Every November since 1988, High Times magazine has hosted the Cannabis Cup, the premiere cannabis event in the world, in Amsterdam. Ever since, it’s been the dream of every stoner, pothead, and counterculture hero to attend the convention and see the best of the marijuana industry.
I filmed a short video with some additional information if you’re interested.
The cup helped make Amsterdam the dream destination vacation for America’s drug culture and cemented High Times as the only cannabis magazine worth reading, easily competing with Rolling Stone and Playboy for a seat at the table.
Filled with art displays, glass, grow/extraction supplies, and, of course, a variety of THC- and CBD-infused products, there’s no better place to be than at the Cannabis Cup. The show reached American shores in 2010, and the first recreational cup was held in Denver on 4/20/14. If you want to attend, here’s what you need to do.
Admission to the Cannabis Cup
Cannabis Cup events are held throughout the year, with stops in SoCal, NorCal, Denver, Michigan, Seattle, and Portland. Seattle’s cup in 2014 (actually held in Everett) was hindered by local police and archaic laws, so the event was moved to Portland for 2015. Amsterdam’s 2014 cup also had issues, so Denver’s 4/20 event is quickly becoming the premiere event.
The schedule of events can be found on the Cannabis Cup website, as well as promoted heavily throughout High Times’s website. Tickets can be purchased on the Cannabis Cup website as well by clicking here.
Admission to the Cannabis Cup is open to the public, though there are plenty of private afterparties, and business networking events are normally held on the grounds prior to the event. In addition, there may be concurrent, but separate concerts held by companies other than High Times, so don’t expect your wristband to get you in those.
In Denver, High Times will hold a 4/20 concert of their own, and offer packages for both events.
Expect to pay around $30-$50 for a one-day pass, and $50-100 for a two-day pass. VIP tickets go for $400+, and include perks such as a free shuttle, shorter admission line, and a swag bag filled with promotional items, including a Cannabis Cup t-shirt and program guide. Exclusive access to private seminars is also offered, along with a wide array of packages. Parking depends on the venue, though is typically free.
With most events, a program guide (or any supposed “VIP” perks) isn’t worth much. In a typical event, if you paid for your ticket, you’re just like everyone else. High Times treats the Cannabis Cup much different than your average concert or festival, though. The Cannabis Cup is all about fan service, so vendors and media can’t get these program guides, making them valuable souvenirs that will only go up in value over time.
Anything with the Cannabis Cup label is valuable. Seed banks and dispensaries love advertising they have a Cannabis Cup winner in store. Attending a Cannabis Cup is to marijuana connoisseurs what a trip to the Louvre is for art lovers or a private Paul McCartney concert is to anyone with musical taste.
Cannabis Cup Tickets
Passes to the cannabis cup are in the form of wristbands. GA tickets vary in color, depending on the day, how many days, how much you paid, etc., and both VIP and media tickets are gold.
VIP tickets in this case (as opposed to EDC’s wristband scheme) indicate a free pass (similar to an artist pass or +1). This lets security and vendors know you need to give them some money to support the event if you want a souvenir to commemorate it. If you have a gold wristband, VIP is being used ironically, so you better bring your hustle if you want free stuff.
Bring business cards, as you can often trade them for better free things than your wristband will get you.
Vendor wristbands are bright green and don’t change year-to-year because they’re not durable and assumed not to be reusable. A vendor wristband will get you a special parking area (you may need to sweet talk security) and show other vendors you’re in the business, so they’ll be much more receptive to you when talking and asking free products.
At the Cannabis Cup, wristbands are everything. This is true at any special event, though here you’ll hear MC’s just blatantly asking for wristbands to trade for free stuff over the PA instead of making it some secret operation like you’ll see at other major events in any industry.
The Cannabis Cup Pre-Show
Whereas most business expos, conventions, and trade shows focus on business after the event during afterparties, the Cannabis Cup starts things off early, and is typically preceded by a sponsored business networking event. In Denver, this is the Formula 420 BIG Industry Show, which also features a Galleria of Glass art display with millions of dollars worth of functional glass art on display.
