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I Was an Official Cannabis Cup Judge

This week I flew to Denver to judge the weed contest with the 'High Times' OGs.
April 20, 2014, 10:28pm

Every time I travel to Denver, I start my trip with an edible and a Xanax, which I consume discreetly at LaGuardia Airport. Exactly one year ago, I flew to Denver to attend the first truly legal Cannabis Cup in America and film a documentary about BHO. This week, I traveled to the Cannabis Cup for a different job—rating 38 different sativa strains as an official Cannabis Cup judge.

Judging the Cup has been a dream for most of my life. I’ve always smoked a decent amount of weed, but have never had enough variety of pot to be picky. Leading up to my trip, several friends asked me how it’s possible to smoke strains one after the other and then judge their different effects. As I learned in a crash course from the guys at High Times magazine, it’s not only about the high. The flavor, texture, and appearance are all judged as well, and the winners are the ones who score well in all the categories. Also, when you regularly smoke a lot of weed, the strong initial high doesn’t last as long. I figured it would be easy to fairly judge each strain if I took a 15-minute break after I smoked each strain.


After I arrived in Denver, I checked into my hotel, picked up my rental car, and bolted to the secret address High Times sent me the previous week. I had arrived two days later than the other judges, so I was the last guy to pick up my strains. I always imagined the Cannabis Cup judge’s kit would be a small wooden chest filled with uniformly packaged strains and just the right amount of papers and crutches. What I received was ten times more awesome.

As soon as I reached the house, Danny Danko handed me a cardboard box filled with different containers. There were different shapes and sizes of medical containers, glass jars, and zip bags filled with different buds. Each had a label that said “sativa” and was numbered one through 38. I sat down on the couch and opened a random jar that smelled incredible. I was already overwhelmed by the buds’ quality, but I had to stay level in front of the High Times OGs. I didn’t want to geek out. I twisted up a nice big joint and sparked it—the first smoke of the day is always the clearest high, so this was my most accurate rating. The guys told me to base my ratings on the distinct sativa qualities of each sample, favoring the lush, citrus-flavored strains over the ones with a Kush smell. After smoking spliffs for so many years, I struggled to detect the subtle flavors in the strains of weed. I had to concentrate hard through one pure joint after another to get the full bouquet of each strain. As I smoked each strain, I rated its aspects in an app on my phone. Every time I rated a strain, the app marked it as done, so I could see how many I had left to grade. After four strains at the house, I decided to grab a handful of strains from the box and enlist the help of a couple of Denver homies.

The Chamberlain brothers were my first guides through cannabis culture in Denver, and I hang out with them every time I come to town. (Both of them are extensively experienced with the plant.) Along with Bobby, another VICE writer who was writing a story in Denver, they were the perfect backup squad for my three-day weed testing frenzy. With their help, I managed to get all of my scores in by the deadline. The next test was seeing if the other judges agreed with my ratings. Weed’s taste is subjective, but I was still hoping the group would validate my selections. When I met with the other judges on the final day, I waited to hear from them before making suggestions. Everyone selected a couple of obvious contenders. Another judge and I selected one strain as the best, and we advocated for the strain during deliberations. After taking a look at the buds, the group agreed to choose it as the second best strain. Incidentally, that other judge was Shawn Russ, the first kid to ever divorce his parents. He has excellent taste in weed.


Once the meeting adjourned, we all stepped out and smoked some of the winners before parting ways. We now had the consensus of the whole panel and could spend the rest of the week smoking all the best strains. Since then I’ve been rolling up joints, smoking half of them, and then passing them off to friendly strangers I meet at the festival. Everyone I’ve shared with takes one hit and recognizes the quality, but one guy at the 4/20 rally had a spiritual experience.

I was sitting on the grass at Civic Center Park and smoking with the Chamberlains when a guy in Chicago sports gear invited us to join him and his friends. They had arrived in Denver a couple of hours before and were having their first legal smoke. We rolled up a joint of one of the top strains and passed it to the guy. The second he took a hit, he howled and then coughed up a lung. In between coughs, he strained to tell us how amazing our weed was. His coughing fit continued for several minutes. When it was finally over, he had tears in his eyes. He pointed to his tears and said, “You see this? Look how happy that made me. These are tears of joy.” Then he whipped out his cell phone, said, “This is a moment to remember, right here,” and snapped a selfie of his tearful face. I shot a photo of him taking the selfie.

People were smoking pretty freely at the rally, but there were a lot of cops and private security guards walking around and hassling people, so we took off and left the rest of our sample with the crying guy. A few minutes later, I realized that I no longer had my wallet. We searched around to no avail. I had to call it a day so that I could deal with the aftermath of being nearly 2,000 miles from home without an ID or an ATM card. As a result, Bobby has to feed me for the next 24 hours. The only thing open late around here is fast food drive-throughs, so we hit up a Taco Bell. After waiting behind five cars, the voice on the speaker told us that the guy in front of us had bought the last tacos they had in stock. He saved our night by telling us Wendy’s was across the street.

As we pulled up to Wendy’s, I smoked the strain that won my judging category. The guy ringing us up noticed the lit joint and said, “You couldn’t wait 15 minutes, huh?” I looked at the clock and realized that it was 11:45 PM on April 19. Another Wendy’s employee came up behind him and said, “That smells good!” Bobby grabbed the joint and held it out to him. He leaned out the service window, took a few hits, and passed it back to us. “Wow! That is really good. It’s… piney,” he said. I was kicking myself for not getting a picture of his hit. A second later, Bobby said, “One more!” and the guy leaned back out for another hit. Again I failed to get my phone to take a picture. The guy gave us our food, and we pulled away. “Shit, I wish I got a picture of that,” I said. “That’s why I told him to hit it a second time,” Bobby said. “I got that shit on video.”

Now it’s officially 4/20, and I’m without cash, cards, and ID. What I do have is a shit ton of amazing sativa strains and a VIP wristband to the Cannabis Cup. I may be in a tough spot, but I’m still going to have the best damn 4/20 ever, and I sincerely hope you do too.

Happy 4/20, everyone!

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