Notes from America's first Cannabis Cup, part two

Mark Craig

This is Part Two of Mark Craig's epic adventure. Read Part One here.

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Zane and I wake up fairly early, around ten or eleven a.m. The Cannabis Cup starts at noon, but I’m in no hurry. I’m not going to miss anything if I show up a couple hours off schedule; it’s a pot convention. I had offered Zane my +1 sometime at Nob Hill last night. He accepted. Who’s going to turn down a free ticket to America’s first Cannabis Cup? But first some morning steam at the Bardo Coffee House a block down on Broadway. The coffee’s good enough, but we need some sort of grease to wick away the nasties from the night before. No problem. S Broadway is well-equipped. We go to some mom-and-pop diner close by for bloodies and protein.

It’s April 20, afternoon, and the weather is really starting to sort itself out. Sunshine in the mid-60s supplements the droves of thousands traversing the streets of RiNo (River North Art District) in search of the EXDO Event Center. By one p.m., Zane and I are headed northbound on Broadway in the shit brown Crown Vic. It’s a straight shot from Baker, and we’ll pass by some popular landmarks like Civic Center Park, the Colorado State Capitol and Coors Field along the way. 7-11 has a variety of ice coffee called Chillers. Zane loves the fuck out of some Chillers so we stop. Posters hung in the windows feature the slogan, “Energy Ambush.” One of the advertisements couples a marble rye roast beef sandwich with a 7-11 brand water over the tag. We get a kick out of that.

Zane sets his Chiller on the dash and turns the key. That Windsor V-8 revs and we’re back on Broadway passing the 4/20 rally congregating in Civic Center Park en route to the EXDO. Harry Nilsson’s “Me and My Arrow” flows over our elbows hung over the unrolled windows. We talk Nilsson Schmilsson and realize “Without You” is actually a Badfinger song released a year earlier on the album No Dice. Zane points out Rhinoceropolis as we cruise past strips of warehouses lining the streets of RiNo. We decide to head back that way once we’re subject to $20 parking signs around the EXDO. Zane knows people there, and there’s surely an open spot suitable for the wagon. We do get a glimpse of the Cup while rolling northeast on Walnut St. The streets around the area are already congested with smoke, flesh and motor. There’s seems to be no end of the line wrapped around the complex. There are some tailgaters camped across from the EXDO. They’re grilling food and cracking wise. “The Griswold’s are here,” shoots from the curled lip of a spectator sitting in the back of a U-Haul.

Once we’re back around Rhinoceropolis we run into Zane’s friend Misty McVie. She’s sunbathing on a cement cargo port in the alley behind the space with one of her Rhino friends. Misty approaches the fence between us wearing nothing but velour sweatpants and duct tape fashioned into stars over her nipples. This is the woman who will be giving me a stick ’n poke 24 hours from now. We make loose plans with her for later and trek back to the Cup. 
The whole of the event is contained in two city blocks reaching from 34th to 36th St, Walnut to Larimer. The long ass general admission line is wasting no time in getting loose. Nobody’s getting a ticket here for public consumption. It may be four hours before the end of the line is admitted, so you can’t blame ’em. Some are more blatant than others. A man wielding a large glass bong walks past as Zane and I enter the line to the VIP entrance. There are a number of tiers associated with the wristbands: general admission, VIP, judge, vendor, super VIP and medical. The press passes we’re issued are of the VIP variety; a variety which only grants quick entry, nothing else. VIP’s kind of a joke. Once in the expo space, it’s tough to get around. Hordes of people stuff in between the myriad of vendor tables to see what they’re hawking. Anything and everything from glass pipes to organic growing solutions are available. We’re not too interested in any of that business. Zane looks at me like he’s about to leave. “If this is it, then I’m gonna head back to Rhino.”

After 20 minutes of shuffling around the expo floor we find the exit leading to the rest of the grounds outdoors. There are some designated areas for drinking, but smoking is fair game. There are a few people sitting down at cocktail tables puffing away at joints. Some are simply staring off into the distance. A food truck doling out circus eats is the main attraction in this area. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m looking for. I tell Zane through the side of my mouth that “we should just get up with someone who has been here for awhile.” Someone overhears us and points us over to the festering line ahead of us. “You get your dabs down there,” he instructs us in a stoney beach voice. What the fuck is “dabs?” Maybe just some stoner lingo we haven’t heard of yet. Whatever it is, we’re sure dude’s got solid information as to the direction of the party. We join the herd and know full well that wherever this Temple Grandin cattle line is taking us, it’s where we want to be.

