The Birdheye View: High Times at the First Annual Jamaica Cannabis Cup

Words by Birdheye
Photos by Storm Saulter

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In February of this year, on Bob Marley’s birthday, Jamaica’s parliament passed legislation decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and legalizing its use for medicinal, therapeutic and sacramental purposes. It is anticipated by many that this will lead to full legalization, allowing an island long linked with the ganja trade to participate in — and potentially lead the way within — the fast-growing global marijuana industry. To track developments in this exciting arena, we’ve tapped dub poet, musician and exceptional herbalist Christopher “Birdheye” Gordon of your (and our) favorite Jamaican bongo band No-maddz as our chief ganja correspondent. For his inaugural dispatch, Birdheye attended the first major international ganja event to reach Jamaica’s shores since the new legislation took effect: the first-ever Jamaica edition of High Times‘ world-renowned Cannabis Cup, held in conjunction with this month’s Rastafari Rootzfest in Negril.

I woke up to a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Jamaican coastline. “I can’t wait to go to Negril” said the gentleman seated next to me on my plane. “The Cannabis Cup?!” I responded. Then we both laughed.

It had been roughly four months since I was last on the island. In that time, I have been on a U.S. promotional tour with my band No-maddz and done some personal travel on my own, which I hope to tell you about in later columns. But there is no place or weed quite like home. Therefore, I had a strong appetite for a hefty ganja spliff. After a smooth landing and swift exit through customs, I made a quick stop in a small town called Hopewell. That first pull created an instant rave all the way to my cranium. It was just what I needed for the start of my journey to the The High Times Cannabis Cup and Rastafari Rootzfest.

It took less than hour see the ”Welcome to Negril” sign. This western town is usually flocked to by tourists, who come for the restaurants, hotels, private villas, clubs and a water park. But the ganja branded the “Best from West” also has its pull. It was a vibrant scene as I approached Long Bay Beach Park, the site of this week’s Cannabis Cup festivities. The string of cars on both sides sang a subtle chorus of success. Police gathered among themselves while Rastas and foreigners comfortably flashed marijuana like sirens. I skanked across slowly, swinging my sinsemilla skillfully. I made a small slip; not a fall. A week of rain on the west side had sagged the ground, and the mud had no mercy. At that moment, I reckoned it was not a Louboutin type of event. I made a quick shoe change. A vendor selling portraits and badges of musicians called to my attention that my band was portrayed on some of the merchandise. I had no choice but to patronise him, respectfully reminding him that the name of my band is spelt N-O-M-A-D-D-Z.

Personally, I am the Bird-Heye-View, as in bird’s high view from a bird’s eye view. You may need to be smoking to spell my name correctly. That’s bird as in free spirited and fashionably fly, heye as in huge eyes with high insight and state of mind, and the view is my unorthodox angle of opinion.

So, where were we. The Cannabis Cup’s unusual opening ceremony included the unorthodox wedding of Kyle Kushman, a ganja-growing legend. The bride and groom were unified to the sound of Rastafarian Nyahbinghi drummers, in a love-filled atmosphere that was really quite fitting. Meanwhile, the other early birds spent time meeting and greeting, as the vendors began to set up shop. Many fell short of a splendid display. Apparently, quite a few persons had their decor stalled at the wharf.

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There was one booth, though, that was hot even without a banner. The crowd was in awe, like ants to a piece of coconut. This turned out to be the tent of my good friends Marc “Bubble Man” Richardson, from Vancouver, and Colorado’s Tony “Terps” Verzura. Marc is the creator and owner of the Bubble Bag, which is used to make organic Bubble Hash. This simple process requires for the most part a few buckets, bags of ice, and water. Tony is a pioneer developer of tinctures and capsules rich in CBD (cannibidiol) for multi-million-dollar medical marijuana facilities such as Prana and Blue River. He is known in the marijuana industry as a trailblazer in the field of terpene extraction. Terpenes are the aroma that you smell when you interact with the plant. It stems from the Cannabinoids, the relief compounds, found in the ganja plant such as THC and CBD. Medical marijuana patients use CBD for a non-euphoric reaction; CBD does not make you high. The recent breakthrough in CBD treatment has brought encouraging change to childcare due to its non-psychoactive effects; In recent times, Colorado has become one of the most visited places in the world for epilepsy treatment, especially for those with severe seizures.

