Tag: Events

How to Become a Judge at a Cannabis Competition

Becoming a judge at a cannabis competition may just be the ultimate bucket list item for a cannabis enthusiast. After all, the prospect of being given dozens of cannabis products to rate and review seems like a literal dream come true to the budding ganja connoisseur.

However, there’s much more that goes into judging a competition than meets the eye. If you’re considering applying to be a competition judge, this guide will help you determine if you have what it takes to qualify and can provide a basic understanding of what the judging process entails.

Who Can Judge a Cannabis Competition?

Judge's samples of cannabis product for a cannabis competition(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

Determining who can qualify to judge a cup depends on the type of competition or event. On one end of the spectrum are closed competitions, where judges are hand-selected by staff officials based on merit and experience. These judges are often well-known professionals within the industry, so this type of event isn’t typically open to the public for judging.

On the other hand, some competitions are completely open to the public, requiring absolutely no prior experience, qualifications, or affiliations within the industry. In these cases, those interested in judging simply purchase a pass ahead of time in the same manner as someone who is planning to attend the event.

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Many competitions have adopted a vetting system whereby applicants fill out a questionnaire detailing their experience and industry affiliations. While the public is open to the application process, the event’s staff is given the final say in who is selected for the judging process. This system has become more or less commonplace for competitions today, as it provides fairly open access to the public as well as some control for the event staff to determine qualifications.

How to Qualify to Be a Judge

A judge's kit of samples for a cannabis competition(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

There are no universal qualifications that must be met when applying to be a cannabis competition judge. However, a few considerations should be taken into account before applying.

1. Do you have any prior experience in competition judging?

Understanding the nuances of a particular competition can help you gain an edge when applying as it shows you have a basic understanding of the process. Although not required, having prior experience will go a long way if you’re being vetted for a judge position.

2. Are you an industry affiliate?

If you’re applying to judge either a closed competition or one with a vetting system in place, having industry affiliation can give you the competitive advantage over other applicants. Your ties lets competition organizers know that you could be more experienced with the industry and with cannabis products, and can display a fundamental understanding of the qualitative measures taken to judge submissions.

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3. Are you local to the event?

Many competitions require those who judge to be local to the event. This is due to several reasons, the most important of which is that products must be distributed beforehand in order to provide judges with an ample amount of time to review and submit their considerations. Remember, it’s federally illegal to transport cannabis across state lines, so people who live out-of-state can’t pick up their samples and fly or drive home to another state and try them before the event date.

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Aside from these three considerations, having a basic understanding of the judging process may be the most qualifying factor in becoming a competition judge. Contrary to what some industry professionals would have you believe, judging a competition requires much more of you than simply consuming massive amounts of cannabis in a concentrated timespan while indiscriminately assigning numerical values to the samples at hand. Although each competition weighs qualitative assessments differently, having a keen understanding of how to rate and review a cannabis product is paramount.

One must be proficient in the following areas:

  • Understanding terpene profiles (e.g. the difference between an OG strain and a Tangie strain)
  • Identifying key aesthetic traits in various cannabis products (like bud structure, color profiling, etc.)
  • Assessing tactile nuances (such as cannabis density, concentrate consistency)

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How to Prepare as a Cup or Competition Judge

Samples of cannabis product with a judge's notes for a cannabis competition(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

Competition judges are selected well in advance of an event. If you were fortunate enough to have been chosen to judge a particular category of cannabis product, or if you have purchased a judge pass in an open competition, here are a few ways you can best prepare yourself ahead of time.

Read the Rules

Before receiving your samples, familiarize yourself with the rules of the competition so that you have a full understanding of the rating process. Take notes on the competition protocol and keep them on hand when reviewing each sample so you can refer back to them as needed.

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Plan Ahead of Time

Make sure that you have a safe and sufficient space to perform your judging duties. Prepare your space with adequate ventilation. Amenities such as food and beverage should be on hand both as palate cleansers as well as for sustenance.

Build Your Tolerance

Judging a cannabis competition is much more about endurance and much less about the sprint. Consider that some competitions will have you judge dozens (sometimes over 100) samples in a time period ranging from 10 days to as little as three. This means you will be cycling though samples rapidly, so make sure you can handle the rush of cannabinoids to your system (and clear your schedule of any other responsibilities if you can).

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Take Notes While You Try Samples

In order to fairly assess a product, you’re going to want to take as many notes as possible. Oftentimes, going back and trying samples multiple times is simply not an option due to time and/or product constraints. Taking notes can help tremendously in these scenarios to shortlist top performers and select notable entrees for a final rating and review.

There are many benefits to judging a cannabis competition, such as being able to sample and review your favorite cannabis products, knowing that your opinion will factor into determining which company takes home a trophy, and receiving free merchandise to take home after the event. But remember that no matter the competition, be it an open judging process or a closed event, choosing to participate as a judge should be taken seriously at all costs. These events carry a lot of weight for the companies involved, so in order to ensure these competitions remain open to the public, having respect for the process is your responsibility as a chosen judge.

Carry this responsibility with pride; after all, you’re judging a cannabis competition! What could be better than that?

How to Be High in Las Vegas: Go See a Show

Nov 15-17 brings the annual Marijuana Business Conference to Las Vegas. The huge cannabis industry convention is expected to draw 14,000 guests from all over the world. In advance of MJBizCon—and in celebration of Nevada’s freshly legal recreational cannabis market—Leafly presents a four-part series for cannabis fans ready to make the most of their time in town. 