The entrance of the party is full of dawdling burners with no direction to go. The lot is setup like a grid to make things easy for everyone. A lot of people seem to be taking bong hits. Zane and I continue to browse the nooks of the grid to get a feel for the place. I don’t want to do a silly thing like get baked right off the bat. 
After a stroll around we land in front of a New York-based seed company called Top Dawg Seeds. “What’s the score here?” I inquire. They tell me a little about their mission and offer me a smell some of the samples they have contained in jars. I pick up one called I-95 and inquire, “Is it Indica, Sativa, or a blend?” He shines me a stern look through his black Spy sunglasses and says, “It’s a hybrid of a hybrid.” He pulls some bud out of the jar and packs the 18-inch bong in front of me. “Do you want to try it?” It would be rude to say “no,” so I counter with, “Certainly.” And that’s where I fucked up.

Zane takes an equal load of I-95. It’s maybe a minute before we join the cast of ambling zombies. It’s a reckless way to travel. Each new idea scorches through the brain taking the feet in different directions. There or here? No, no. There’s more to see in this direction. Ah, that’s a waste; it’s too crowded that way. Start over. Stop bumping into people, you fool. You’re supposed to be getting a story out of this. It’s all too much, too quick and I realize the first rule of the Cannabis Cup: Don’t kick things off with a giant bong hit, you fucking asshole. I forgot everyone’s smoking the most potent weed in the world.

We manage to make our way to a far end of the lot to stand somewhere else. There’s a vendor selling novelty shirts to our right. One features the face of Alfred E. Neuman over the word “DAB” written in Mad Magazine font. I should probably find out what the hell dab is. That seems like an easy story to get stoned. I decide to get the story organically, through the mouths of the people instead of looking up the answer on my iPhone. That’s no fun.

Zane and I get sidetracked pretty quickly and wander outside the perimeter to watch some graffiti artists tag a wall. We try to re-enter but are told to go back around Walnut and start over. “This is vendor access only.” It’s not a bad time to take a break, so we take a seat on a curb outside the event. Zane and I have been at the Cannabis Cup for 45 minutes. We stay there for about an hour and a half, riding out the anxiety of that first hit. I write down very few things. We catch a wristband scheme unfolding a few feet away. “Give me back the wrist bands I gave you and I’ll give you this piece of paper which will be your new ticket,” wheels and deals a thuggish 40-year-old. Scum bag slight of hand in action.

I want to catch the atmosphere at 4:20 p.m. so we decide four is a good time to re-attempt the Cup. Right before we gather ourselves, a group of older men pass in front of us on the sidewalk. I hear glass drop and don’t pay too much attention to it. A guy from a different group runs up and asks me, “Is this your dabber?” Confused, I reply, “…No.” “My dabber now!” he says as he inserts someone else's used drug paraphernalia into his pocket. My face lights up. It’s the first dab clue.

Once we get back into the EXDO center we head over to the panel room, it’s quiet in there and there’s plenty of room to relax. I ask a guy standing near the panel stage, “What exactly is dab?” He replies, “Torch, dabber, hash oil, rig, smoke.” What the fuck does that mean? “Hash oil smoked with a rod.” News to me. “Modern times,” he asserts. Zane and I immediately crack jokes about the possibility of a Dab Cup. A guy standing near us says, “Yeah, it’s called the 710 Cup. It’s this summer.” Shit’s starting to get real.

Over the course of the next few hours, Zane and I seek out dab. We first come across some kids hanging out by a pile of trash near the porta potties. They’ve got what I think are bongs set up on cardboard, but these sketchballs are actually freebasing a substance called earwax with mini torches. They’re dabbing in piss and trash alley. Earwax also goes by the names dab, BHO, oil, and skillets. BHO (butane hash oil) is the most telling of the nicknames. The substance is rendered through a butane extraction process which yields highly concentrated amber globs of THC. The difference between this and the regular hash you’ve been staining your butter knives with all these years is just the extraction method—but this mode is claimed to deliver a more intense helping of THC.