The mastermind of terpenes, Tony has pushed the boundaries beyond his success with CBD. Is this too scientific? Let me get you up to speed very quickly. If you are already feeling the high, just a single drop of terpenes can take you from a mediocre stage to pure bliss. It’s like being upgraded to first class on a nine-hour flight after a lengthy delay. It may be the same plane, but a different feeling in the sky. My first encounter with terps was about a year ago. It was a glass bong hit of pure bubble dry sift hash with two drops of terpenes. My eyes overflowed like the Rio Grande after a hurricane. I can still hear Marc shouting, “Two thumbs up for two tears down!” Those are great memories. High times, for sure. So The Cannabis Cup was a great reunion after months of keeping in touch.

The popularity of terpenes also lies in the mystery behind the actual process. Tony has never revealed it publicly. He has hinted that he extracts the terpenes in a vacuum-like mechanism that is 100-percent chemical free. Rumour has it that the level of Tony’s terpenes is so high and pure that the Cannabis Cup will need to create a new category. So far, I am huge fan of terpenes; I call it my Ganja Stain. This is the next frontier of the ganja industry. If Jamaica can produce the best terpenes in the world, we will skyrocket to the top of the market place.

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After a few good hits on the bong, I felt as though the munchies sent me a Whatsapp message: “It’s time to find food!”

As I trod across the grounds to the food vendors, I saw that only Ital, vegetarian cuisine was on sale. I was very hungry. So MiHungry restaurant was the first stop for their raw “Nyam Burger,” made of ackee, avocado, lettuce and Tomato. I assure you it tastes damn good. After ‘Mi Whol’-Some’ food (In full, the vegan Kingston eatery goes by MiHungry Whol’-Some Food) I grazed around to a few more of my favourite Ital spots, such as Veggie Meals on Wheels, Ashante and Debz Ice Cream (which I honestly think is the world’s greatest non-dairy Ice cream). Overall, the food choices were perfect for anyone who eats Ital. You were compelled to quench your thirst from an array of natural juices or coconut water. In the future, I would love to see the vendors incorporate marijuana more into the cuisine. Although that can be very dangerous. I know because I tried at my Birdheye B-day Party. High Times for sure.

The first night of the festival continued with the sound of dub reggae music echoing across the venue. Gabrielle Selassie of Kingston Dub Club was at the controls! Next, I visited an afterparty at the Beach House Villas hosted by Marc and Tony. It was not the usual afterparty filled with big-batty Jamaican women dancing around. It was all about dabbing and smoking marijuana — a small gathering for herbalists on a path of success in the marijuana industry, very chilled and informative. There I met Austin and Ross. These two young “high-drens” quit their traditional jobs in law and engineering for a higher calling: They became owners of a licensed dispensary and research lab in Rhode Island. Then I met Camrian, a first time visitor from Canada with a very timid demeanor. We had a very interesting conversation about his distrust of vape pens, or e-joints. It’s the latest trend I’m sure you’ve heard about: paperless smoking through battery heated coils, used with buds, oil, wax, budder, and concentrate. Camrian thinks that harmful gas may be released in the coil that contaminates every pull. Point taken. But I love vaping. As a performer, it is more friendly to the vocal chords than the traditional paper or blunt-rolled spliff.

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The heartbeat of the Cannabis Cup weekend was in the chest of meeting new people, so the night progressed to the wedding reception of the Kushmans at the Boardwalk Restaurant. Have you ever heard of the O.G. Kush? This is the veg-anic (organic and vegan) grower of the original strain. High times with good food, service and ganja from around the globe. We all left excited, hopeful and high-drated for the next day. Congrats again, Kyle!

