The High Times 4/20 Cannabis Cup: A Lesson For All Cannabis Event Businesses

Since 1974, High Times Magazine has provided a platform for cannabis. It was the only place you could read about cannabis culture, advocacy and news. High Times was the magazine that started cannabis journalism, providing a much different spin to marijuana reporting than the twist Harry Anslinger left on herb in the media. The brand’s also helped pioneer the culture and promoted acceptance by way of their famous event: the Cannabis Cup. The most recent rotation of the herbal fest happened last Friday April, 20-23. But it wasn’t easy—even in this new legal era.


The High Times Cannabis Cup started in the ‘80s in Amsterdam, showcasing the worlds best flower, hash, edibles, glass and all things herb. Cannabis enthusiasts travelled from all over the world to be apart of the emerging canna-world; as well as to have their products judged in the High Times contests. The cup was finally brought to America in 2010, sparking a green wave in the States. As the Cannabis Cup provided a place for people to advocate and recreate in the name of the plant, it also positioned High Times as a leader in the cannabis event space.


Fast forward to 2018 and legalization in California is far from black and white. In fact, no one really knows what the hell is going on, considering the final draft of the laws have yet to be released. But with particular regard to the cannabis event space, nothing is certain. High Times experienced this last week in the worst of ways. The Cannabis Cup held on 4/20—the international day of herb— at the NOS Event Center almost didn’t happen due to local politics, poor planning and the fact cannabis law in California is barley comprehensible.


Just a day-and-a-half prior to the event, the City of San Bernardino voted 6-0 to deny a temporary cannabis event license to High Times for the Cannabis Cup. This came as a shock because the NOS Event Center and, thus, San Bernardino have hosted High Times flagship event for years—when cannabis prohibition reigned in California.


High Times’ CEO Adam Levin took the news in stride. “The new regulations of the cannabis world provide new hurdles to overcome,” Levin told Cannabis Now. “High Times looks forward to continuing to pioneer this new world and work with the state and municipalities to put on legal events around the world.”


Although the event still took place, buying and selling cannabis—the biggest draw of the festival—was prohibited. In fact, no vendors were allowed to have cannabis on the premises either. But all scheduled culinary options and music performances still happened.

According to reports, the city council leaned to oppose the cup because state law requires a 60-day minimum between submitting an application and the day of the event. In other words, people need to apply to the city at least three months in advance. Somehow, High Times and the San Bernardino City Council were just days away from the cup, and an event permit had yet to be approved. Ultimately the council decided that, even if they did approve the event, it would still be in violation of state law.

Councilmembers expressed frustration—not because they didn’t want the festival to happen, but rather because of the procrastination on High Times part.

“I feel like my hands are tied on this because it’s being shoved down our throats at the very last minute and I don’t like that,” said councilmember Marquez. “Why are you coming to us three days before the event?”


A representative from High Times apologized to the council for the late filing, saying confusion about the new process led the company to handle the filing through the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) at the state level before approaching the city. The High Times rep stated they also assumed that their previous relationship with the NOS Center would more or less ensure permit approval.


But that obviously didn’t happen. It should be noted, however, that Lori Ajax, Chief of the BCC, penned the San Bernardino City Council stating she’d approve the event if the city did. Alas, the City of San Bernardino did not grant High Times a permit.


It’s never fun to be the example, but this situation points to an array of larger themes, the first being that the power at the city level outweighs the power at the state level—so pass your plans and ideas through your city council first! Second, it doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you or your company have, or how much cash your event will bring to a city— if you don’t maneuver through the application process properly, your business/event won’t receive a permit. Lastly, when has assuming ever done anyone well? Although pre-legalization placed the power of hosting cannabis events on venue owners, thus why High Times assumed they’d get approval, we live in a new, painfully regulated and legally complicated cannabis era. Relying on assumption is and always will be destined for trouble.


Although High Times has received lots of criticism for not having weed at their event, this isn’t the first time they’ve run into trouble. In 2017 the Cannabis Cup in Vegas was cancelled due to bad weather. That was also the same event the federal government (yes, the Trump administration) issued a warning stating they might intervene, causing High Times to throw a dry event. So, they’re no stranger to hurdles, hiccups and drama. But hopefully, this is the last time—and the last 4/20—they’re prohibited from doing what they do best: celebrating the burning bush.