After I see that back alley dabbery my eyes open up a little to what’s really going on at the Cannabis Cup. Zane puts it perfectly: It’s dab’s coming out party. Turns out those bongs I saw everyone hitting earlier weren’t actually bongs. They were mostly dab rigs, and everyone’s been getting ripped off them the whole time. I notice a sign leaning on a fence that reads: DAB SAFELY. It instructs any potential dabber to sit down while dabbing, drink water and most importantly call an EMT if shit goes awry. This is all scary and fascinating stuff, so Zane and I are ready to immerse ourselves into dab culture. But with so many choices, where should one dab first?


I see a kid hit an elaborate mason jar rig which makes him convulse and expel a thread of snot that suspends from his nostril. I hit Zane on the arm and tell him, “Look! Look at that dab shit!” After the kid collects himself, his eyes shoot open, fried red, then he gallops away like some redneck terminator on a mission to kill. “That’s the one, that’s the dab station to get down on.” It’s a simple process. The dabtender takes a torch and lights the nail till it’s glowing red, takes a glass rod, tweezers, dental scrapper or wand to pick up a helping of wax around .02 or .03 grams and drops or deposits the wax onto the nail which instantly vaporizes. The hit is actually pretty smooth, but we’re not dabbing hard—these are freebies and some dabbers are hitting .25 grams and higher. Instantly my head is in a new space. I’m very relaxed, way more so than after that bong rip I took earlier. No initial anxiety is felt. After dabbing my eyes are completely open. I can see. 710, which is OIL upside down, is everywhere. On stickers, on advertisements, on t-shirts; all over the place. Zane and I didn’t notice any of that shit before because we weren’t looking for it, nor did we know what it meant. Now I’m starting to think about all the clear and present things in the world to which I am blind. It’s like Rowdy Roddy Piper putting on those shades for the first time in John Carpenter’s They Live. But were not living in an alien-helmed media state. We’re in the epicenter of dab, and everything’s totally fucking chill. WHERE IS SWIZZ!? This party rules.

After that Zane and I run around talking to vendors mixing it up with our ambling zombie brethren. “It’s the purest way to smoke,” exclaims one vendor. Just the statement I need to reinforce my confidence in freebasing crack weed. We walk past an edible tent giving out free samples of milk chocolate. We eat ’em, and they’re delicious. Zane tries out the Incredibowl i420 Deluxe—a super sleek steamroller—and is impressed. “It’s so smooth!” We see a tent hawking gold leaf rolling papers. “We came up with this idea 30 days ago…it’s a talking point. When you can step and burn the gold, step up,” says Shine representative John Vapors. The papers run 55 bucks a pack, 90 for two. Now that pot’s legal in Colorado and Washington, there’s an industry for such ostentatious novelty. Silkk the Shocker needs to relocate to Denver, pronto.


We’ve had our fill with day one and head toward the doors near a panel discussion that just so happens to be talking dab. A girl dressed in skimpy clothes skips by leaving a 710 sticker on the pocket of my flannel. “A lot of people are just taking shortcuts because they’re like, ‘Ah, it’s just going to be turned into BHO anyway.’ So they don’t grow it properly, or they don’t cure it properly, and they just use it as an excuse. To use it as an excuse to not grow good cannabis is not a good thing,” says one panel member. “Let’s remember how good it feels to pass a joint to the left,” says another. “I’ve seen the non-professional way that people do it with the little temporary pipe bomb, and I’ve seen the very professional runs that people are doing now. . . if it’s done professionally, that’s great. And the whole argument is whiskey versus beer, if you want to compare it to the alcohol and spirits industry—it’s wine versus cognac, where one is a concentrate and one isn’t,” says a third. “I’m sick of kids blowing themselves up,” says a fourth. Turns out BHO involves a volatile extraction process that should be left “up to the professionals.”

