Emerald Cup Gets the Willies

Willie Nelson joins Gogol Bordello, Lyrics Born, and Jay and Silent Bob — plus the top weed purveyors on the planet — at next week’s annual Emerald Cup in Sonoma.

Jay and Silent Bob are the latest big names added to the lineup for the 2018 Emerald Cup, as Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes will reprise their schtick in a new act called “Jay and Silent Bob Get Old.” Those jokers join an all-star lineup that already includes Big Gigantic, Gogol Bordello, and Sound Tribe Sector 9 at the 15th annual Emerald Cup (Dec. 15-16, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds), the largest and most respected outdoor cannabis competition in the world.

It’s so large and well respected that Willie Nelson is on the road again to come, too.

This year’s marijuana mega-show also includes performances from Berkeley rapper Lyrics Born, New Orleans icons the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and scratch DJ Cut Chemist, among many more. Emerald Cup founder and longtime Mendocino cannabis grower Tim Blake tells SF Evergreen how he books all these great acts every year.

“They’re all excited to receive judges’ packs full of cannabis samples from the contest,” he says.

That contest, a series of about two dozen prestigious Emerald Cup prizes awarded in categories from Best in Show Flower to Best Edibles, Topicals, Concentrates, and Tinctures, started in 2003 as a secret underground competition among outlaw Emerald Triangle growers. Now, it’s a public bud bazaar that attracts 30,000 stoners. And yes, you can buy and smoke the products in competition.

“We do have a legal permit to allow consumption to take place,” Blake says, “and for legal sales of cannabis and cannabis products.”

The only other event that has allowed onsite consumption in the legal cannabis era is the High Times Cup, but that event is a touring franchise, not a homegrown happening. And that event had its most recent Northern California permit denied, showing how tough it is to get that precious on-site pot-smoking permission.

Longtime fatty festival attendees may wonder what the big deal is, since we’ve been smoking out at cup events for years. But the new recreational-cannabis laws are a whole lot stricter on events, because literally anyone over 21 can attend. Under the old, pre-2018 medical marijuana ID system, anyone could get in as long as they had their card.

Just last year, the Emerald Cup had doctors lined up out front to issue and sell medical marijuana cards — cards that would only be useful for three more weeks, until the Jan. 1 adult-use laws kicked in. The price of doing cannabis events has gotten much steeper since.

“We’ve had to add a couple of hundred thousand dollars to the budget, just to pay for our lobbyists, and to cover all the added expense of producing a legally compliant event,” according to Blake.

But the Emerald Cup did not need lobbyists or piles of permits to get this year’s guest of honor, Willie Nelson. It’s his first-ever appearance at a major cannabis festival.

“We’re extremely proud to announce that Willie Nelson will be joining us to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award,” Blake says. “Willie has graciously offered to allow us to permanently change the name of the award to the ‘Willie Nelson Award.’ ”

This year’s Emerald Cup caps off a chaotic 2018, a well-earned celebration for the cannabis industry that’s survived a mixed bag of pot luck.

“Whether you’re a cultivator, product maker, manufacturer, or distributor, this year has had a rough learning curve with the new ways of doing business legally and keeping businesses afloat while wading through all the changes,” Blake reflects. “It’s been an expensive and stressful situation to live through.”

If you want to sample the best from the businesses who’ve survived these ups and downs, look to the green grass of Sonoma County for the 2018 Emerald Cup.

The Emerald Cup, Thursday and Friday, Dec. 15-16, at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, $65-$499; theemeraldcup.com