High Times Cannabis Cup: When It Comes to Branding, Humboldt Lost This Round

HIgh times cup from Emerald TribuneThis article first appeared in a new publication devoted to cannabis, the Emerald Tribune.  (Follow them on Facebook for more cannabis news.) The article is reprinted here with their gracious permission.

High Times Cannabis Cup Nor Cal featured hundreds of vendors and entertained thousands of guests. It was a snapshot of the national cannabis scene right now, and previewed things to come for the industry.

The first thing that struck me as I walked up to the fairgrounds was the absence of a huge line to get in. There was a line, of course, but nothing compared to the horde of people waiting for Emerald Cup.

We weren’t quite sure where the line to enter ended and the will-call line began, so our group walked towards the gate. We passed through a lackadaisical bag-check before we entered without showing our tickets.

The first thing to greet us was a handful of scantily clad young ladies. Although the presence of these beautiful young ladies undoubtedly boosted both morale and sales, it did highlight the twinge of awkwardness around the “Medical” aspect of the “Medical Cup.”



To make things worse, the next thing we came across were dense, long, lines of people waiting to get 215 Medical Recommendations. While the seminars and many vendors lay outside of the 215 area, the vast majority of the event was in the smoking section.

“Attendees came predominantly from Central and Southern California.”

Long, thin, black, CO2 oil pens seemed like the weapon of choice at this cup. Extracts and value-added secondary manufacturing products loomed large over meager flower displays. It felt a little bit like a trim and shake show, since extracts and infused products were so dominant.

One vendor explained this as due to market pressure from High Times’ demographic. They explained that attendees came predominantly from Central and Southern California. These markets have a greater taste for oil and vape cartridges than for bud and flower. I was surprised to hear this at the Nor Cal Cup.


Security oscillated between negligent and strident. Our team was able to enter and re-enter the event on three separate occasions without showing our tickets to a single soul. The entrance to the 215 area was frequently unsupervised. Meanwhile, the VIP and Super VIP barns were jealously guarded by most security personnel.

“There didn’t appear to be any good reason to congregate in the VIP area”

High Times decided to segregate their customers by willingness to pay, separating the “Very Important” and the “Super Very Important” from the merely “General.”

VIP sign

Two main buildings and their courtyards were sectioned off for the exclusive use of VIP. During the Emerald Cup, these massive exposition barns hosted expert panel discussions. High Times filled them with ski ball tables and streamers.

One kind security guard gave us access to the VIP barn. There were a few dozen people inside. Perks included lounge chairs, a live DJ, mini water bottles, and a variety of table games.

“I was surprised to hear that vendors were also held to a hierarchy of pay.”

Later, when I confidently walked into the same building from a different entrance, the young woman working security at that door screamed at me from across the barn, ejecting me and directing me to the general admittance bathrooms.

There didn’t appear to be any good reason to congregate in the VIP area, unless you were in desperate need of some shade. If you came to socialize with other stoners, most of them were outside, somewhere in the maze of vendors. If you wanted to play some foosball and feel exclusive, then perhaps you would have been satisfied. Of course, if you wanted to attend the concerts, you had no choice but to pay for VIP tickets.

VIP int

We were utterly rejected at the entrance to the Super VIP area. Our white photo wristbands were insufficient. We lacked any regular entry wristbands, since nobody ever checked our tickets at the door.

I was surprised to hear that vendors were also held to a hierarchy of pay. VIP vendors paid more for preferential access to parking, unloading, and other back-end functions.

“The atmosphere was distinctly customer-facing, and the emphasis was on buying and selling.”

Was the $420 Super VIP weekend pass really 367% more awesome than the $90 general experience? Without seeing the concerts and the gift bags, it’s hard to say. Outside of the VIP Barns, there were few opportunities for free fun and entertainment.

Compared to other cannabis festivals, freebies and giveaways were hard to come by. The atmosphere was distinctly customer-facing, and the emphasis was on buying and selling. Vendors offering freebies attracted long lines with bold advertising.


For all the drawbacks of this event, there were also plenty of successes that made it fun. There was tons of cool signage, electric trees, and other perfect areas for photo ops and selfies. Aside from some lapses in security, the event was well-organized.

“It felt like stepping into an issue of High Times Magazine come to life.”

Growers and other supply-side folks got a chance to check out tons of niche new trade show brands. There were electric trimming knives, sustainable packaging for retail, and millions of new ways to cure your product.

