A smokin' pot industry awards its own 'Oscars'

5:36 AM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
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LOS ANGELES (USATODAY.com) - The marijuana industry, its outlook soaring with legalization in two states and changing attitudes nationally, is showing off the latest products and celebrating its good fortune at a trade exhibition this weekend.

The Los Angeles Cannabis Cup, an annual event sponsored by High Times, the magazine of stoner culture and business, is expected to see record attendance of more than 10,000 people this Saturday and Sunday. That's twice any previous turnout, managing editor and event coordinator Jen Bernstein says.

Voter approval of marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington state, a growing list of states permitting marijuana for medical uses, polls showing for the first time that a majority of Americans support legalization, and President Obama's recent remark that pot is no worse than alcohol, all have created a buzz for marijuana consumers and an industry that was already on a roll.

"There's been a huge surge in interest,'' says Bernstein, who notes her magazine's recent issue was its biggest in 40 years of publishing.

"It's a huge growth industry right now.''

The show awards prizes, the Cannabis Cup, to strains of marijuana rated best by judges, with separate categories for sativa, indica and hybrid strains of the plant, as well as hashish and other forms of marijuana concentrates. Awards go to the best new marijuana-related products, like glass bongs, pipes, vaporizers and accessories.

"You could think of it as the Grammys or Oscars for the cannabis industry,'' says Seibo Shen, a Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur and CEO of VapeXhale. Its first product, a vaporizer selling for $450, won the best product award at the 2013 show when it was still a pre-production prototype.

California became the first state to allow marijuana for medical reasons in 1996, and in less than two decades has been joined by 19 others, but its leadership in the pot culture has been overtaken by legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington, where new marijuana businesses have blossomed. Alaska is expected to vote on a similar proposal this summer, and a full legalization initiative is likely to face California voters in 2016, if not this year.

Because recreational use remains illegal in California, Bernstein said marijuana can be consumed at the event only by holders of a doctor's written recommendation, as provided by California law. An outdoor "medication" area will be available for users.

The event is being held at a citrus and agriculture exhibition park in San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, after being forced out of a venue in suburban Glendale last year when local authorities raised permit objections that the trade show was too close to a school, Bernstein said. In San Bernardino, she says, police and local officials have been "very welcoming to us.''

"Obviously the police know we're coming and obviously we will work within all of the laws,'' she says. "We've only had positive vibes in San Bernardino.''

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which classifies it as a dangerous substance without legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration has said it won't stand in the way of state experiments with legalization, although pot-related businesses remain at some risk of prosecution and face legal hurdles in dealing with banks.

Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is campaigning for repeal of marijuana prohibition nationally, said marijuana trade and consumer shows should be viewed as akin to a beer or wine festival - though probably with fewer people fighting or getting sick.

"There are people who pride themselves on being wine connoisseurs and take expensive trips to Napa Valley to immerse themselves in the wine culture,'' Tvert said. "This is not all that different.''

Tickets cost $40 for Saturday and $30 for Sunday. The magazine is sponsoring similar events later this year in Denver, San Francisco, Seattle and Amsterdam.

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