Everything You Need to Know About the Cannabis Cup

2 Feb 2022
cannabis cup

If you live in an area with an abundance of cannabis , you may already know a little bit about what the High Times Cannabis Cup is. Even those living in other areas still struggling to embrace cannabsi will have some idea about this pivotal marijuana event. 

However, the Cannabis Cup is an event that is constantly evolving year to year and decade to decade, so it’s never the same, even to judges! 

Make no mistake, no matter how you experience it, it’s an event like no other, and here’s what it’s all about. 

What is the Cannabis Cup?

DENVER, CO – APRIL 20: A man samples the product at the Green Tree Medicinals booth during the High Times Cannabis Cup at Denver Mart in Denver, Colorado on April 20, 2014. Event organizers are expecting 37,000 people to attend the two day cup in Denver. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

The High Times Cannabis Cup is an event to celebrate the cannabis community. It is a competition and trade show for those in the marijuana industry and allows cannabis companies, growers, and breeders to pit their best products against each other in the hope of being crowned one of the winners. 

It’s a competition, sure, but it’s also much more than that. It’s also a celebration of marijuana culture, a festival of the green, for cannabis enthusiasts and consumers worldwide.

Not only can you sample some of the best weed flower, weed edibles, and hash in the world, but you can also get the latest industry news, attend seminars, panels, concerts, and expositions, as well as experience some good old-fashioned fun stoner activities. 

If you are in the market for some new gadgets or a new glass piece, you can almost always find special offers for members of the community at the Cup!

How Did the Cannabis Cup Begin?

The High Times Cannabis Cup began in 1988 and was organized by the now ex-editor of High Times, Steven Hager. On Thanksgiving, it was originally held in Amsterdam at an underground site to minimize unwanted exposure to the authorities and the news. 

Since then, it has evolved multiple times and expanded to be held in various countries and across the US.

There are now Cannabis Cups held in Southern California, Northern California, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, and even Arizona (which saw Alien Labs crush it in the 2021 Arizona Cannabis Cup with their green winning both indica and sativa bud divisions). 

Though the Cup had some trouble in Amsterdam during a raid in 2011, it is still held there when local legislation permits; there are also International Cannabis Cups held elsewhere in Europe and Jamaica. 

The High Times Cannabis Cup has become so popular that it has spawned imitation competitions, which we’ll explore further below! 

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery

There are other competitions like the Emerald Cup that give awards for the best marijuana grown, but the Emerald Cup (not to be confused with the Emerald Triangle!) is more of a cultivation festival celebrating the fall marijuana harvest. 

In addition to the Emerald Cup, there is also the Hash Bash, National Cannabis Festival geared toward the DC market, and the Mile High 4/20 Fest.

While all of them celebrate the love of the green, none of them can begin to approach the expansiveness or popularity of the Cannabis Cup.

What Are The Categories?

weed competition
Enthusiasts flock to the High Times Cannabis Cup at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Calif. Saturday, June 3, 2017. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

While many tokers and smokers (ourselves included) would likely only be interested in finding out what the best weed strain is but over the years, the cannabis landscaped has grown and developed to almost completely overshadow what it once was.

With new cannabis concentrates and extracts being created every year, the Cannabis Cup also had to evolve to keep up with all the new innovations.

In the next section, you’ll see how the event has evolved over time to accommodate new cannabis cultivators and categories of cannabis products.

The Early Cannabis Cup

The first Cannabis Cups were fairly straightforward events. The early categories included:

  • Cannabis Cup (Best overall bud)
  • Best Nederhash Award (Best hash made in the Netherlands)
  • Best Import Hash Award (Best hash from anywhere else).

The Amsterdam-based event focused on cannabis competitors and producers in Europe and the surrounding areas in its early stages. Beginning in 1988, it would take the organizers many years before the proper rules, regulations, and logistics would be ready to accommodate more international players and contestants. 

Modern Cannabis Cup Categories

The modern High Times Cannabis Cup has grown to cover seven total areas of cannabis industry expertise. They are:

  • Cannabis Cup (Overall winner)
  • Indica Cup (Best indica flower)
  • Sativa Cup (Best sativa flower)
  • Best Nederhash
  • Best Import Hash
  • Product Cup (Best new product or device)
  • Best Booth (Also known as Expo Cup, for outstanding booth design)

The so-called ‘modern’ cannabis cup will eventually come to be replaced by the People’s Choice Edition of the event in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

High Times Cannabis Cup: People’s Choice Edition

The People’s Choice Edition will be High Time’s largest iteration of the event. Spanning over 10 categories across multiple states and countries, this event is designed to allow the average cannabis consumer to weigh in on the competition.