The Entertainment Capitol of the World Just Got More Entertaining

Las Vegas exists to delight and amaze.

That Las Vegas should now be home to legal recreational cannabis feels cosmically apt.

That this particular destination should now be home to legal recreational cannabis feels cosmically apt. With its density of sensory pleasures—from dazzling theatrics to ostentatious buffets to the great parade of gawkworthy humanity that is the Strip—Vegas seems the perfect playground for the cannabis-enhanced. So I got myself to Vegas, got high on legal cannabis, and ventured out to a handful of Vegas shows, starting with…

She’s giving you everything, every night, people. (Courtesy of Vegas.com)

Staged in the 7,000-seat AXIS auditorium at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, Jennifer Lopez’s All I Have is the multimedia superstar’s first Las Vegas residency, and the mere fact of its existence is a testament to the rightness of her superstardom. (Complacent superstars do ad campaigns that require lounging in couture for a weekend. Ambitious superstars do Vegas residencies that require delivering the goods live onstage several times a week for months.)

J-Lo wields her stardom with the joy of a hungry newcomer.

It is my delight to report that J-Lo delivers, wielding her stardom with the joy of a hungry newcomer. Her pleasure in the sheer doing of it is contagious. A high-tech, career-spanning tour of all things J-Lo, All I Have features 23 songs, two languages, a parade of backup dancers in ever-morphing costumes, and multiple blockbuster set changes—at one point a Brooklyn subway car storms the stage, with J-Lo splayed across the bow like a glamorous Tom Hardy in Mad Max: Fury Road.

One great advantage that residencies have over tours is technical stability. Free of nightly builds and strikes, residencies can get ambitious with set and tech design in ways too intricate for touring shows. At virtually every moment of All I Have, the show offered something delightful. Perhaps the most dazzling moment came when Lopez passed singing duties to a backup dancer, stripped down to lingerie, and writhed purposefully for several minutes on a chaise lounge. (Do you know why 48-year-old zillionaires writhe semi-naked onstage? BECAUSE THEY WANT TO.)

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Lopez danced (awesomely; remember In Living Color?), sang with help from backing tracks that enabled the awesome dancing, and made all seven thousand of us feel like we were at a relatively intimate club show. My only disappointment was my own issue: During J-Lo’s time onstage, Puerto Rico was suffering through a period of deadly neglect from the U.S. government, and I longed for this daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants to rip the government a new one. But she’s such a pro the most she said about current events was, “We need more love in this world!”

Does All I Have hold any special delights for high people? Not explicitly—but God knows my ability to smile and sway through a couple dozen similar-sounding J-Lo hits was greatly enhanced by cannabis.

James Brown, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves…kind of. (Courtesy of Bally’s)

I cannot tell a lie: I bought tickets to this show because RuPaul told me to. Not directly—it was on his podcast, where he raved about the low-tech, low-glitz, raucously winning pleasures of this decade-spanning soul revue starring “America’s Greatest Soul and Motown Impersonators.”

Solid Gold Soul is a low-tech show loaded with moments that are truly thrilling.

And so I joined the small but enthusiastic crowd in Bally’s Las Vegas’s  Windows Showroom—a low-ceilinged conference room with a stage along one wall and stackable banquet chairs extending out before it. On the stage: a generation-spanning, four-person band, composed of pros who’ve toured the world with music’s biggest names, and here tonight to lend their skills to a parade pf alternately transcendent, delightful, heartwarming, and hilariously ramshackle approximation of ‘60s soul superstars.

On the marquee: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Sam Cooke, and more. Among the cast: Pete Peterkin, an America’s Got Talent alum with a knack for channeling Ray Charles, and Grady Harrell, an actor who played brother Jackie in the TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream and dazzles here as an effortlessly dexterous and appropriately gorgeous Jackie Wilson.

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RuPaul wasn’t lying: By Vegas standards, Solid Gold Soul is a low-tech, almost rough-hewn show. But it’s also got moments that are truly thrilling, where the goofy hindrances bounce off the amazing talent to create the most impressive spectacles.

Is it good for high folks? Ask the 14 minutes I lost to mulling the deeper meaning of being driven to cry real tears by a man performing Four Tops covers in a polyester wig.

Frederic Da Silva: Do not be skeptical of his ear piece. (Courtesy of Bally’s)

In the interest of a well-rounded sample group, I deliberately steered myself toward a show outside my natural circle of interest: Paranormal: The Mind-Reading Magic Show, performed by the family-friendly mentalist Frederic Da Silva, who took the stage of Bally’s Windows Showroom in shimmery black menswear and headset mic to spin the mind-reading magic he’s perfected over the past 25 years.

‘Paranormal’ is a testament to the power of professional showmanship.

For those open to paranormal fascination, Da Silva’s show will be a goose-pimply thrill ride. Da Silva’s not just a mind-reader and card-predictor, he’s also a feeling-transmuter, bringing a pair of audience members onstage to tickle one with a feather and causing the other to feel it.

For non-believer me, Paranormal is a testament to the power of professional showmanship, and watching Da Silva expertly manipulate the attention of the room through rhythmic speech, light mime, careful set-ups (“Here is the young man who was earlier skeptical of my ear piece!”), and a Moby-ish background soundscape was its own thrill.

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I’d also eaten part of a highly dosed cannabis candy bar, purchased off the medical menu at Reef Dispensary, and strong enough to slowly but steadily transform me over the course of the show into a very high human. This resulted in me being ferociously engaged with everything happening onstage, while living in perpetual fear of being tapped for audience participation.