The Friday afternoon rain was much kinder than the previous day’s. The number of patrons grew. The atmosphere became a little more formal, the locals still very curious yet very cautious. The diverse display of crafts, technologies and language left a taste of confusion for many newbies. As for the Birdheye View, I went in search of some great ganja. Surprisingly, it proved to be a little more difficult than anticipated. Ganja was very limited due to sale restrictions on the event grounds. The organisers had set up a token-based system: You were required to buy a token first, then present it to the vendor. I only recall about three booths selling ganja and I did not see any token area. Plus I am sure there were many people like myself who bypassed the system. There is something liberating and sacred about purchasing my ganja directly from the supplier. So I made a phone call to my good friend Maurice, who has been integral in my growth in the marijuana industry locally. After all, my hunt had produced some good hash but not-so-great buds.

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“I can’t talk, Birdheye… I am at a panel right now by the greenhouse,” he whispered. I hurriedly made my way to the discreet location, where the discussion was well underway. An elder rastaman was condemning the authorities for the snail’s pace of ganja reform, and critiqued environmentally incompatible techniques like greenhouse farming. “Jamaica has enough sun and heat,” he said. “No need for covering plants in a plastic bag!” He had a point. However, sun and heat are not the only reason for greenhouses. The marijuana plant suffers when there is too much exposure to rain, especially during early grow and harvesting season. At the end of six months, you don’t want your strain to be watered down in quality. We live in Jamaica, not California: We have rain and, sometimes, lots of it.

Another panel member, Dr. Cliff Riley, Executive Director of Jamaica’s Science Research Council, offered a counter argument. Dr. Riley spoke of a few unhealthy traditional practices that are harmful to consumers. For example, the direct use of fertilisers such as fowl manure on plants, which can leave bacteria on ganja buds. The effect may be minimal when smoked but it can be very severe in edibles. (People are eating that shit for godsake!). He also clarified rumours about the Bureau of Standards’ recent import of 100 seeds. According to the doctor, the purpose of that purchase is to learn the ropes before the industry gates are truly opened. He also stressed the importance of legal registration of business, with proof of land. A representative from JAMPRO, Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion agency, urged “the small man” to make contact for professional assistance. The black market of ganja can be revamped into a proud and successful market space in Jamaica.

Jamaicans must understand that the marijuana industry is a strict and regulated industry. Consequently, the cabinet appointed the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) to protect the interest of all persons involved. The CLA representative’s late arrival to the panel seemed to parallel the way they have been issuing information to the public. However, it may be quite the contrary: The CLA claims that they have surpassed the usual pace, if we should use the international process as a comparison. Patience, it seems, is a needed virtue, as proper rules and regulations are created. He alluded to the prospering ackee industry, explaining that the CLA will not rush into the global marketplace without clear guidelines. This eradicates any possibility of backlash in the eyes of other countries.

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This is what we know so far: The first set of ganja licenses in Jamaica will be in the area of Cultivation, Research and Development. Currently, only the University of West Indies, University of Technology and Bureau of Standards have received licenses. A few more inspections of farms and facilities will be executed closer to the end of December or into the new year. Provided that these farms are operating at regulatory standards, they will receive the green gold ticket to join the elite three. The public will have to wait for the pre-licensing process and regulations, starting around March of 2016.

I intercepted Maurice on his way to his booth. He is the owner of Sun Spice Seasonings, a producer of spices, herbs, sauces, teas and natural vitamins. He wants to incorporate marijuana with the products he sells locally and internationally, and has partnered with Igadi developers for ganja grow. Maurice knew right away that I wanted the highest grades. The first bag of Tangie Haze Kush made my soul rejoice. Then I had an orgasmic whiff of Platinum Huckleberry Cookies and the Ripped Bubba Kush. The texture of the Igadi buds resemble the buds seen in Europe and America. The crystals are highly visible. But there was a slight difference, with a fragrance that spoke the Gospel of Jamaican ganja to my brain cells. High Times for sure.