Out on Walnut, the streets are different. The comfort of the party has been stripped and I’m convinced every passing car is going to jump the curb in an attempt to kill me and all the other degenerates leaving the Cup. I’m especially concerned about walking across intersections. The dab is slowly turning on me. I can barely walk or think straight. Zane doesn’t seem concerned at all, but I’m freaking out, worried that something terrible is going to happen. We get back to the Crown Vic by Rhino and I tell Zane, “If you’re not good to drive, we can just get a cab.” He looks at me queerly and assures, “I’m all right.” “Are you sure? Because we can just get a cab,” I continue. He shakes his head at that point. I follow up, “I’m sorry. The dab's making me paranoid.”

I can’t make out what’s on the radio, I’m so fucked up. Everything has intensified since we left the Cup. Zane thinks it’s funny when a Dane Cook skit comes up on the comedy station. The laughter in the background is leaking out of the speakers and taunting my sanity. In my mind the Crown Vic is going to perish at any second, and Zane is going to giggle his way through it all.

We arrive back in Baker, again, in one piece. Sakari Chelsea shows up with her dog and stays long enough for us to clue her in on dab and drink a couple Busch cans. I take a shower and we decide on a spot down the road called Fontana Sushi adjacent to the intersection of E Alameda and S Pearl. Dahlia Willis meets us there and tells us people were shot at Civic Center Park earlier—she no longer has “HUGE SLUT” written on her forearms. It’s 14 years to the day since the Columbine massacre, and despite the occasion, Colorado is, again, dealing with senseless, gun-related violence. It’s absolutely embarrassing. There’s a notion in the coverage that people will be concerned about the pro-pot initiative being marred by such atrocity. That this is negative ammo for those skeptical of marijuana reform. Pot didn’t shoot two people and graze another at Civic Center Park. I buy 25 dollars worth of sushi, try tempura-fried ice cream for the first time and love every bit of it. Dahlia drives us back to the Crown Vic.

Slightly Stoopid, Cypress Hill, and Tribal Seeds are playing a High Times Cannabis Cup sanctioned show over at Red Rocks. About the time Slightly Stoopid opens with “I’m So Stoned” Zane and I are growling down S Broadway in the wagon to meet up with Misty McVie. We’re headed over to Mouth House in the Five Points neighborhood to catch what is left of Saturday night’s bill—there's a music festival at the house all weekend. Misty enters the Crown Vic and immediately lights up a spliff. We’re too late to catch any bands. We hang out in the living room for a while drinking beers and joining Misty on her next spliff. “I don’t smoke cigarettes, I just smoke spliffs. So any time I’m smoking you should just ask me for hit because there’s always weed in what I’m smoking and I’m not going to voluntarily pass it around.” The living room has graffiti and trash all over it. There’s no furniture around. Just trash and graffiti. One of the tags on the wall reads, “Oi Oi Oi See You in the Pit.” Agu, an emaciated punk who looks no older than 17, approaches us. “Uh, can I have a cigarette?” she asks in a spaced-out voice. A larger woman with a shredded black T-shirt passes with a man trailing by her hand during our interaction with Agu. I can only imagine the bed made out of dirty laundry they’re about to fuck on. Mouth House is a DIY flophouse to put it simply. We give Agu a smoke, and get the fuck out of there.

Zane tells me our next stop is Bar Bar—a place where Jack Kerouac supposedly used to drink—which is only a few blocks southwest of where we’re at on Champa St. Zane gracefully mounts the curb with his front passenger side tire and we park. Lo and behold, “Night Moves” is playing on the jukebox. We relish in the continuity and get smashed till close at two a.m. “The secret to Denver is drunk driving,” Zane tells me. I picked up on that yesterday. Back at his place we drink and smoke and talk till five a.m. Misty shows me her stick ’n pokes and tells me she’s done a number of them herself. I tell her I’ve always wanted a tattoo but just never got around to it. She says she can easily do it, so I write down a phrase in my handwriting which she takes and creates a mirror copy. Misty tells me if I’m still interested in the morning she can do it on the cheap. We go to bed, wake up and Misty asks me how I feel about the tattoo. I’m still on board. After a quick break at the Bardo Coffee House we head over to Kmart for 15 dollars worth of ink, gel deodorant, and all the other shit involved with Misty poking a needle into my arm for the next two hours. I request William Basinki’s The Disintegration Loops D|P 1.1 to be played during the process.