I made it out unscathed, but it seems worth a warning: If you are someone for whom cannabis creates a vortex of insularity, avoid shows where your high ass might get dragged onstage in front of magic-loving families.

Beatles LOVE: one of the greatest experiences a human high can have.(Courtesy of Cirque du Soleil)

Beatles LOVE is the Cirque du Soleil production set to an all-Beatles soundtrack, staged in a custom-built showroom at the Mirage and described as “a rock ‘n’ roll poem brought to life by a cast of world-class aerialists, acrobats and dancers.”

‘LOVE’ is a nonstop pleasure machine, perfectly aligned with the sensory enhancement that comes with cannabis.

It is also one of the greatest experiences a high human can have. From the dazzling physical rigor of the circus artists to the inexhaustible pleasures of the Lennon/McCartney songbook, LOVE is a nonstop pleasure machine, and perfectly aligned with the sensory enhancement that comes with cannabis.

Set in a high-tech wonderland of Beatle-y totems (screaming Beatlemaniacs! Blue Meanies! Colonel Sousaphone!), the plot-free show is basically an excuse to watch amazing circus acts while luxuriating in Beatles melodies.

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Among the visual amazements: trombone stilts, tricycles pedaled by empty boots, a tap-dancing Jimi Hendrix, little kids in white masks and hard plastic Beatles wigs, a full-sized VW bug that breaks into pieces and is spun around on sticks, and two and half minutes of extreme rollerblading set to “Help!”

As for the show’s cannabis-friendliness: During the preshow, a vagabond clown blows smoke from (scentless) incense at audience members, ensuring them, “It’s medication!” GO HIGH OR NOT AT ALL.

5 Tips for High Folks Attending Vegas Shows

1. Aim for “Visual Spectaculars!” From high-tech diva shows to the Blue Man Group to the cornucopia of Cirque du Soleil productions, Vegas is rich in shows featuring world-class professionals working very hard to amaze you, and it is their job to succeed.

2. That said, don’t be afraid to check out a lower-marquee show. Not everyone can swing the cost of Vegas’ big-ticket shows, and there’s plenty of joy to be found in Vegas acts that don’t break the bank. See Solid Gold Soul and Paranormal above, or the many mid-price magic, comedy, and music shows that abound around Vegas.

3. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go. As in quicksand and Congress, nothing travels fast in Vegas, especially humans, who are steered through complicated rotundas, block-spanning skybridges, and seemingly never-ending rush-hour traffic. What’s more, it’s all fascinating to look at, especially if you’re high, so consider showing up early enough to behold the attendant wonders of the show-hosting casinos.

4. Show up on time. The show time on the ticket is the literal start time of the show. Of the four shows I attended, only J-Lo started later than the announced time AND SHE’S J-LO.

5. Prepare to deal with drunks. Las Vegas is a liquor city, with free drinks in casinos, open drinking in the streets, and a fair amount of boozy aggression in the air. While waiting in line for shows, I witnessed three drunken flare-ups, of the “You gonna say sorry for bumping into me???” variety. Prepare your high self by practicing inner tranquility and a few drunk-calming phrases, such as “I’m so sorry! And may I say you look wonderful tonight?”

Next up: Being High in Las Vegas: Fine Dining, All-You-Can-Eat Buffets, and Other Thrill Rides…

Lead Image: Wirepec/iStock

How to Get High in Las Vegas

Nov 15-17 brings the annual Marijuana Business Conference to Las Vegas. The huge cannabis industry convention is expected to draw 14,000 guests from all over the world. In advance of MJBizCon—and in celebration of Nevada’s freshly legal recreational cannabis market—Leafly presents a four-part series for cannabis fans ready to make the most of their time in town. 

Yes, Cannabis Really Is Legal Here

We now live in a world where you can visit the singular city of Las Vegas, Nevada, with all its glamour and gambling and world-class sensory delights, and in between the buffets and thrill rides and high-tech shows by pop superstars, you can stop by a store to purchase legal, sensory enhancing cannabis.

Cannabis may only be legally purchased by those 21 and up, who must show government-issued ID.

This pinch-me reality comes with clear boundaries. Cannabis may only be legally purchased by those 21 and up, who must show government-issued ID to enter one of the city’s several dozen retail cannabis stores. Once inside, customers may purchase up to one ounce of cannabis flower and 3.5 grams of cannabis concentrate, all of which is subject to a 10% retail excise tax. (Purchases by US medical patients are tax-exempt.)

Once purchased, cannabis may be legally transported in your car, but not across state lines, and it can’t be lit on fire. Smoking cannabis in a motor vehicle can result in a DUI charge, complete with jail time and a fine of up to $2000.

Tourists can buy cannabis everywhere but can smoke it almost nowhere.

So where can you smoke it? Unfortunately, Vegas doesn’t provide many options for tourists, who can buy cannabis everywhere but can smoke it almost nowhere.

At present in Las Vegas, it is only legal to imbibe cannabis in a private residence with the shades drawn. (Public consumption is banned, including consumption “exposed to public view.”) So, Vegas visitors lucky enough to know home-owning, cannabis-friendly vampires are in luck.

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The rest of us are on our own. A good percentage of hotels forbid smoking of any sort, while casinos, which abide by federal guidelines, forbid even possession of the federally prohibited substance. The handful of Vegas cannabis stores that make deliveries all make the same stipulation: No deliveries to casinos.