Inside the massive 215 area, popup tents seemed to stretch on for miles. It felt like stepping into an issue of High Times Magazine come to life. For many of the biggest brands, the salespeople were not involved in the business, and could not answer any tough questions about the company. Real Humboldt companies sent authentic representation.


High-gloss big brands got sunny grassy outdoor booths located close to entrances. Smaller and newer companies were relegated to the dusty corners of the cow barn, or the far reaches of the field. Compared to brands from LA and the Bay Area, Humboldt and the Emerald Triangle were poorly represented.

As usual, there were a handful of companies with Humboldt in their name, who were unable to explain their connection to our region. The biggest and most eye-catching example was Humboldt County Wholesale.

LA brands selling swag and a company called Humboldt County Wholesale


Emerald Triangle brands will have to accept the inevitable loss of market space if they don’t make their presence known to this audience. When it comes to branding, Humboldt lost this round. Does our future lie in sending our commodity elsewhere, for SoCal gangsters and Bay Area techies to market to their niche segment?

The High Times Cannabis Cup Nor Cal was a preview of what’s to come for the industry. The biggest brands get the best seat at the table. Cannabis sativa is completely commodified and monetized down to the last digit. Music and culture is divorced from cannabis. SoCal culture creeps north.



  • And so it goes. (Sniff, tear.)

  • Humboldt has always failed at branding. Most smokers want OG, or derivatives, and don’t care where it comes from. With mega grows all over the state, closer to urban areas, Humboldt has become irrelevant.

  • I am glad to see that you are looking at this situation critically, Kym! I love your blog but get concerned about your perpetual optimism (“everything about weed and legalization is wonderful” attitude). As you may not know (as many major business plans are hidden until revealed) the High Times corporation was a major funder of the “legalization” proposition and they have plans on bringing their NYC investment partners into some huge corporate farms in CA. What you saw at this Cannabis Cup is only the tip of the iceberg. Look again at that girl on the left wearing only pasties on her nipples. That is the gold standard of cannabis marketing! Consider the geographic location of Santa Rosa and its amenities vs. Garberville or Eureka. Our time is over. We will recede into history as the place where it used to be. There is no holding back the forces that have been unleashed. Saddest part is that we knowingly and willfully gave it away and encouraged our own loss. The loss of prestige is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars a year we will not see anymore. It will affect everybody here. As the big fish eat up all the small fish…

    • Not my article. I just shared it.

    • There is hope tho, the folks making medicine and concentrates need clean herb. We have lots of amazing organic growers here, many with 40 years experience. These are not the people out advertising themselves. To many its still a foreign thing, many are having ptsd flashbacks from camp dayz and wish to stay small high quality growers. If you use a biz like dirty business, you have a documented recipe of whats going in your soil. We need to be out educating the public on what chemicals persist and then are transformed to carcinogens when burned. There is a huge difference of what can safely be used in organic food farming vs. cannabis.

      Hopefully Humboldt Made will be able to help the pot industry follow their model. Im curious how we can legally stop non-local biz who use the humboldt name, like if wine was made in san diego and labeled Napa.

      We arent even at the official legal start of legalization yet, the market will shift and we may as well dream big and hope for the best. We have opportunities, our knowledge base is off the charts here. We’re all just used to it. If you feel drawn to educate others on good sustainable farming of any kind, please go for it!!

      • Yikes! Pot is NOT medicine, it is a gateway drug, a party substance, a lifestyle choice. Growing it is an aberration, an accidental occupation, and a very hard habit to shake. I certainly hope you all get sober and clean some day and realize that you ruined a world class beautiful place and wasted your life getting AFU. Good luck in your future endeavors, you will need it. The pot will now be grown outside Bakersfield and Yuba City, all up and down the state, by Hispanic labor and East Indian farmers. Kiss it goodbye, Humganistan! You totally blew your chance!

  • Well written and, sadly, true.

  • Adapt and concur…

    • Thank you gazoo. Been doing it since the 80s. ” if the system fails you…..create your own system!”

  • I will say that this humboldt county wholesale is in no way affiliated with Humboldt Wholesale who was proudly at the Summer Arts and Music Festival at Benbow last weekend . Humboldt Wholesale is a local business out of Arcata, that sells Gardening Supplies only, including House and Garden Nutrients which is produced locally right here in Northern Humboldt County.
    Humboldt Wholesale, in conjunction with House and Garden Nutrients, support local events and activities and is currently a Benefactor, Sponsor, and supporter of the Mateel Community Center.
    Support Local Business!

