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Pipe Dream or American Dream?

The Emerald Cup roared into Santa Rosa and crawled out with a hangover on the next-to-the last weekend in December. Two days of partying takes a toll on a body, especially if the body isn’t as limber as it once was. It takes 365 days of the year to stage the Cup, with lots of behind-the-scenes scrambling and rambling. “Working with all the vendors is like herding cats,” one of the organizers said.  At the end of the second day of the Cup, which seemed to go on forever, the pot farmers went home to Covelo, Redway, Hearst and beyond, and the pot tourists flew back to Alabama, Virginia, New Jersey, Mexico City and across the Atlantic Ocean to lands where the grass isn’t greener than it is in the hyper-taxed, super-regulated Golden State. 

This year, there was a lot to complain about and the complaints came fast and furious, though there seemed to be fewer people complaining at the Cup than ever before. The crowds were thinner, and there were not as many vendors selling grams and ounces and all kinds of “merch,” as they call it, though the vendors were bigger than in previous years. It’s called concentration of the industry. There were more products on display, products to touch, smell, buy and sell, some at discount prices, which led to long lines. Everyone loves a good deal. 

“A dope opera,” as one of the promoters called it, a giant weed emporium and a lucrative black market under the legitimate cover of the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds, the most recent Cup provided a nifty hangout where seeds changed hands, stories reverberated, folks rolled the fattest of joints, got royally stoned and stayed stoned for a couple of days. In fact, one could get stoned just breathing the air at the Fairgrounds, where one saw more people of color, more Asians, more Latinos and even more African-Americans than one sees in a whole year on Fourth Street in downtown glorious Santa Rosa. 

The mega-event has come a long way since Tim Blake, ex smuggler, real estate agent, fabulous farmer and entrepreneur extraordinaire, launched the Cup in his living room in Laytonville without the kinds of corporate sponsors who make the event possible these days. Yes, weedsters swapped stories, but the stories weren’t as wild as they once were. Encounters with code enforcement and fines don’t have the same pizzazz as clashes with cops and days in the county jail. 

Still, it was exciting to listen to “Mila,” who calls herself the “Hash Queen,” and Frenchy Cannoli, who might be described as the “Hash King,” recount their stories of the 1960s. Mila, who was born in Liverpool, England, hitchhiked to India with her three-year old daughter and lived there until she went native.  She remembered the hippies who brought hash to Morocco where it caught on. “That’s right,” Frenchy said in his inimitable French accent. “The Moroccans didn’t make hash until the late 1960s when the hippies introduced it to them.” Three cheers for the hippie vagabonds.

Oh, please, sir, bring back the days of yesterday, with tie-dye, helicopters overhead, rip-offs in the dead of night and potlucks where growers smoked weed and snorted coke until all hours of the morning. No, just joking. We have come a long way, brothers and sisters. There has been progress in the hills, the dispensary is a godsend and CBD will save your life and maybe the whole world. 

As proof of the distance the Emerald Triangle has come, think of filmmaker, Mark Kitchell, of Berkeley in the Sixties fame, who has followed a generation from gritty streets to organic farms and who was on hand with his camera to interview the usual and the not so usual suspects in preparation for a documentary about dope in the Triangle. 

It must be safe now for the pioneers, the lone wolves and the out-right outlaws to tell their stories without fear of prosecution. Statutes of limitation must be up. Maybe even Joe Munson will be the recipient of an award from Governor Gavin Newsom. After all, there was Joe handing out seeds by the thousands and urging Cupsters to grow their own, six plants maximum, even while he said, “Sometimes the cops are right about dope. It can be a menace. I don’t want my teenage son to smoke dope!” 

Fortunately no one under the age of 21 was allowed at the Cup. Boomers and millennials predominated. The generations in-between must have been home making babies or wrapping Christmas presents and stuffing stockings with rolling papers and paraphernalia. More proof of the distance we have come: the panel with Mendocino County Second District Supervisor John McCowen and Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, the former police chief, who wants the city he once tried to keep squeaky clean to become a cannabis “hub.” 

McCowen noted that while car dealerships had benefited from the Green Rush, not everyone had grown rich. Property values had declined with regulation, he said. But McCowen predicted that Mendocino would become well known for high quality cannabis and for pot tourism, too, and that the cannabis market would become an integral part of the economy of the whole county, and not remain an underground stream. 

Not long ago, NORML’s deputy director Paul Armentano said, “We make marijuana far more interesting than is warranted.” He added. “My goal is to make it boring.” That doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon in the Emerald Triangle, where growers and dealers, smokers and manufacturers, can’t get enough Cups. After years of sneaking around and whispering conversations, the idea of smoking and talking openly in public is still a novelty. 

For tourists from states like Alabama and Mississippi where it is still illegal to grow, the Cup is mind blowing. “I can’t believe it,” an African American woman from Birmingham said. “When I go back and tell friends and family what I’ve seen and heard they will think I’m making it up.” Maybe it is all a pipedream. Maybe it will all go away in a puff of smoke. Naw! Weed is now as much a part of the American Dream as baseball, mom and apple pie. And the Emerald Cup is a part of living history and a destination known around the world. 

(Jonah Raskin is the author of "Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery.")

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