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History Of The Cannabis Cup

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By Steve Hager founder of the cannabis Cup.



I first visited the Netherlands in 1987 to write an article on the founder of Holland’s first cannabis-seed company. Titled “The King of Cannabis,” the article described how an Australian named Nevil got access to some of the world’s greatest known strains of cannabis, and established a mail-order company in Holland that eventually made him rich. He lived in a mansion filled with growrooms that I dubbed “Cannabis Castle.” While working on the article, I met the founders of Cultivators Choice, an almost defunct American cannabis-seed company. They told me about the spectacular California harvest festivals of the ’70s. That’s when I got the idea of holding a cannabis harvest festival in Amsterdam.


In January, our grow guru Dr. Indoors, a photographer and I flew over as the only three judges. Four seed companies entered: Super Sativa Seed Club, Sensi Seed Club, the Seed Bank and a late entry, Cultivators Choice, who won the Cup. However, Nevil had already purchased all their strains, including Skunk #1, Haze and Pollyanna. Cultivators Choice soon disbanded, while Nevil dominated the event for the next few years using their stock.


Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of early support for the Cup, even inside HIGH TIMES. Someone branded it a cleverly concocted scheme for me to disappear with my friends and consume cannabis for a week. Stung by this criticism, I decided not to attend the vastly underfunded event for a while. Instead, I pondered an unscheduled, highly budgeted return in the distant future.


The 2nd Cup had the same four seed companies, but more samples and six judges, including Ed Rosenthal and Patty Collins. An awards dinner was held at the Yum-Yum restaurant, and the Seed Bank swept all awards.


The 3rd Cup’s judges included Furry Freak Brothers artists Gilbert Shelton and Paul Mavrides, as well as the founders of the Provos, the most famous Dutch activists from the ‘60s. The Seed Bank won again; Shelton and Mavrides became the first world-class artists to create official artwork; and the Provos staged a demonstration at the Awards Show objecting to forced sex habits of plants, a protest against sinsemilla!


Unfortunately, a few weeks later the DEA launched an operation designed to shut down the Seed Bank and HIGH TIMES. A prosecutor in New Orleans claimed the Seed Bank was a secret division of HT. The Dutch government refused to extradite Nevil, who was forced into hiding to prevent a DEA kidnapping. He was eventually nabbed while visiting his family in Australia, jumped bail and disappeared.


The 4th Cup became a “coffeeshop crawl,” as seed companies went underground and refused to enter. The Blue Bird, Free City, La Tertullia and the Hustler all submitted varieties. The judges included Simon Vinkenoog and Rodger Belknap, who resigned when he realized none of strains deserved the title. Vinkenoog also complained about mediocre samples.


The 5th Cup saw the return of the seed companies. Nevil’s Seed Bank had been incorporated into Ben Dronkers’ Sensi Seed Club, resulting in the Sensi Seed Bank. Rumors abounded that Nevil had secretly resumed residence at the Castle. Other entries came from Homegrown Fantasy and Blue Bird. Judges included Elvy Musikka and Dr. Eric Fromberg. The awards dinner was held at the Garden Cafe.



The 6th Cup marked my less-than-triumphant return after a five-year hiatus. I came with a lot of new ideas concerning the plant’s spiritual significance, good intentions sabotaged by poor communication after the Dutch coordinator pulled out and replaced himself with Cannabis in Amsterdam (who would later evolve into the highly respected seed company, THCSeeds). I did have some powerful ceremonial tools, real silver Cannabis Cups forged by Robin Ludwig based on a sketch drawn by his daughter, an image now recognized throughout the world. The budget was still meager, but I did have some supplemental funds, provided by entry fees paid by 50 people who responded to a late-breaking ad in HIGH TIMES. Celebrity judges included Gatewood Galbraith, Jack Herer, Paul Krassner and Sebastian Bach. Four seed companies entered: Dutch Passion, NHV, Nirvana and Sensi Seed Bank. Fifteen coffeeshops from Amsterdam and seven from outside also entered. Dronkers’ Sensi Seed Bank won, but Arjan’s Greenhouse made a surprisingly strong debut.


Seven hundred judges showed for the 7th Cup. Kenny Scharf did the artwork. The event included a Hemp Expo at the Pax Party House and opening ceremonies at the Melkweg. For the first time, the Sensi Seed Bank operated a tour to Cannabis Castle, where Nevil bred many of his award-winning strains. The highly theatrical show featured the appearance of a mysterious character called “The Phantom.” Three seed companies entered: Sensi Seed Bank, Cerebral Seeds and Positronics.


A separate competition was held for 15 coffeeshops. The celebrity judges included Soma, Chris Conrad, Jack Herer and Enuff Z’Nuff. Sensi Seed Bank won the Cannabis Cup with Jack Herer, an unstable hybrid of Haze, Northern Lights #5 and Skunk #1. The Cup had become a worldwide media event: An hour-long documentary was shown on Tokyo TV, and a lengthy article appeared in the New York Times Magazine, complete with a flowering “sea-of- green” clone on the cover. The head of the local Dutch police visited the Expo and came away favorably impressed by the spiritual vibrations of the event.