While normally 28-35 individuals are selected to judge the competition, High Times has opened up the floor by offering 228 kits for each individual category in each state to allow the opportunity for everyone to weigh in on their decisions. 

On their official website, “The People’s Choice Editions are a new model that will continue High Times’ trend of bringing its signature series of cannabis product competitions online in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, without any live events or gatherings.”

According to the event organizers, the People’s Choice edition will be “the first-ever Cannabis Cups that are open to the public in each state that the competition is executed, and will see the largest pool of judges in history. For licensed brands, this is a sampling dream to get your products into the hands of hundreds of new customers who will provide feedback on your entries from home, plus thousands of impressions.”

The categories for the new people’s choice format can differ, but the most common ones are:

  • Best Indica Flower
  • Best Hybrid Flower
  • Best Sativa Flower
  • Best Sungrown Flower
  • Best Pre-Rolls (Infused and Non-Infused)
  • Best Solvent Concentrates
  • Best Non-Solvent Concentrates
  • Best Vape Pens and Cartridges
  • Best Edibles: Gummies
  • Best Edibles: Non-Gummy Food Items
  • Best Topicals, Tinctures, Capsule

How Are The Cannabis Cup Winners Determined?

weed cup

The early cups were judged very differently from some of the first cups that came to BC and the US, and different still from the recent Cups that have been held over the last year or two. They were decided by an in-house panel of judges, which sample deliberate and cast their vote for the winners with the Cannabis Cup going to the overall winner in the flower category.

Cannabis Cup: The Early Years

The first Cannabis Cups were not incredibly large events and were judged in-house. The judging panel would gather in Amsterdam at the RAI or the Melkweg Club to try the top-shelf green provided by the contestants, and vote for the winner. 

For some of the first Cups, the only recorded past winners were those who won overall. This went on for a few years until the event began attracting more interest and attention, which brought it into its next stage of evolution.

Modern Cannabis Cup Judging

Until the recent pivot to distributed judging, the winners of each category were decided by a panel of esteemed VIP judges. These would often be celebrities like Willie Nelson, Joe Rogan, Alex Grey, and B-Real, or big names in the hemp or cannabis space like Ben Dronkers, Snoop Dogg, and Tommy Chong, and would convene at the Cup event. These 25-35 judges would privately test and evaluate the bud provided by local dispensaries and growers, then rate them and cast their official votes.

Cannabis Cup: People’s Choice Edition

The recent events of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and quarantines forced the Cup organizers to pivot to a people’s choice model. 

When the event couldn’t be held in a way that allowed the traditional attendees and judges to attend, for the first time it was changed to let a limited number of people purchase judge kits and vote for the winners themselves. These judge kits would allow anyone who could afford the reasonable cost of the kit, to obtain samples of all of the entries for a particular category.

For example, if you wanted to judge flower, you would receive a judge kit that had a 1g sample of every contestant’s green goods from that division, the same goes for flower and food divisions. You try all of the samples in your kit, rank them, and cast your votes virtually. 

To ensure that all of the entrants’ products are safe and suitable for consumption, all products entered in Cannabis Cup competitions are tested at independent laboratories. These testing services are also used to record the THC and CBD content of the marijuana for the flower categories.

Can I Buy Cannabis Cup Winning Strains? 

Many of the award-winning strains from past and more recent competitions are all available for purchase here at Cannabismo!

Below, you’ll find a list of strains that have all won first place!

A Celebration of Cannabis For All

The Cannabis Cup winners have gone on to become some of the most well-known strains of green. Strains like Super Lemon Haze (2008/2009 winner), Tangerine Dream (2010 winner), Super Silver Haze (1998/1999 winner), and Cheese (a phenotype of Skunk #1, the 1988 winner) were all rocketed to superstardom following their wins. If you have a Cannabis Cup coming to your area, stay tuned and grab a judges kit if you can, so you join the best award show in the marijuana business! 

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