The tone was right for the Rastafari Rootzfest concert to begin. The Nyahbinghi drummers traced and uplifted the already stoned audience. The positive vibration continued with Jah Bouks, Bushman and Tarrus Riley. Ironically, these performers are all from the eastern side of the Island; balance. Myself, I returned to my hotel for a quick bird bath and feather change. Dubwise selector Yaadcore was playing at The Italian Cafe, with special guests Max Romeo and his children. Rominal, a group consisting of Max’s young sons, graced the microphone first; next, their sister, the petite yet powerful Xana Romeo, cleared the air for her father: “You have witness the fruit, now it’s time for the Root!” The crowd erupted as the legend’s voice echoed through the sound system. He moved comfortably through 50 years of hits such as “One Step Forward,” “Chase the Devil” and “War Inna Babylon.” There was also a surprise performance by Christina “Zia” Benjamin. The unassuming model type serenaded the crowd confidently, before Yaadcore returned to the sound system controls with hits from the new generation. I felt completed when “Shotta” by No-Maddz hit the speakers. The “wrenking” bassline never ceases to amaze the I. By now, the supply in my vape pen had dwindled. I bid farewell and retired with a sense of peace.

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Saturday was the acme of the High Times Cannabis Cup. Jah gave us the perfect weather to wallow in the world of weed. The vendor village on the outside grew in size and atmosphere. Green merchants were out on the main road, just like they were on Kingston’s Luke Lane in the late 80’s and 90’s. The less Ital crowd went for the jerk chicken and alcoholic beverages. Inside, the Cup was flooded with celebrities, politicians, locals and tourists. I guess they had resolved the customs clearance problem because all booths were fully decorated and stocked. The mixture of classes, races and religions spoke to the quote “herb is the healing of a nation.” The math was simple: More people meant more ganja. The quantity and quality had increased drastically. Being the Birdheye that I am, I reignited my search for buds of the highest caliber.

My first suspect was Teflon of Zinc Fence Records. He had a ziplock bag of green that screamed at me. It was a blessed draw, and the springboard I needed to set me wandering further. I pounced upon my musician Idrin Jah Cure. He always has great ganja somewhere. I sampled a few grams grown by Archie, one of the most revered Jamaican growers. I was soaring.

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As the sunset dived beyond the West Coast horizon, my mind drifted. I felt a brighter future for my homeland. The diversity of cultures testified to the success and importance of this festival. Once again, the Rastafari Rootzfest concert lit up the venue. I went center-stage to witness the ever-radiant Jah9. Her Empress Menen-like aura complimented her soulful vocals and powerful message of Haile Selassie I. She moved majestically, puffing her steam chalice on stage effortlessly. The concert was further amplified by I-Wayne’s performance. I found myself reflecting on the previous day’s attacks in Paris during his anthem “Lava Ground.” And the great Luciano closed the night with a slew of hits and his usual energy.

Sunday brought showers of blessing for most of the day. The grounds were filled with water, mud and empty tents. But there was no interference by the police or security at the entrance. Patrons were now free to enter with large quantities of weed, and other banned items such as chicken…yes, chicken. More people arrived in the evening for the High Times Cannabis Cup awards ceremony. On my way in, I met Ras Iyah V, head of the Nyahbinghi Order. He is the man responsible making this historic event possible, uniting the Rasta community and the High Times Cannabis Cup. We chatted for a short while, and I asked him about the festival: “It have a good vibe but it needs a little more,” he responded.

The announcements commenced at the main stage. The growers and other practitioners were now the rockstars. Several categories brought different winners with diverse personality, giving Jamaicans a broader view of our new friends from overseas. As for my friends I rolled with over the weekend, Marc and Tony walked away with three awards: Best product for bubble bags (I got a set as a gift), third place for best glass pipe, and a very surprising third place for best booth. I am still a little shocked on that one: I am sure they were the must-visit booth. But my biggest disappointment was Maurice with a third-place finish for the Tangie Haze Kush. In his speech, he revealed that he grew outdoor weed so proper that the judges placed him indoors. Archie got second place for best indoor grow. I spoke with him the day before. I asked him, What is the secret? The Kingston College alumnus smiled and said, “How many persons you know lock themselves in their grow room and chant Nyahbinghi for hours? I been doing it for years.” Fortis forever!

