Oakland's Harborside Health Center and Purple Heart Patient Center both said they'll be entering strains. Most other major dispensaries are also expected to do so.

Bienenstock noted that High Times has hosted the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam for 24 years, modeled after the backwoods dope fairs of Northern California. High Times founder Tom Forcade himself personally smuggled bales of the stuff in his heyday. "We're always honored that anybody buys the magazine and shows up at our events. We feel like we're a part of something really big and important," Bienenstock said.

Over in the actual Netherlands, some towns are currently banning weed tourism. But Bienenstock said the actual Amsterdam Cannabis Cup isn't going anywhere. Coffeeshop tourism in the liberal metropolis is still a huge business. "You have the conservative religious majority in the Dutch government, but Amsterdam the city is vowing to fight this tooth and nail," he said. "We have every belief that they are going to continue to successfully fight this in Amsterdam.

"But that said, if it's always been a dream to go to Amsterdam for the Cannabis Cup, you should probably do it, because you never know."

Seeds & Stems

Europe's loss is California's gain as the Bay Area's cannabis tourism industry hits a new milestone this spring with "420 Tours." The next evolution in Napa Valley's famed limousine wine-tasting debauches, Ferrari 420 Tours is run out of Marin County by Kim Ferrari and her husband. Open since April 20, 420 Tours promises "airport pickup" and the option to "medicate legally" in their first advertisement in West Coast Cannabis in June. A three-hour guided tour of San Francisco, Oakland, Marin, Sonoma, Santa Cruz, San Jose, or Lake Tahoe dispensaries runs $380 for three patients in a town car, Ferrari said. But the recommended package is a six-patient, four-hour limo tour for $540, she said. Guests should already have their doctor's recommendation, as, "the tour part is no fun if you have to go to the doctor's office," she said.

Out-of-state patients are out of luck unless they register a residence with the DMV and obtain a state ID card. Ferrari 420 Tours visit "high-end" dispensaries only, including San Francisco spots like SPARC and the Vapor Room. Dispensaries often offer gift bags, free edibles, and menu discounts, she said.

The Novato-based business carries a large amount of general liability insurance, and contracts a sober, licensed driver. Ferrari hosts the tour herself, though she hasn't actually booked any just yet. She reports more and more inquiries and will give away a free tour at — you guessed it — the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup San Francisco. Potential tourists can call 415-883-6925 for a quote.

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