Here’s a fun way to remember where you can and cannot ingest cannabis in Las Vegas: Wherever alcoholic beverages are allowed—which in Vegas means the airport, casinos, plazas, and out on the streets and sidewalks—cannabis consumption is forbidden.

Public cannabis consumption could result in a $600 ticket. Thankfully, it appears police aren’t aggressively hunting offenders.

What’s more, public consumption of cannabis in Las Vegas could result in a $600 ticket. Thankfully, it appears the city’s police aren’t aggressively hunting offenders. As attorney Carlos Blumberg told Leafly in September, his law firm has seen no rise in the ticketing of tourists since adult-use legalization began on July 1.

But none of this helps tourists in possession of legal cannabis but lacking places to legally imbibe. If it’s any consolation, Las Vegas County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak feels our pain. “I’m very sympathetic to these people because they have no place to go to,” Sisolak told Leafly in September. “They’re purchasing product they can’t use anywhere and we’ve got to address this situation.”

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For now, there are a handful of cannabis-friendly AirBNBs not far off the Strip, and the promise of adults-only cannabis lounges in the future. (Legislation to establish such venues failed this spring but will be revisited in 2019.)

5 Tips for Getting Yourself Properly High in Vegas

1. Forgive the home-team plug, but for god’s sake use the Leafly app, which will tell you the location of the nearest dispensary down to a tenth of a mile. If you’re required to travel more than an eighth of a mile, drive or be driven. Vegas is infamous for its deceptive distances, and many attempted strolls to visibly nearby landmarks have turned into death marches of sweaty friends hallucinating their way toward an ever-receding mirage. I blame the heat, and the humongous scale of the place. As Drake will croon in a 2019 chart-topper, “Vegas is the place for Lyft.”

2. Shop around. Vegas’s retail cannabis scene is a mere 18 months old—essentially a still-morphing newborn—and the differences between the retail outlets should be celebrated. Among my most highly recommended offerings: Reef Dispensaries, perched at the tip of an industrial-block-filling warehouse grow-op (and a mere block and a half from the Erotic Heritage Museum!); Las Vegas ReLeaf, tucked in a Strip-adjacent shopping center across the street from the world’s largest gift shop; Sahara Wellness (beautifully appointed and open 7 am-1 am daily!); Oasis Cannabis (also beautifully appointed and opens 24 HOURS A DAY); the casual Blum (whose waiting room boasts a half-dozen mirror balls); and Essence, which recently opened an elegant outlet in the 15-miles-south-of-Vegas desert oasis of Henderson.

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3. This isn’t directly related to being high, but is instead a general quality-of-life directive: Unless you are someone who really loves casinos, consider staying at a non-casino hotel. Casinos are crowd-packed carnivals of excitement—which may not be what you want at the bottom of the elevator first thing in the morning.

4. Medical patients: Know that you will be well taken care of in Vegas, which maintains a firm distinction between recreational and medical cannabis. Dispensaries offer menus of high-dose medical products to patients that are off-limits to recreational users. (Maureen Dowd would no longer be capable of buying the medically-dosed candy bar that sent her beyond and back.) Just be sure to bring your home-state medical card and/or documentation.

5. Leave what remains behind. Only criminal dunces attempt to smuggle their purchased Vegas pleasures home with them. Yes, throwing away cannabis may seem to invalidate everything you ever knew about yourself, but the alternative is a possible high-drama bust that will at least ruin your trip and at most complicate the rest of your life. Be smart, and leave any and all surplus Vegas cannabis behind. To quote the beloved psalm, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Next up: Being High in Vegas, which surveys the city’s cannabis-friendly entertainments.

Photo credits: Banner photo: LPETTET/iStock; supplementary photo courtesy of Reef Dispensaries

‘SLEEP’ Might Just Be the Scariest Cannabis Experience in the World

Haunted houses, creepy corn mazes where things pop out when you least expect them … the season for getting scared in the dark is upon us. Are these intentional horror experiences better or worse with cannabis? One extreme Los Angeles-based haunt thinks they’re better, and is trying high horror out for the first time this Halloween.

Cannabis produces this dissociative state that makes free association more likely to happen. You’re actively producing your own narrative out of your paranoia.

Ash Newton, performer in SLEEP

Heretic House/The Parallel, purveyors of boutique, exclusive, full-contact horror experiences, have decided to play up paranoia and dread with their first 420-friendly haunt, SLEEP. The projects are all visions of husband-and-wife team Adrian Marcato and Jessica Murder (not their real names), and to call their performances ‘haunted houses’ is something of an understatement as well as a misnomer—what Heretic House does is different.

Year-round, they creep up with elusive horror simulations, open to only a handful of guests per show. Guests must apply to attend, submit full medical evaluations in advance, and sign waivers if selected. Many of these shows take place in LA, where Marcato and Murder live, but they frequently stage shows across the US and in Europe. Some of them are particularly aggressive, with guests being dragged around in the dark by masked actors who zip them into body bags, dump prodigious amounts of fake blood over their heads, or snip away at their clothes with scissors. Yet it isn’t all senseless terror; in each production, a story is told.

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The first show I ever attended was called HEX, and it explored the uncomfortable nature of sleep paralysis. I was checked in to what was I was told would be a sleep study, before being tucked into bed on a damp mattress with my wrists duct taped together. I soon encountered demons who thrashed me about, whispered threats in my ears, and wheeled my around on a gurney while shrieking, “Don’t you want to wake up?” A second one, ISO & DREAD, poked at claustrophobia, forcing me into increasingly smaller spaces. Shows I haven’t attended include a series of events taking place in a remote cabin in the woods, just like all your favorite horror movies.