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The presenters from High Times included resident Cannabis Cup emcee Dan Skye, cultivation editors Danny Danko and Nico Escondido, who did the groundwork here in Jamaica, as well as other marijuana celebrities like Arjan Roskam of Strain Hunters and The Green House brand. He has a remarkable 32 High Times awards, and several coffee shops in Europe. There was also Miss Mitsy from the St. Bess Ganja Growers. One of the few female growers in Jamaica, she’s become known over the years for her great ganja and explosive personality. The star presenter of the night was the voluptuous Charlo Greene, owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club. Greene is the ex-journalist who went viral after she said “Fuck it! I quit” while reporting on her own marijuana business during a live news broadcast. She was given the High Times Courage in Media Award for their 40th anniversary in 2014.

The awards and rewards were over. It was time for the closing parties. I caught up with the High Times team at Pushpa Restaurant, by the cliffs on Negril’s west end. Also present were Rohan Marley and the Marley Natural team. On the way out, I was invited to a live show at the opening of Doc’s Place. Reggae songstress Kelissa gave a resplendent performance, and the Uprising Roots Band got everyone on their feet with a sky-fired and interactive set that included an interpretive dancer who entranced the venue. I reminisced on the beautiful weekend in Negril. Words may prove to be impotent. The High Times Cannabis Cup, the World Cup of marijuana, successfully teamed with the Rastafari Rootzfest. It was a bloodclaat joy.

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A peaceful icebreaker that went without any major or unfortunate happenings, this historic event was successfully executed with only two months of planning. Like many others, I made new friends and business connections. I left feeling empowered and hopeful. The marijuana industry may be our last chance to resurrect a deplorable economy in Jamaica. The successful marriage of the High Times Cannabis Cup and Rastafari Rootzfest offers a shining example and leading step for our Caribbean neighbours. Now is the time for rekindling broken relations within our society. Unity in and amongst the Rastafarians, government, investors and the church will be the ultimate determinant for a triumphant living in Ganja Paradise. Or else we will be buried in disappointment and poverty for another century. For our sake, we must get this accurate because our Jamaican credibility is on the line. The projected prosperity may place our most battered people through the doors of economic liberation. Will it be shark eat shark amongst the locals, while foreigners and the Big Guys continue to feast at our ignorance? So far, this may be the greatest temptation for the Rastafarian faith and Mansions. Lets us not succumb to the temptations that are embedded within the breadth of riches. Nationally, we must establish an industry with proper structure, stability and scalability. This is crucial in the development our new green gold industry. No doubt, transparency and proper communication will save us from further delay.

Nevertheless, there are still many unanswered questions. Will there be zoning restrictions? Will there be shared licensing? Pricing? What are the projected profits on the average pound locally versus internationally? The Jamaican CLA and SRC have expressed care for the small man and businesses. But they still have to report to a government that is drenched in bribery and scams. The government wants a piece of every dollar to be made from green gold. Luckily, the relationships made at the the Cannabis Cup have placed a great deal of power in the hands of the people — A major move against total state control of the ganja business. In all fairness, I applaud Justice Minister and Senator Hon. Mark Golding and the Jamaican government for its historic stamp of approval for the Cannabis Cup, and the lack of police interference at the event itself. At the closing ceremony, Mutabaruka, the world-famous Rastafari poet and radio personality, explained that Jamaicans can only reap real profits when ganja becomes fully legalised. I wonder: Will we wait on the backseat of the United States? Let us take the wheel, and not be driven like cowards on the archaic and biased route of international treaties. As my father Sigismond would say, “Son, day can’t light until a mawning.” This is the dawn of a new Jamaica. The land of wood, water… and green gold. Let us make the best marijuana plants the world has ever seen!

The Birdheye View is a bird’s high view from a bird’s eye view. For more from Birdheye, follow him @birdheyeview on Instagram and Twitter. #BirdHeyeView #StayHighStayFly

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