This is it, the main event, the best of the best. The Emerald Cup has gone from obscure county fair to the cannabis World's Fair. Somehow, Tim Blake and company were able to transform a broken-down Tilt-a-Whirl held together with duct table and Gorilla Glue to the most badass roller coaster on the planet. To push the circus metaphor to the breaking point, the Emerald Cup is a Ferris wheel as designed by Buddhist monks (not surprising, as chief visionary Tim Blake is a Buddhist).
For the first 10 years or so, the Emerald Cup was an underground nomad, couch-surfing in various Mendocino County locations. Going to the Emerald Cup meant you had to know someone who knew someone. Now it's a public event, and even grandma is invited.
There are no charlatans or ne'er-do-wells here, no endlessly dabbing grifters. Instead, you have chemists, biologists, horticultural specialists and genomics experts discussing the latest advances in lab techniques and breeding. Even serious pediatricians looking at cannabis-based treatments for intractable epilepsy or glioblastomas and sports figures looking for natural ways to cope with a lifetime of workout injuries. There are soil experts, reggae artists, investments bankers and dogs kissing cats.
Yeah, sure the Emerald Cup still has a little dirt under it fingers. That's the way it should be; if there is no dirt, there is no life. Literally and metaphorically. Sonoma County loves dirt. Just be forewarned, the cotton candy is a little different there. So is the popcorn. theemeraldcup.com.—M.H.
One of the most exciting aspects of marijuana legalization under Proposition 64 is not that adults can get high without fear of getting busted, but that it may expand the use of cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative to overpriced pharmaceuticals. While CBD is sometimes overhyped as a cure-all, the research on CBD's benefits are pretty compelling. Cannabidiol is the second most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis after THC; THC gets you high, CBD does not. A growing body of research has shown that CBD is effective in treating a host of conditions, including epilepsy, depression, acne, PTSD, insomnia and even multiple sclerosis. The trick with CBD, though, is that it works best in conjunction with THC and the right CBD-to-THC ratio depends on what ails you. Some people want the benefit of CBD without feeling stoned. While there are high-CBD strains of cannabis, it's far easier to dial in the ratio that's right for you with carefully formatted drops, sprays, vape pens or gel capsules. Santa Rosa's pioneering Care by Design has been out front in offering something more than cannabis for the masses. Their products come in ratios that range from yes-you-will-feel-high 1:1 to a barely there dose of 18:1. And it's all made right here in Santa Rosa. cbd.org.—S.H.
Earlier this month, PG&E announced it would offer agricultural rates to cannabis growers. PG&E customers are eligible for the discounted rates if they have local permits for growing marijuana and at least 70 percent of their metered energy use is for cannabis cultivation. The program applies to indoor and outdoor growers, but not residential growers, who can grow up to six plants under Proposition 64. Not to be outdone, Sonoma Clean Power followed PG&E's announcement that it, too, would offer reduced rates to cannabis operations. That seems only fair. If cannabis is going to be treated like an agricultural crop with all the attendant regulations and taxes, the industry should enjoy the same benefits as other agricultural industries. Like, say, grapes.—S.H.
With a 4.5/5 rating on Yelp, Mercy Wellness in Cotati is the Cirque du Soleil of Sonoma County dispensaries. No sad lions, dreary elephants or spiteful popcorn vendors here—just imagination, creativity, full-service offerings and knowledgeable budtenders. Mercy features competitive prices, freebies for new patients, edibles, pre-rolls and high CBD products—not to mention a complete line of vape-pen cartridges, in case you need a conversational ice-breaker with Jiggles the clown. "Ooh, I love the polka dots and floppy shoes! Want some Pineapple Afghani, grease face?" The new patient experience at Mercy is one of the best. No matter if you walk in the door with a serious case of malaise or have suddenly been overcome with "the vapors," the Mercy staff can suggest something that will make you right as rain. Conveniently located near highways 116 and 101, Mercy is easily accessible to most county residents whether you travel by unicycle, pogo stick, flying trapeze or have been shot out of the cannon. So with excellent product selection and a super-conscientious ringmaster/proprietor (Brandon L) who care enough to make each customer experience memorable, this makes Mercy Wellness the best of the big-top dispensaries in Sonoma County. 7950 Redwood Drive #8, Cotati. 707.795.1600.—M.H.
One day we may soon see bud and breakfast inns and tours of local cannabis farms that tout their terroir and sustainable growing techniques. Until then, there's the Natural Cannabis Company's Harvest Box. The box features 28 strains of cannabis in little one-gram canisters. That's one ounce of well-curated weed. The package matches each strain with blurbs about the small farm that produced it. The box represents the company's work with more than 200 small-scale cultivators in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, famers like Zsa Zsa Gardens, Utopia Farm and Glentucky Family Farm. The Harvest Box sells for $190 and is available at Natural Cannabis Company locations in Santa Rosa, Hopland and Oakland. naturalcannabis.com.—S.H.