SLEEP is one of the first cannabis-friendly haunts in existence. Per the website, it is “an extreme horror experience that will challenge you psychologically.” Though not as physically aggressive as other shows such as HEX, SLEEP will place its victims inside an immersive, waking nightmare. Guests will be bound, held down, or guided throughout the hour-long experience, while simultaneously forced to watch a series of disturbing vignettes that swirl around them. In between these vignettes, guests will be moved to other rooms, where they have the option to consume cannabis in multiple forms, which may include flowers, edibles, and wax. (Guests may decline at any point if they so choose, and can stop the simulation at any time by calling a safe word, which will be written on their arms in case they forget.)

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“We’re using monsters and other creepy elements, but it’s more based on paranoia because sometimes when people smoke, that’s what gets enhanced,” Marcato said. “So we play up the paranoia a lot with heavy visuals. You can tie someone that’s high to a chair, and make them see this creepy thing in front of them that escapes behind them, and then they have to wonder when it will attack them. There’s a lot of psychological dread that we try to plant inside the guests—moments where you’re alone in the dark, where you’re seeing things, or where you’re held down.”

Murder is the one who came up with the idea for SLEEP. Originally, she had wanted to start or invest in a dispensary, and while that has yet to manifest, she later had the idea of combining the horror theater she and Marcato were already producing with cannabis. The couple visited a cannabis festival in Northern California and found the community welcoming to their ideas.

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Though they plan to expand in 2018 after California’s recreational cannabis laws have gone into effect, the 2017 show will only take place on October 30 and 31, and not everyone who applies will be admitted. All guests must be 21 or older, must possess a medical marijuana card, and must undergo a screening process, during which they discuss their medical and psychological history as well as the frequency with which they use cannabis. They must also come with a friend, who will safely drive them home after it’s over. A nurse is present throughout the entire show, the guest will be monitored at all times, and none of the actors will be high or ever come into contact with the cannabis.

Marcato said safety is important to them, and he’s not interested in replicating this experience with alcohol, saying that he’s worked security at horror theme parks that allowed drinking, and found himself having to break up fights among drunk guests. High guests are, as one might expect, a lot more chill.

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So far, SLEEP’s beta tests are working well, with participants citing an enhanced (terrifying) experience after consuming cannabis. Ash Newton, a performer in the show and a creative partner at Drencrom, an upcoming collaborative series of performances, said he thinks it’s possible the scariest moments of the show will be when the participant is alone.

“[Cannabis] produces this dissociative state that makes free association more likely to happen. You’re actively producing your own narrative out of your paranoia,” Newton said.

This ties into what one of my friends said: her mind wanders, and she creates backstories for the monsters in the haunts. What stories would a guest come up with, if left “alone” in a dark room?

Marcato predicts we’ll see more cannabis-friendly haunts and psychedelic Halloween attractions in the future. After all, people are already going to haunts and horror movies high, even though these venues may not explicitly allow it. “People are probably going to see ‘It’ high tonight,” he said.

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Legalization Looms Large at Toronto NORML Conference

What do you get when you gather budding Canadian cannabis entrepreneurs, some of the top legal minds in the country’s marijuana space, and a legalization advocate-turned Liberal Party federal politician? The 2017 speaker conference for the Canadian chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law, which took place September 9-10 in Toronto.

The NORML Canada conference couldn’t have come at a better–and more tense–time.

Hosted by the Vapor Central lounge, where patrons pay for a $5 membership fee to enjoy their cannabis with like-minded individuals, the NORML Canada conference couldn’t have come at a better–and more tense—time. The country’s Standing Committee on Health was prepping its hearings on the adult-use-legalizing Cannabis Act, and Ontario had just announced that legal cannabis sales in the province would be restricted to 150 government-run stores and one government-run website, effectively obliterating the province’s thriving and beloved dispensary scene. Tense times indeed.

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While some of the conference’s panels featured established, corporate licensed producers of legal medical cannabis, a majority of the conference’s speakers represented a new wave of cannabis advocacy– one that attempts to ensure that the voices of cannabis consumers and mom-and-pop entrepreneurs are not left out in the budding new regime.

One of the first talks was a fireside chat between NORML Canada director Abigail Sampson and cannabis entrepreneur Brittney Guerra, who was arrested earlier this year alongside Marc and Jodie Emery for her involvement in the Cannabis Culture franchise.

As a young woman, Guerra elbowed her way into a job in ad sales at Vancouver’s Cannabis Culture magazine. “It was my introduction into the industry, and it was so much fun. I was calling, hounding people, bugging other stoners—‘Look, I know you don’t like telemarketers, but I’m a cool weed one, so listen to what I have to say!’”

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In 2011, Guerra opened her own dispensary in Burnaby, British Columbia, which was eventually shut down by an RCMP raid. Guerra later moved to Hamilton, reconnecting with Cannabis Culture, which had transformed itself into a Canada-wide dispensary chain. Soon after, she oversaw the launch of Cannabis Culture’s Hamilton franchise, running the dispensary until another raid resulted in Guerra’s aforementioned arrest and she was barred from returning to the store as a condition of her bail.

