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Major Problems Fail to Dampen Spirits at the 2014 High Times Cannabis Cup

This year’s Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, organized by the now legendary High Times, which should be legitimately credited historically with promoting industry growth, hit snags and confusion if not issues a bit more serious from the beginning of the week-long event.

Historically held during American “Thanksgiving Week,” the event in Amsterdam, closely tied to the American publishing company, was the first to take a national if not international stand on the issue of cannabis legalization if not the idea that the industry itself was emergent as one, particularly over the last decade.

That said, it was clear that organizers, perhaps a little over confident on the gains of the last year in the U.S. on the reform front, clearly dismissed new regulations put in place by the new mayor of Amsterdam as part of his political campaign no matter how many signs they posted. The 5 gram limits on regular marijuana are not unreasonable, particularly given the strength of new strains if not the emergence of the super powerful hashes and other extracts now widely available through the legitimate commercial market. In some ways, this was Amsterdam’s response to the same, which is much like the problems the edibles vertical has run into all year in the U.S.

While it is extremely hard to overdose on smoked marijuana (or at least harder) the equation changes dramatically when it comes to hash and concentrates.

It was also evident that city officials, in cancelling the Expo on the first day, the most widely attended event because of the ability to sample strains, many different new ancillary products and network, were mostly concerned about finding a way to regulate and oversee the same. All week in fact, the city also posted obvious signs in highly trafficked tourist areas to avoid street cocaine in the area.

As a result, organizers had to find a new exhibition space before the event even began, and on Sunday, what was to be opening day saw exhibitors show up, set up and then be threatened with local police with arrest if the event proceeded.

y 2pm, the new opening time, an hour later than advertised, the expo had been broken down and festival attendees were finally told that the Expo had been cancelled as had other planned events for the rest of the day. Other logistical snafus downstream that flowed from this set events saw the hasty rescrambling of schedules and events all week as a result. On Wednesday, in fact, the only event of the day was the coffee shop crawl, which was also badly organized. Despite promises of shuttle busses, they were at minimum hard to find, and unused by most participants. Even finding the coffee shops, for the uninitiated, was difficult without a local guide.

High Times staff were unrepentant all week, in light of additional delays, scheduling problems and other issues that left vendors (who paid on average about £17,000 in travel and registration costs) and regular participants (who paid the hundreds of dollars for the entrance fee) largely on their own to fend for themselves amongst the city’s coffee shops all week. Some of the more aggressive businesses if not desperate vendors also took to literally shuttling attendees from the Melkweg to the coffee shops where they hastily negotiated limited space to exhibit their wares via the city’s exorbitantly priced taxis (on average a £40 trip anywhere in the city).

That said, most attendees and even vendors managed to end the week on a high note on Thursday night (results of the competition here). Ringing encouragements for reform to plough on through even this minor setback, along with acceptance speeches from competition winners that sounded suspiciously like Oscar acceptance speeches were the order of the night. The closing event was also packed thanks to the fact that organizers opened the doors of the event the last night to the general public. Local teens and Millennials showed up in force.

It is clear, however, that as global legalization begins to lead naturally to better local regulation, no matter where the market is, that such showdowns are likely to be a regular occurrence in the near future as the industry learns how far it can push its new freedoms and local authorities figure out how best to regulate and not ban a substance that is finally coming out of the shadows of the Drug War.

by Marguerite Arnold

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