Misty tells me she’s done dab before but that she’s unfamiliar with the term. “I’m still not comfortable with that term. We call it earwax or skillets. I’ve never gotten that instantly, uncomfortably high. It was so intense. It was just crazy because it’s the most concentrated version of weed I’d ever tried. Ever since that—once you start getting into those things it sort of builds your tolerance and you can’t get as stoned with weed.” I leave the dab talk for later and let her concentrate on jail-scarring my flesh. It gives me a chance to read Bobby Black’s article To Dab or Not to Dab: Exploring the Pros, Cons and Possible Dangers of Butane Hash Oil. Apparently, dab culture has been going on since 2000.

It’s April 21, late afternoon. Misty has to be at work by four, and luckily for me it’s a quick jump from the EXDO. Zane’s not about round two, so I play the Cup solo this time. Walnut Street’s the same, the atmosphere’s the same. I receive a new general admission wristband and re-enter the Cup. I see Justin Bridges skirting around in a wheelchair. He’s in the chair because of a leg injury sustained at an OWS rally back in Portland, OR. “I’m in the wheelchair because I was attacked by the police at Occupy Portland—I was the interpreter for the deaf out there. I take an excessive amount of dabs because I don’t take pharmaceuticals. My nickname’s the Dab Hatter.” For him, dab is an alternative to the painkillers prescribed to him. “I use it and don't have to take painkillers. I was prescribed Vicodin and Hydrocodone and don’t take them.” With dab, you don’t have to smoke a whole joint to get a joint’s worth of medicine, or pay an egregious price for it.

Back around the corn dogs and funnel cakes I run into some people from Atlanta who are sharing an L. The majority of the group is all for dab, but one isn’t swayed by the buzz. “Don’t do dab,” he warns. I see a banner for advertising the first Dab Cup, which I didn’t notice the day before. Dablature continues and everyone’s smacked off of it. People, of course, are smoking flowers. But dab reigns supreme at this party.

I found a nob-dab booth called the Milk Bar, part of my pro-flower initiative for the day. They’re dispensing pint glasses full of -10 degree smoke. They’re also the minds behind the Incredibowl. They’ll reap the rewards later taking home the trophy for best product and best booth. There’s only so much to see, and the festivities are coming to an end. I walk back toward the EXDO and witness gratuitous displays of dab’s dominance. A man dressed up as the pope discharges a 15-foot flame from one of the trailers overlooking the grounds; grounds overrun by hooligans wielding massive torches and a buzz that’ll outlast an eight-hour work day. Don’t slip, ooooooiiiiiiiiiiiillllll sssslllllliiiiiicccckkkkk.

The trophy ceremony clogs up the joint and it takes a good 20 minutes to reach the panel room. Barely anyone’s in that room. In fact, the panel room was one of the only places not stuffed with people the whole weekend. I text Zane some dabenclature as the MC announces some of the winner’s of America’s first Cup. He’s parked out on 33rd a few blocks away. I stay long enough to hear Miss High Times ’12 describe her appeal to the whooping and hollering crowd. “I’m just a down-home girl, does dabs…” Screw this shit, I’m getting back with Zane and the Crown Vic.

I see the shit-brown wagon sporting eyes in the dark, it’s now the dabcab. The first of its kind, at least to our knowledge. Once we get back in Baker I realize I haven’t eaten a thing all day. Zach says there’s a Chipotle a few blocks down E Alameda. Zane smokes cigarettes outside and waits for Sakari. I inhale a burrito which takes me less than two minutes. Misty calls. Dahlia calls. We’ll meet up with Dahlia at Nob Hill after we pick up Misty. Once Misty’s in the car, she lights a spliff and passes around a beer-infused Margarita she snuck from work. From LoDo we hit I-25 south. Zane points out two enormous figures dancing outside the Colorado Convention Center. They’re a staple in Denver’s modern approach to making giant shit look really bad. Once we’re at Nob Hill, Sakari hits the jukebox. She curates a nine-song playlist and peaks the load with Electric Light Orchestra’s “Telephone Lines.” Misty sucks down Margaritas, as do I. Dahlia sits quietly in a corner booth. Sakari found a drunk leather smith outside. He’s 30 years her senior and missing his top and bottom front teeth. No matter, they’re staring into each other’s eyes having some next level conversation. Before the night is done, “Night Moves” plays on the jukebox. Zane and I pay our respects and stand up.

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