If Guerra’s story shows anything, it’s that arrests won’t kill the determination and zeal of cannabis entrepreneurs. After the Hamilton Cannabis Culture arrest, Guerra persevered and opened yet another store in Hamilton, a cannabis-themed jewelry shop called Canna Gems.

“Canna Gems is interesting for me, because it’s the first business that I have owned that does not break any city bylaws or criminal laws,” said Guerra. “It’s my perfect little legal shop, but I never had as much fun as I did in the dispensaries.”

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At one point, John Conroy—the maverick cannabis lawyer that successfully fought the government’s shutdown of personal medical cannabis cultivation in the Federal Court Allard case—took the stage to encourage cannabis activists to continue pushing for a progressive version of legalization. Conroy was quick to hail activists like Guerra and the Emerys as catalysts for the change that has taken place in courts and legislatures around the country. “We lawyers can’t do things without people like them, who are willing to put their bodies on the line to advance the cause” said Conroy. “If people don’t get up and keep after it, it ends.”

Conroy told the crowd he was not a fan of the country’s legalization bill, which legalizes adult-use recreational cannabis but still contains around 45 criminal offences, including the possession of even a small amount of “illicit” cannabis. But he shared one encouraging insight, noting the he and other cannabis lawyers weren’t seeing the same number of cannabis- possession arrests they once were.

“I used to get hundreds of people charged with cannabis [possession] offences,” said Conroy. “I barely get any anymore.” 

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Encouraging Words from a Renegade MP

One of the most intriguing talks came from MP Nathanial Erskine-Smith, a former commercial litigator who, during his legal studies, researched the fight in the Canadian Supreme Court to legalize cannabis.

While he supports his party’s legalization plan, Erskine-Smith’s also been a renegade on this issue, lobbying Ministers and MPs for a Crown directive that would stop cannabis charges from being pursued pending legalization.

“I am very happy that we’re going to stop arresting people in 2018.”

MP Nathanial Erskine-Smith

He was also the lone Liberal MP to vote in favour of a failed motion to immediately decriminalize cannabis before the drug was fully legalized. “I will fully acknowledge that was a failure in advocacy,” he told the NORML crowd.

But Erskine-Smith would rather focus on success, and thinks the Cannabis Act is a step forward. “When you have someone like myself, a civil libertarian, and police chief Bill Blair also supporting the bill, I think it’s struck the right balance.”

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Erskine-Smith praised his party’s proposal to allow home-growing of up to four plants, but says there is more work to be done on the bill, including expedited pardons for past low-level possession convictions. He also noted the new law relies on the criminal law more than it should.

“No legislation comes out perfectly,” said Erskine-Smith. “I have a bit of record of disagreeing with my own party…but if you’d asked me five years ago if I would see legalization in my lifetime, I would’ve been skeptical. I am very happy to be disagreeing on details and that we’re going to stop arresting people in 2018.”

It left the crowd feeling hopeful that, despite the flaws of the bill, the country was taking steps in the right direction.

But the remaining objective is still clear for the activists who came to the conference.

“We need to get rid of the criminal law in this area completely,” said John Conroy, to loud applause.

7 Mandatory Vancouver Experiences for High Folks

From scenic vistas to culinary indulgences, Vancouver is blessed with an invigorating mix of natural features and human-made concoctions to delight those under the sensory-enhancing spell of cannabis. Numerous Vancouver attractions are known to everyone and their step-dancing monkey, but here are a few places and experiences that are a little under-the-radar, less touristy, and totally worthy of your attention.

Whytecliff Park

(Maxvis/iStock)

The clothing-optional Wreck Beach is the obvious, more accessible sea-and-sand mecca. Whytecliff Park, perched out in the northwestern suburb of West Vancouver, is much, much farther out there—but those who make the trek are rewarded with arresting seascapes and views of the islands of Howe Sound. With over 15 hectares to traverse, there are a few trails, rugged shorelines, picnic spots, rocky outcroppings, and pebbled beachfronts. Upon low tide, you can walk along a rock-strewn tombolo to the tiny Whyte Island while examining local inhabitants like starfish that call this lush marine sanctuary their home.

The Galley Patio and Grill

(Courtesy of The Galley Patio and Grill)

At this under-the-radar spot, you can feast upon unobstructed views of the waters and North Shore while chowing down on Jamaican jerk chicken burgers, Baja fish tacos, wild B.C. salmon salad, black bean and roasted squash tostada, local beer, and Canadian wine. It’s “cheap ’n’ cheerful” mode here, with casual patio seating and décor. As remote as it is out at the Jericho Beach Sailing Centre, be warned that the patio does draw a full deck on sunny days. Nonetheless, inside seating is available should Raincouver crash the party.

Outdoor and Indoor Yoga

(Courtesy of The Mat Collective)

There’s no shortage of yoga in the birthplace of Lululemon Athletica. Heck, there’s been all forms and variations imaginable here, including paddleboard yoga, aqua yoga, acrobatic yoga, cat yoga, bunny yoga, men’s yoga, and—yup—even beer yoga. While there aren’t any designated cannabis yoga classes, what’s stopping you? When the weather’s behaving, self-directed yogis can soak in the city’s natural setting as they practice anywhere from well-known spots like Kitsilano Beach or Queen Elizabeth Park to West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park or South Vancouver’s Riverfront Park on the banks of the Fraser River. Indoor options include local chain Yyoga (various locations), which offers a spectrum of classes spanning hot yoga and hatha to warm yin and meditation.