  • As I’ve always said… weed is not going to be able to support the county in the long run. We need actual industry.

    • I agree with that!!

    • Honeydew Bridge C.H.U.M.P.

      A factory that builds battle cyborgs which can be released to eradicate marijuana grows, pit bulls, [edit], and teach Bible verses on Sundays….


      • Whats crazy about you and your ignorant rants, is if you were a muslim spewing your hatred, you would have your door kicked in and your teeth knocked down your throat by the US government. You are allowed to spew your nonsense, because its seems harmless. I view it differently. You should be on a watch list for extremist. You are no different in my opinion.

  • Sounds like a yawn…

  • fakeemail@gmail.com

    high times is complete horseshit

  • I wonder, did the “Super VIP” pass come complete with a cape and a sidekick?

  • General statement. Ofcourse the biggest brands get the best seat at the table. Capitalism and cannabis. The big guys will squash the competition. Whoever pays the government the most in taxes gets the big corporate tax breaks along with back door shady dealings offering loopholes exclusive to the money makers. Big money in pot and California is cashing in…. unfortunately only a small bit will go to the communities in our area. Or to renewable energy in our area.

  • Thanks for writing this, Kym. But you didn’t tell us where this was. Is that not important?

    • I didn’t write it. I shared it from another publication with their permission. But I didn’t notice that the place wasn’t given. It was at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds near Santa Rosa on June 3rd and 4th.

  • Humboldt growers are more focused on destroying our lands and the bottom line. They don’t care about marketing. Humboldt sells itself. That’s until others steal the name and water down Humboldt appeal.

  • Same old same old

    These Cups are bullshit. No entrant can prove he grew the weed he enters. I know a weed dealer that takes buds out of other people’s pounds and enters them as his own. He’s even won before. He’s doing it to ” build his brand.” This pseudo weed life people are living is a crack up. Bunch of scammers.

  • Find me in the same shade of the same tree.. forever loving Nah

  • Jorge Cervantes

    I’m personally glad to see the Emerald Family Flammers didn’t win in any of the categories.😂 It shows when we have local competitions they obviously have influence💰💰💰 with who wins. [edit]🤑You can’t be blowing up 100 lighter diesel scenes on the hill one week and next week your a 🐟SALMON SAFE grower🤡Now that the BULGARIANS 🇧🇬took over your spot. That just doesn’t work for the rest of us really paying attention! Your renner⛽️bill clearly speaks for itself.

    • EMF is a fracking scam of the system. I love how these young kids and some older people are drinking the Kool-Aide. Only a handful of people within the scam are benefiting financially. They use all the their “collective members” to plant more plants and to make more money for themselves, not the collective members. EMF members seem like cowards that can’t stand on their own. What a joke!

  • Nate and nick Diaz won best of show? Wtf? Gimme a friggin break!

  • How can you say this honestly? Trinity County was represented👍 Terry’s Trinity Alps Farm had more give always than anyone period! Hundreds of shirts, pens, Rosin, and Flower! We’re we’re you. Oh yeah, hanging in the VIP area.

    • Jorge Cervantes

      Fl 198
      Lab test failed pesticide
      Underdog og
      By Terry’s Trinity Alps Farm

      Does anyone remember?
      How can we trust marijuana producers who enter organic cups with pesticide entries in the past?

      • Handing out free cancer, nice.

      • Had 4 things tested wasn”t consistent. Gave up trying to get SC to fix the problem. Clean green certified! Check their web site.

      • I know the way to get rid of the compition. I think SC is the one with many false results. I haven’t went out to try and undermine their company. They are huge and to big to fight. The did a great job of letting everyone through at last years Emerald Cup with out labs. So their reputation at Emerald Cups is not very good right now. We all make mistakes and no one I know is perfect. Why are you hating so much on the Emerald Triangle?

  • Typical, High Times has lost all credibility for me, their cups favor indoor, hype, and chemical laden flower, and their events have been money hungry shit shows for years. Most Humboldt weed doesn’t need hype or titties to keep its place in the market, so why be a part of an event that does?

  • What’s really sad is, four of those breasts look fake.

  • Gorilla In The Mist

    High Times = Fake News
    I feel sorry for everyone who has purchased this rag in the last 25 years.

