High in Public: HempCon

Since legalization passed in California, I’ve tried to take the opportunity to explore the cannabis themed events. Not only am I a fan of cannabis, but I love being able to see the process of seeing what was a flourishing subculture blossom into a mainstream industry. It’s an awkward stumble in many ways, and there’s a ways left to go, but it’s nonetheless fascinating. This past weekend, I attended my first HempCon at the Cow Palace, and now that I’ve nearly come down, I’d like share some stories of this weird, wonderful world and see if I can entice some of you into it.

Buffet-style:

This is only my second event where cannabis was provided, and it is the second one where the admission price covers the whole smorgasbord. We arrived shortly after opening, and were offered a dab in the first five minutes. Those offerings never stopped. I tried to pace myself, and kept it to six or seven over the course of three hours, while my partner in crime managed to try a dozen. I’ve been to beer tastings with a similar setup, but given that cannabis fans tend to be less boisterous and aggressive than beer drinkers, I would hope this becomes a norm for whatever the future holds for public cannabis spaces. Without the high brand markup so commonly seen with alcohol, providing a cannabis buffet seems like a reasonable and affordable option that many cities could accommodate.

Crashing prices:

I didn’t go with the intent to spend anything beyond what would cover lunch. If I had, my dollar would have gone a long way. Flower was cheap, often under $40 an eighth even for quality products, and oils weren’t far behind. I imagine having your competition ten feet away worked to enforce a bargain basement standard on pricing. For the cost conscious, the low prices could easily make up for the $60 price of admission.

Dab is king:

My first experience with cannabis was with a repurposed container of Tropicana orange juice. With an exacto knife, some foil and electrical tape, we had a makeshift bong which more than did the trick for me. Since then, the bong has been my tool of choice, more pleasant than pipes with the water mellowing the harshness, and allowing for the big, bellowing hits I was so fond of. But as I walked from booth to booth encountering dab rig after dab rig, I began to wonder if I’ve been stuck in the past. The handful of stations with bongs had ridiculously oversized units, phallic monstrosities that should have stayed in the frat house. Dabbing on the other hand was quick, easy, got me right where I wanted to go without a lot of hacking and wheezing, but most importantly let me taste the full flower of the product. I finally broke down and ordered my EVO that night. Particularly because…

A lot of dab rigs suck:

I believe there are three primary factors that make the EVO the best dab rig on the market: reliability, user experience, and aesthetics. Most of the rigs available were able to meet the first test, but completely blew the next two. A tiny little beaker not only looks like a prop from Breaking Bad not only makes dabbing look way shadier, but it results in shotgunning hits that are harder to take than they should be. Let’s get away from meth chic, start using properly sized pieces so I’m not bending over to hit something that makes me look like Andre the Giant, and stop bringing in pieces that look like DnD props.

Incredible Edibles:

I have a love/hate relationship with edibles. They can get the job done, and work very well in the right situation, but we all have a story or two where we ended up in the deep end without intending to. That said, the wide range of available edibles was impressive, effective, and delicious. From the upscale salted caramels to the down home S’mores rice crispy treats, to the outrageous 2000 mg of THC three inch gummy bear (I just had a sliver, otherwise I would have floated home after) there was something for everyone and all of a solid level of quality. The days of buying dry brownies that taste like a bag of lawn trimmings are behind us.

WUI (Working Under the Influence):

One thing I’ve noticed at these kind of events is that the folks working the convention are taking advantage of their free admission. Far be it from I to call someone out for getting lit and paid at the same time, but it’s clear that some people are a lot better at working while high than others. As we wrap our heads around what legalization means, I understand that people in the industry are proud of their wares and want to see what the competition is doing, but I saw more than a couple booths where everyone working was talking in a circle and ignoring the public that they were supposed to be selling to, and plenty of folks trailed off halfway through their pitch. I expect the ability to keep your head on straight after a dab is going to be an increasingly in demand skill, and that those who can’t hang will be forced to straighten up or ship out.

Amateur Hour:

While we’re at it, there’s an odd discrepancy in the level of professionalism across the board. Some of this can be chalked up to targeting different demographics, but a lot of it just looks like laziness. Being told to “try some of our shit” made way more sense coming from a white dude with dreadlocks with the only Trainwreck available in town than it does when I’m being pitched by someone who’s competition is found ten feet away. Also, when I ask for your contact info, a sticker with a logo and no name, number, or website isn’t what I’m looking for. This is legal now. Be proud of your product and act like it, or you’re going to look like a drug dealer among businesses.

Have we reached peak bro?:

If we can be real for a minute, San Francisco is a pretty bro-y place in its history. This is reflected at the cannabis events I’ve seen, with hoodie-clad dudes with non traditional facial hair dominating the scene. Now, I won’t act like I don’t count more than a few cannabis-loving bros as friends, but I would hope that the scene doesn’t lose the sense of diversity and inclusivity that’s kept it vibrant, inviting, and culturally relevant since the days of Louie Armstrong. There were many booths representing minority and female-owned businesses, and you could find folks in the crowd from every walk of life, but for an industry that is this young, its lack of diversity is worrisome, particularly considering the legal barriers preventing those who got in trouble for cannabis in the past from taking their spot on the gravy train in the present.

Stoned Seniors:

I hope I never stop being amused by watching old people get high. Watching a former flower child try her first dab to the cheers of onlookers was fun, adorable and hilarious. If this trend holds, I look forward to toking in front of a mirror in a few decades and laughing my ass off every time.

All in all, we’re all trying to work out the rules of how getting high in public is supposed to work. I expect events such as these will grow more professional as time goes on, and they may become overly sanitized in the process, losing some of the lackadaisical charm so associated with cannabis. That said, we’re only a few steps into this brave, new world and there may end up being enough space for both ends of that spectrum to coexist. What I can tell you is that these events are quite a bit of fun, with a lot of curious, excited people, both attendees and vendors, who are trying to work out our post-Prop 64 reality. I recommend spending the money, bringing a friend, and seeing this scene for yourself. We’ve waited a long time for legal cannabis, it’s only right we go out and enjoy it together.

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