Foot Massage

(KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock)

As the city’s Asian Canadian population has grown, so have Asian cultural resources and businesses. Case in point: reflexology. While Westerners focus on bodywork for relaxation, Chinese massage traditions zero in on the feet, and any number of Chinese-run massage centres offer foot massage that will send the cannabis-enhanced on a mythic journey of emotional sensation. Although the interiors at some Big Feet locations are bare-bones, their rates are almost half of those at Western spas. For nicely appointed décor, check out Toe to Soul Relax Lounge (three locations). Newbies may find the experience ticklish or awkward but the experience can be quite sensational, even soleful. (Groan. I’m sorry.)

The Rio Theatre

(Courtesy of The Rio Theatre)

Commercial Drive is antithetical to its namesake, as its unique array of independent shops and eateries anchor a politically progressive, culturally diverse, queer-friendly neighbourhood. After an afternoon of browsing there, peace out at the Rio Theatre, just off the Drive. As one of the city’s last single-screen movie theatres, it serves up an eclectic array of films from cult hits and second-run flicks, and also hosts live events: burlesque, comedians, variety shows, musical acts, and lots more. Most importantly, the concession stand offers beer, wine, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

International Village Mall

(Courtesy of International Village Mall)

Vancouver has a wealth of surefire choices for sensory stimulation, from Science World and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre to the Richmond Night Market and the Pacific National Exhibition. But if you wanna go the David Lynchian route, head directly to International Village. Straddling Gastown and Chinatown, this itchy dreamscape of a mall offers an off-kilter, semi-awkward mix of hip draws, vacant storefronts, and quirky shops. For visual stimulation, there’s Japanese dollar store Yokoyaya 123 and nerd haven One Stop Shop Cards and Games. For tactile fun, there’s Catfe, an appointment-only café featuring cats up for adoption. Feeling munchy? Eateries vary from the casual, paleo Caveman Café to the sleek, new Black Lounge, or there’s the second-floor, Asian-oriented food court, with everything from Thai and Sri Lankan food to bubble tea. Wanna chill? The third-floor multiplex screens everything: blockbusters, arty fare, foreign flicks (Filipino romances, anyone?). It’s almost always empty, which gives you plenty of room to do your own thing.

Pacific Spirit Park

(Tamas-V/iStock)

The majestic, internationally acclaimed Stanley Park gets all the glory and deservedly so. Alas, it’s a tourist magnet. To do as the Romans do, try Pacific Spirit Park, a 874-hectare nature preserve that separates the University of British Columbia at Point Grey from the rest of the city’s West Side. Here, you can immerse yourself in “forest bathing,” as the Japanese call it, as you trundle along the 73 kilometres of hiking trails and bog boardwalks enveloped by sprawling woods. With only occasional dog-walking residents, joggers, or horse-and-riders passing by, it’s a prime setting for communing with nature. Bonus: the park includes the aforementioned clothing-optional Wreck Beach.

A Professional Dominatrix Walks Into a Cannabis Investor Conference…

I walked into the ballroom of the downtown Toronto Marriott Hotel and looked around at the throng of people talking, laughing, and swapping business cards. It looked like any ordinary business conference—at least to me. Still, this was the first business conference I’d ever attended, so I didn’t have a lot to compare it to. I’m a professional dominatrix, and I’ve never had an office job in my life. So this was a completely new experience for me.

However, this was no ordinary business conference. This was the Arcview Group’s Investor Network Forum, a gathering of fledgling cannabis entrepreneurs who have come to make their pitches, in a Shark Tank-style environment, to angel investors looking for rising cannabis businesses. And I had come to showcase my new business: a cannabis sex lubricant called Velvet Swing.

Cannabis enthusiasts share many good traits with kink/sex enthusiasts. They know what they like, and they are not afraid to ask for it.

I first learned of the Arcview Group when Seattle cannabis company Tarukino invited me to join them at the conference and learn the fine art of pitching to investors. Tarukino was presenting their two cannabis-enhanced drinks, Happy Apple and Pearl 2.0, at the conference, and since I’ve partnered with them for the manufacture and distribution of Velvet Swing, they were game to take me along.

I can lace up my corset and swing a whip at a man I met only minutes before with perfect ease. But pitching my business to 200 sharp-eyed cannabis investors? My stomach fluttered at the thought. Still, a cannabis business requires a lot of cash to get going, and I would never have a better opportunity to learn how to get those kinds of funds. Getting people to give me money is something I’ve been reasonably good at so far, so I agreed.

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The day I arrived, I went down to the hotel’s convention center and walked around the room where booths were being assembled. Some offered things like accounting services or insurance specifically geared to the cannabis industry’s highly specialized needs. Others held unique devices like a robotic arm in a glass box that deftly trimmed (faux) buds of marijuana, and a “Lightlab Marijuana Analyzer,” a suitcase-sized tool for measuring cannabis potency.

A bud-trimming robot, on display at Arcview

It gave me a warm glow of pride to see my product there among them. There are not many personal lubes being offered for sale in the legal cannabis market. Topical marijuana products of any kind are dismissed by some as a small, not-wildly-profitable niche of the industry. But the people who think that have never met me, and they’ve definitely never tried Velvet Swing.

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My confidence flickered slightly, though, when I walked into the ballroom for the evening’s meet and greet. I’m completely comfortable talking to one person, or one hundred, about BDSM and sex, and I love talking to potential consumers of Velvet Swing. But I’m far less accustomed to pitching my three-months-old business to ruthless corporate tycoons. I don’t know all the latest business buzzwords, and I’m not especially good with numbers. I briefly considered ducking back out of the event and fleeing upstairs to my hotel room.