  • Oh this article is grand… “Was the $420 Super VIP weekend pass really 367% more awesome than the $90 general experience? Without seeing the concerts and the gift bags, it’s hard to say.” Too funny. What I’ve noticed in Oregon is that the brands that come from more of the glossy business world and the brands who are industry vets are very split. Industry vets don’t know how to brand, and glossy city biz brands don’t know anything about “real” cannabis or the the subtle undertones of whats been going on in the underground for the last 30 years or how that affects their current business. Its an odd melting pot of people who don’t really quite understand each other. I hope that the Humboldt farmers can get together with the right (integral) people who really understand the branding and business side of things. The Emerald Triangle should be the dominating influence, but thats only going to happen if people can figure out how to fully come out of the shadows and “do this thing”.

  • Isn’t Humboldt Wholesale the parent company of Northcoast Horticultural Supply? Please clarify if you know.

  • NotBitterButBetter

    Humboldt Wholesale AKA: “The Family Garden Supply ” is by no
    means a company that sells primarily ‘locally’ made products. Humboldt wholesale is owned by Steve Mueller an entrepreneur who lives in Las Vegas, and House and Garden nutrients are manufactured in Europe from Chinese metal salts made by a spin- off of Canna Nutrients that is located in the Netherlands. Humboldt Wholesale allowed, and I suspect encouraged, one of their owner’s friends company from Hawaii, “Ohana Garden Supply” (ironically, ” Ohana means “family”) to hijack my local brand and website and did nothing to help me recover it. Humboldt Wholesale sells hydroponic related hardware that is primarily manufactured in China. Humboldt Wholesale encouraged a guy from West Virginia to move to my town in 2007 and open a hydro-shop near my local garden store, that my wife and I and my son, a marine who had just returned from Iraq, and started with my own money, then stuffed their shelves with cheap Chinese products at really low prices in order to try to put me out of business simply because I wouldn’t show deference to them. Humboldt Wholesale allowed this new garden shop to smear my company in the local newspapers and on Craigslist, etc claiming we were ‘gauging our customers’ and inflating prices and did nothing to stop them. That is the classic Mafia style of business that caused me and my family and the families of my employees major financial hardship. It also made it nearly impossible for my business to continue to provide free and reduced prices for organic and locally produced products directly to the local schools, churches, food banks, homeless shelter, community gardens, etc. I vowed to tell the story every chance I got so here I go again Steve. You never made it right with me. No apology from you, no mercy from me. Fortunately, that new garden shop finally went out of business a few months ago and the carpet baggers from West Virginia and Humboldt Wholesale were finally run out on a rail. They even had the audacity to ask us if we would buy their shelving and fixtures and the old dusty remnants of their cheap Chinese crap. Fortunatly, we survived and are paying our bills by selling primarily locally produced products, like certified organic compost and locally manufactured and packaged potting soil and still provide our local food producers and educators the garden products they need to do the good work they do. Good does triumph over evil. Those guys thought they could come in with their heavy-handed tactics and make me kiss their ring. Not this time.

    • Not sure you are telling facts. NHS came before Humboldt Wholesale. NHS is a Family Hydro franchise. House and Garden is now made in Humboldt and yes it is overpriced crap. What was the name of your store?

      • NotBitterButBetter

        I’m telling the truth. Steve Gieter knows this all too well. When I confronted him at the Emerald Cup, he looked like he saw a ghost. They are “the family hydroponics” and if Van Der Swaan (owned by William Van Der Swaan), the manufacturer of House and Garden, is a local company, I’ll drink a quart of their poison swill. http://www.house-garden.us/
        Clearly says “Distributed by Humboldt Wholesale” not manufactured by Humboldt Wholesale. Here’s a YouTube video of their production facility in Amsterdam https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=loqnINUMgmk. Notice the happy locals pleasantly affixing organic paper labels? NOT! It’s a giant mega factory fully automated where they brag about how few people it takes to make the product. If Amsterdam is in Humboldt County, I’ll drink two quarts. Now you can apologize for calling my integrity into question. And I’m not telling you the name of my store because those hippy gangsters have already tried to put me out of business once. Ask Steve Gieter.

