As cannabis continues to prove its might as a thriving business, people may forget that the industry’s history is ripe with those who embraced marijuana as a charitable enterprise. Medical marijuana godfather Dennis Peron did not establish the San Francisco Buyer’s Club to make money, but to give those suffering from AIDS and HIV desperately needed relief.
The idea of compassionate care has long been linked with the notion of marijuana as medicine, and in that tradition, the Emerald Cup and its founder Tim Blake are preparing to give back in a big way.
While the iconic cannabis competition and festival will have plenty to celebrate when it hits the Sonoma County Fairgrounds next month, it will also be looking to help the many farmers and other industry members affected by the fires that recently ravaged Sonoma County and its surrounding areas.
Each year, the foundation selects a worthy organization to support. Past honorees have included Friends of the Eel River and Project CBD. Indeed, in Blake’s view, charity is an integral part of the Emerald Cup’s infrastructure.
“We give about 30 of our booths away each year to true nonprofits that are helping the industry,” he says. “The Emerald Cup has been giving back ever since we started, but this year we’re really stepping it up.”
A plan to support victims of the Sonoma fires includes a matching donation of up to $20,000 for funds provided by participating vendors and sponsors. $50 of every $400 entry fee paid will also be donated. Last year, the Emerald Cup had 1,200 entries, which amounts to roughly $60,000 in additional funds.
Blake is also planning an auction with 100 percent of the proceeds going to fire victims.
“We have over 500 sponsors and vendors, so it could be a very large auction,” he says. “We’ll be auctioning off really rare, unique seeds and different items people have.”
The hope is to raise close to $250,000, which will be disbursed to members of the cannabis community affected by the fires. Blake says the festival’s organizers are looking into how best to ensure the money collected reaches the right hands, but for now he says their focus is on trying to raise as much as possible.
A big reason these funds are needed is because many in the cannabis community weren’t able to procure insurance to protect their businesses.
“We know that for those cannabis people that have lost their homes, most of them don’t keep their money in bank accounts,” Blake says. “They keep their cash at home. They have their seeds and their products at home, too, and they don’t have insurance for that. If their crop was in the barns, they’ve lost it all. There’s no getting that back, because there’s no insurance — and that’s a tremendous devastation for the cannabis farmers of the region.
As focus on assisting fire victims remains front and center, the design of the Emerald Cup as a cannabis competition has also brought about new challenges for Blake. While once the competition was simply about judging flower, recent developments in the industry now means there are categories for vape cartridges, edibles, concentrates, and more. Beyond testing simply for THC and cannabinoids, the Emerald Cup now also tests for terpene profiles, pesticides, and banned chemicals.
Blake points to concentrates specifically as an area where pesticides became a major issue as the testing for the competition got underway.
“When you make concentrates, you not only concentrate the THC, but you also concentrate the pesticides,” he explains. “So all of a sudden, those things were popping up on all of our tests, and we had to do a major call-out and educate the whole industry. Nobody knew any better, and I’m not going to judge people. It doesn’t matter who you were — it matters who you are.”
More than simply a chance to crown the best cannabis in the industry, Blake sees the Emerald Cup as an opportunity for the community to come together and flex their collective power — whether that be the power to support their peers in need, or the power to change bad practices as California’s legalized marijuana market prepares to launch in January.
“We didn’t start the Emerald Cup to make money,” Blake says. “We started it to bring the community together in gathering and celebration. It’s become an educational forum, and now it’s becoming a forum to give back and really help our community. We’re honored to be in a position to do so much for the victims of the fire.”