No, you came here to learn how to do this, Matisse. You are going to make some rookie errors, but if you talk to everyone in this room who will listen, at the end of it, you’ll know a lot more than you do now. So get going, lady. I made sure my freshly-printed Velvet Swing business cards were handy and waded into the chattering mix of people.

Another new product being pitched at Arcview

Here’s the best part of the story: I have never met a nicer, friendlier bunch of people in my life. Everyone I talked to—and I talked to a LOT of people—was delighted to listen to my pitch. How’d I manage that? I decided: if you can’t fix it, feature it. So I told each person I met that this was my first investor’s conference and asked them to give me tips on my individual pitch to them. People love to give advice to a beginner. By the end of the weekend, people were coming up to me and saying “Hey, I want to introduce you to some people. They want to hear about Velvet Swing!” I may be a rookie, but it felt like a win to me.

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Here’s the thing about selling a cannabis product: You are constrained by the fact that you cannot simply carry samples around and hand them out to people. It is less illegal for me to give someone a taste of my skills as a dominatrix than it is for me to squirt a little bit of Velvet Swing onto the back of their hand. Legal pot comes with a boatload of laws and regulations. Only a licensed pot shop can dispense pot products, no exceptions. So without the ability to actually demonstrate your product, you just have to be extra persuasive.

Here’s the thing about pitching a cannabis product: You can’t legally hand out samples, so you just have to be extra persuasive.

In this regard, I think pitching to people is a little like having sex: there are important points that you must make sure you touch on, but everyone likes it just a little bit differently. What I have found about talking to cannabis enthusiasts is that they share many good traits with kink/sex enthusiasts. They know what they like, and they are not afraid to ask for it. No one spent a lot of time shilly-shallying in what they wanted to know from me.

“Okay, but you can’t use it with latex, can you?” “Velvet Swing is revolutionary—it’s a water-based lube that’s safe to use with condoms. As far as I know, it is the only truly latex-safe cannabis lubricant in the world.”

“Pot lube huh? I tried that once—made a mess on the sheets and it smelled really skunky.” “I’ve tried products like that too. But Velvet Swing has a light, lotion-like texture, its non-staining, and it doesn’t smell like WEED.”

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Best question ever? A tiny sixtyish woman who asked me, somewhat sternly, “But…what does it DO?” “It makes women have longer, stronger, multiple orgasms,” I told her. She broke into a smile. “All right, you have my full attention. Tell me more.”

Did I get anyone to invest in Velvet Swing? Well, they say a lady never tells. But by that calculus, there are not many ladies in the world! Let’s just say it was very definitely worth overcoming my new-business-owner nerves. Money aside, Arcview was a great overall experience for me professionally—I learned a lot about how to pitch in a really short span of time. And I started doing the one essential thing in any industry: I began building personal connections with smart, successful people in my field.

As a late registrant for this event, I was spared the ordeal of pitching up on the main stage—this time. Am I rehearsing already to get up there at the next Arcview conference I attend? Yes I am. I can’t think of a better place to do it.

Seattle Drops Fine Against Hempfest

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle has dropped a $1,000 fine against the nonprofit organization that runs HempFest, the annual summer marijuana celebration.

The city accused Seattle Events, also known as HempFest Central, of operating a marijuana business without a license in a citation in June. The citation stemmed from a private party of about 75 people that the organization held at a home on April 20.

A city inspector said he observed attendees using marijuana. However, his declaration in support of the citation did not explain how the group had operated a marijuana business in violation of city law.

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HempFest attorney Fred Diamondstone contested the fine for that reason, among others, but the city kept prosecuting the case until late Tuesday, when the Department of Finance and Administrative Services dropped the citation after The Associated Press asked why HempFest had been fined.

“It’s a head-scratcher to us,” Seattle Events President Vivian McPeak said. “It’s a private gathering with a small amount of people. They’re all adults. They brought their own cannabis. We don’t sell marijuana or anything like that.”

Recreational marijuana use is legal in Washington state for people 21 and over. Under city law, a “marijuana business” is any person or entity that grows, processes, sells or transports marijuana for gain or which “allows for consumption on their premises.” The law defines “premises” as the site of a marijuana producer, processor or retailer.

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The finance department was dropping the citation after further review and consultation with prosecutors, spokeswoman Julie Moore said in an emailed statement.

“We do not have sufficient evidence that the location where the conduct occurred meets the definition of ‘premises’ as currently defined in the Seattle Municipal Code,” Moore wrote.

She added: “Consumption on any business premises is considered a felony under state law. As such, FAS inspectors keep abreast of any event for which consumption of marijuana is advertised as a feature of an event.”

Inspectors have attended seven “cannabis-centric” events this year and issued citations at three of them, she said.

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But Diamondstone and Douglas Hiatt, another attorney who has worked with HempFest, said adults have a right to gather on private property and engage in an activity permitted by state law.

Inspectors showed up at a HempFest party in June and bought two memberships so they could check it out undercover, organizers said. They left after finding no violations, McPeak said.

HempFest , now in its 26th year, draws tens of thousands of people to the Seattle waterfront every summer. Many of them protest the federal government’s ban on the drug by smoking openly without interference from Seattle police. City officials, including Murray, former Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes, a sponsor of Washington’s legal cannabis law, have spoken at the event.

This year’s HempFest is Aug. 18-20.