Entrance to these events is closed to the public until the last day, where the Galleria of Glass is opened to the general public.
No level of High Times VIP pass (except a staff pass) will get you into the closed pre-show, where media, analysts, and corporate reps from companies as diverse as Phillip Morris, 7-Eleven, Anheuser Busch, and Charles Schwab are all keeping an eye on the industry, buying, selling, and trading cannabis commodities. The Cannabis Cup pre-show is the excess business partying you’ve seen in Wolf of Wall Street, without the back-end corruption.
If you’re not represented in the Cannabis Cup or its pre-show, you don’t exist in the cannabis industry. Period…
What to Expect at the Cannabis Cup
Potheads get a bad rap in the media – I’ve never met a stoner who both wanted to commit a violent crime like murder or armed robbery, and was motivated to actually get up and do it. We’re a mostly mellow community, and this shows in the attendees. Remember, however, that the Cannabis Cup is a trade show, and, like any other trade show, the focus is on business.
There are two types of booths at the Cannabis Cup – indoor booths and outdoor booths. Indoors is where you’ll find universally legal weed products and services like grow lights, hemp, CBD-infused products, glass, grinders, activists like Norml, and media like 420Radio and Cannabis Now magazine.
Seminars and unmedicated food/drink vendors are located indoors, and I highly recommend attending a few seminars. There you’ll find experts from every aspect of the industry preaching free professional ganja knowledge, tips, advice, and predictions to anyone who will listen.
These are among the most revered seminars in any industry. You can learn the science or extraction, the art of cooking, the politics of decriminalization, and so much more.
Outside is the medicating area, where the police officers are catching a contact high just standing outside the fence, guarding against unlawful entrants. In the medicating area, vendors spend big money hiring the hottest booth babes to hand out the coolest swag and free pot to encourage attendees to stop by their booth.
At Denver’s inaugural 4/20 Cannabis Cup in 2014, a man from DabStar snuck in (as did I) to the BIG Industry Show and hustled for a few booths with a megaphone. By the cup, he had bags full of swag and plenty of hot women to send to booths for more. He climbed on a ladder and started handing out free weed.
Soon he was on stage yelling through the PA, and by the 2015 SF Cannabis Cup, there were enough live music acts and sound stages to rival the summer’s best music festivals from Summer Jam to Coachella and EDC Las Vegas.
Supernatural was freestyling on a Saturday afternoon while Fallout Boy was being played a few rows down by a DJ, and a reggae band jammed in the far corner.
With free medicated samples of every food, drink, extract, and bud you can imagine being handed to you, and a better simultaneous music selection than satellite radio, the Cannabis Cup is not only the premiere cannabis event, it’s the premiere summer event, and one of the coolest parties happening all year round.
What to Bring and Wear to the Cannabis Cup
What’s most important is to bring a good attitude. You’re surrounded by pioneers, explorers, and creative professionals who all support the community. Be prepared to sign petitions, register to vote, and become a good citizen, if you’re not already one.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, as you’ll easily walk 5 miles per day, assuming you don’t get lost. Pot-related clothing is always preferred, though you can wear whatever you want. Cosplay isn’t recommended unless someone is paying you, though you will stick out, and that has value, as the Magical Butter troll can attest to when he reinvented the Crock Pot.
Bring water, and keep it closed. You’ll be thoroughly searched at a medical cup, though the recreational cups are a little more lenient. Open containers are frowned upon, but you can usually get in a closed bottle. Food and drinks are expensive to buy, so save any edible samples for the inevitable munchies.
A backpack is useful, as the promotional bags are typically small and shoddy. keep medicated products separate to be on the safe side. I’ve never had an issue leaving any of the venues with product, though once you’re on the road, you’re on your own.
The police presence at the Cannabis Cup is much more relaxed than events like EDC, which boasted over 30 felony arrests during EDC LV 2015. The po-po are definitely loosening up on cannabis and trust both High Times and the cannabis crowd to run a respectable event.
Just come and be yourself, and prepare to get high…
Dr. Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on The Street, Main Street, Hardcore Droid, Huffington Post, Gaiam, MindBodyGreen, and BBC.