      • NotBitterButBetter

        Here’s a snapshot from Mr. Gieder’s LinkedIn profile that proves that they distribute, not manufacture, Van Der Swaan nutrients and that in fact, they are the “Family Hydroponics.” “Arcata, California – ‎Connection to the Cannabis Industry – ‎House and Garden Nutrients
        Family Hydroponics is a national venue for growers created by growers. … Humboldt Wholesale is proud to be the U.S. distributor of House & Garden Nutrients …”. So, yes these are facts. Please share with the group your facts that refute mine. Here’s another fact: I am still in business and they were run out of town on a rail. Now about your apology…

        • A little sensitive? I said “not sure you are telling the facts”. I have read several articles talking about the cannabis industry in Humboldt and it had mentioned H&G being manufactured in Humboldt. Wasn’t there a billboard that stated it was now made in Humboldt?

          • NotBitterButBetter

            Of course I’m sensitive when people try to polish the turd of Humboldt Wholesale in a public forum. After what they did to me and my family, I’m actually being kind to them. There’s so much more to the story than what I’ve shared with you. But, to be clear, they are not “family owned” as you have portrayed, unless you mean “Family” as in the Gambino family and their products are not locally made unless you consider Shanghai local, nor do they support the communities in which they do business unless you consider a booth a Reggae On The River community support. What is true is their business model is to move into areas where there are small mom and pop shops and muscle us out with heavy-handed tactics. They are dishonest in business and as we all know, a business is the reflection of character of those who work and those who own the business. Before you throw your support behind a company, spend a minute to get to know them. That way you don’t wind up with their stink all over you while you feverishly try to polish the turd. When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

            • I never threw support behind them. I’m not sticking up for them. I think house and garden is overpriced garbage. I’m not “polishing a turd”. I used the word “family” because to my understanding, that is the umbrella or franchise or group they bought into. Joining another large group with the wholesale accounts and good pricing gives start ups such as NHS an advantage. Mainly in slightly better pricing and some terms. You have beef with them and probably rightly so. Welcome to capitalism and business. Very common for grow stores to move into an area and sell just above wholesale to try and drive the competition out. The certainly did not do that as their prices have always been full retail. Other stores have survived, why the boohoo from you? You don’t want to say your store name, but maybe you could give us a location. I certainly don’t have fleas.

  • Same old same old

    Yeah, screw all those shelves and shelves of grow “products”. Gee, how did the growers back in the day ever manage to grow their killer bud without them. The consumerism of this neo-grower crowd is appalling. I’ve got trailers banging past my place all day, every day. Most of this shit will be abandoned on properties that didn’t get permits , 8,000 of them. What grower hell has Humboldt become ?

  • Well hell it’s not but one thing is the conformity hoops you have to jump through. Tax stickers which will follow the herb from seed to stash. All documented by the state. Wake up conform or retire.

  • NotBitterButBetter

    So, for those following the thread, it is now established that Humboldt Wholesale isn’t a cool company and isn’t owned by locals. That Houe and Garden Nutrients isn’t a local company and in fact is a multi-national corporation that makes metal salt based nutrients sold at high prices and when they attempt to screw over real local family owned stores using unscrupulous, shady business tactics, and funnel the money from these small, family owned businesses into their own fat pockets, that’s okay because some guy who said they were a local company selling locally produced goods said so. “As early as 1996 Steve Muller and Cyndi Mogus began plans to open the first of our Family Hydroponics stores, “The Farm” in South Lake Tahoe. Roy Harris became a customer of the Farm early in 2000, and before the end of the year opened the second store in the group, “Grass Valley Hydrogarden”, as a partnership involving Steve Muller and Cyndi Mogus. From that began the wave…” the wave in the toilet as the turds drop from above. Well, thanks for the business lesson, bro. For your information, we’re a small, successful garden shop that has continued for 15 years to do good for our community without ever having to, or wanting to, stoop to using the awful tactics that Humboldt Wholesale perpetrated on us, but those tactics are just fine with some folks because “that’s capitalism” and just part of business. you can support whoever you want but when you falsely claim that they are some altruistic, awesome local company when if fact that really aren’t, prepare to hear about it.

  • Penguinlookinmofo

    You have no idea whats been going on on the branding frontier. Your prooving it with the title,of this article.
    High times isnt exactly what it was in the early nineties. There’s so much more out there. Hardly anyone I know in so hum would have gone to a high times event. Get real. Right under your noses big things are happening, bigger than you could imagine, just because you don’t frequent in these circles doesn’t mean nothing is happening, you are 100% wrong with this article.

  • Kittens McTavish

    Wow ..
    After many years it seems the inability to manage your business like a business has come home to roost. I have a lovely Hightimes from 1978 that proclaims pot legalized in Alaska ! It’s
    Greed is .
    And it just is …
    Find something you love to do and enjoy your life.

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