The 8th Cup attracted 1,500 judges, 21 coffeeshops, two entries from US growers, one entry from Canada, one entry from Switzerland, and five seed companies (Sensi Seed Bank, Serious Seeds, Dutch Passion, Sagarmatha Seeds and Seeds of Courage). Morley Safer from 60 Minutes attended, along with more than 50 other reporters and media representatives from around the globe. The celebrity judges included Stephen and Ina May Gaskin, Alex and Allyson Grey, Ed Rosenthal and Chef Ra. The first-ever Cannabis Cup wedding was performed during the ceremonies, which were directed by Garrick Beck. Alex Grey painted a portrait of “Cannabia,” and did a complete body painting on one of the dancers in the show to bring the portrait to life. Arjan of the Green House led the winners by taking four Cups, including the Cannabis Cup. Sensi Seed Bank won the Seed Company Cup; Blue Bird won the Hash Cup.


The 9th Cup was hampered by new limitations on cannabis imposed under the plans to unify Europe’s currencies. The Cannabis Castle Tour was canceled, and the official strains were not put on display in the Judges’ Lounge. However, the appearance of many Native American celebrities, including John Trudell, former chairman of the American Indian Movement, created one of the most powerful Cups ever. De Dampkring pulled off a major upset, capturing four Cups, including the Cannabis Cup. Celebrity judges included Dennis Peron, Mel Frank, John Trudell, Mila, Felipe Chavez and Eagle Bill.


The Counterculture Hall of Fame became a major part of the Cup at the 10th Cup, when Bob Marley become the first inductee. Marley’s widow, Rita Marley, made a surprise trip from Jamaica to join the festivities and declared onstage: “I know Bob’s presence is with us here tonight.” The entire HIGH TIMES office attended and many were made celebrity judges. Also on the list were Ras Menelik, Rocker T, Robin Ludwig, Mountain Girl and Rita Marley. The Cannabis Cup Band stole the show with a four-hour tribute to Bob Marley, emceed by Chef Ra. The Awards Night was MCed by counterculture icon Paul Krassner, and de Dampkring repeated as winner of the Cannabis Cup. Homegrown Fantasy upset the Sensi Seed Bank to win the seed-company Cup.


The 11th Cup featured high priest John Sinclair, who supervised the ceremonial inductions of Louis Armstrong and Mezz Mezzrow into the Hall of Fame. “Pops gave us the solo,” said Sinclair, “But Mezz gave us the nickel bag.” Greenhouse won, but only after de Dampkring pulled out, citing the event had become too commercial and expensive to compete in.


The 12th Cup was the Beat Cup, as Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Celebrity judges included Robert Anton Wilson, Carolyn Cassady, John Cassady, Paul Krassner, John Sinclair and Brian Hassett. Fishbone, Culture, Kottonmouth Kings, and Control Machete were among the many acts that performed. Because some coffeeshop owners had been less than thrilled with the balloting procedure over the years, they were given the job of voting for the seed companies. This harebrained idea produced tremendous confusion, and eventually resulted in several ballots being disqualified. The Greenhouse won the Cannabis Cup. The seed companies now competed for two Cups (sativa and indica); Sensi Seeds won sativa and Paradise Seeds won indica.


In 2000, the 13th Cup was dedicated to honoring the Goddess, and dozens of female cannabis celebrities were flown in from around the world. Ina May Gaskin, founder of the modern midwife movement, became the first living inductee into the Hall of Fame. Vancouver- based cannabis comedian Watermelon MCed the awards show. The Upright Citizens Brigade performed two nights of skits. Patti Smith blew the roof off the Melkweg in one of her greatest live performances. The Five Points Band (starring Robin Ludwig) opened for Jefferson Starship. Galactic also appeared.


For the first time, the Cannabis Cup voting was not open to the general public. This responsibility was given to the Cannabis Castaways, six people chosen based on video entries sent to HIGH TIMES. Stranded on a houseboat for three days with unlimited access to the coffeeshop strains, the Castaways eventually selected Blueberry from the Noon as the winner. Seed-company winners included Kali Mist from Serious Seeds for sativa, and Blueberry from Dutch Passion for indica.


The 14th Cup celebrated the induction of Paul Krassner, first living male, into the Hall of Fame. A founder of the alternative press, the Yippies and regular columnist for HIGH TIMES, Krassner is considered the dean of underground journalism in America. The event was considerably scaled-down, due to the 9/11 tragedy, which severely affected sales. Even worse, unfounded rumors that the Cup was going to be cancelled had been put out on the Internet. Sweet Tooth from Barney’s Breakfast Bar dominated both the Cannabis Cup and the Press Cup, coming out on top in the popular vote and the blind competition. Performances were provided by 311 and Steel Pulse, among others.


In November 2002, the 15th Cup will be held, and Bob Dylan and Joan Baez will be inducted into the Counterculture Hall of Fame. Many important changes are planned. For example, celebrity judges will blind-sample all the entries before the regular judges arrive, and will announce their top three contenders on the first day of the event, in order to help the judges make a determination in the five days they have to sample more than 20 varieties. It’s a difficult job, but someone has to do it.



Will update as soon as the results are made available.



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