Tacoma, Washington → Santa Rosa, California
It was almost midnight as we loaded our gear into a rented Ford Expedition. The trip from Tacoma, Washington to Santa Rosa, California, would be just over 12 hours if we made good time. Our destination: the Northern California Cannabis Cup. The roads were empty as we slipped onto I-5 heading south, and the sun was already rising when we said goodbye to Oregon, crossing the northern border into California. A large metal sign announced our entrance. Famed as much for its green rush as its gold rush, California is no stranger to cannabis, and I am no stranger to Nor Cal.
Growing up in small-town Colorado, the young writer in me yearned for more adventure, and I found it the summer before my fifteenth birthday. Summoning together my courage and my life savings at the time, a small fortune just under $300 dollars, I purchased myself a one-way bus ticket bound for Weed, CA, recruited by a friend, lured along by promises of beautiful Nor Cal girls and an abundance of cannabis—two things in short supply in the quaint farming town of Delta, Colorado.
We made good time as we continued our journey south, and it wasn’t long before the familiar sight of Mt. Shasta came into view. Looming like a snow-covered guardian of the North, the mountain marked the entrance into California’s sacred land; a beautiful and mysterious place known for its rich traditions and strong cannabis culture. It was here that a young runaway would find his place in the world, and seeing this familiar giant stirred up old memories of my childhood.
“The mountain marked the entrance into California’s sacred land; a beautiful and mysterious place known for its rich traditions and strong cannabis culture”
Growing cannabis is a way of life here, and there was no shortage of work to be found back then, even for a boy of fifteen. The Emerald Triangle had brought fame to the region, much of it unwanted if you talked to the old timers who spent their summers deep in the hills, but the spirit of the Emerald Triangle extended much further than the three counties of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity, reaching its green tentacles all the way from Shasta to Stockton.
We continued our push south, the pine trees eventually giving way to giant, lumbering redwoods as we turned off I-5 to link up with the Oil Ranch crew in Guerneville, a tiny town situated high in the foothills outside of Santa Rosa, where the festivities were set to begin the following day. The party was in full swing when we arrived, and we fell in place with the others alongside the fire, happy to be off the road. Rising with the sun the next morning, we were back on the freeway, excited for the day to come.
As we arrived at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, we ran into third generation Farmer Crockett, Owner and Founder of Crockett Family Farms. “Cannabis in California has a lot longer history,” he explained as we spoke during setup. “We have seed lines that go all around the world, businesses in Amsterdam, Spain, Chile and the United States. The cannabis industry is emerging into a multi-billion-dollar industry.” He paused to instruct an employee, then continued: “The small guys should be able to grow as much as they can consume, or more. I’m against limits—I’m for the small guy—but I’m also a capitalist. If you got a good product, you should be able to build a business as big as you can build it.”
The Northern California sun was already rising high in the sky when the gates opened at noon, and visitors to the cannabis cup began to file in. We asked attendee Marty Hoyt why he came out for the cup. “I consider this the event of my lifetime,” he replied. “A year here wouldn’t be enough time for me to be satisfied. I will be trying to partake in any cannabis cup I can.”
Grower and activist, Adam Orenstein, AKA Kyle Kushman, creator of the infamous strain “Strawberry Cough,” was also on hand representing his Veganics line of nutrients. Seeing our company gear, he happily exclaimed, “What up, DOPE!” The mood turned festive as the cup began to take full swing. “I don’t like semantics. I like honesty and truth and integrity. Now we can all be honest businessmen,” he said, motioning to the sprawl of booths around us. “That’s what it’s about. You know what I want to say to all the people—the doubters, the haters, whatever you want to call them? There’s a bunch of real estate out there, and if people like you and me and the good people of this community don’t take up this real estate, then all the bad guys are going to take it.”
The energy at the cup is palpable: cannabis in Northern California means possibility. The possibility for change. The possibility for growth and economic mobility. At the end of the day, America was a Monopoly board, and all the squares had hotels on them. Cannabis was a new square, something like Park Place, and for the time being it belonged to the people that had fought for it.
As the sun set on the final day of the cup, I was left with mixed feelings about the future of Nor Cal cannabis. Would small-plot farming in the hills be sustainable when weed was being grown by the acre next to the grapes below, and by companies investing millions of dollars to stake their claim in California’s green rush? Preparing for the long ride home, I was reminded of the optimistic words of famous hash maker Frenchy Cannoli earlier that day: “You have something in California that is unique, the France Bordeaux region of cannabis. You have legalization—now you have to use it.”
For more of Jonah Tacoma, visit: www.dabstars.com | Instagram: @jonah_tacoma