Cannabis competition in Richmond aims to change Weed's reputation

Cannabis competition in Richmond aims to change weed's reputation

Marijuana growers will converge near Arthur Ashe Boulevard on Saturday in hopes of taking cannabis somewhere it isn’t usually found – a public setting.

It’s called the East Cost Connoisseur Cup, where roughly 80 contestants will enter their own marijuana flower, brownies and gummies in a contest to be considered by a panel of judges.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will have music, food and vendors. But it serves a greater purpose, its organizer said: proving cannabis growers and users can come together in a safe environment.

“It starts by coming out of the shadows and showing there is nothing to hide,” said James Hastings, a local resident organizing the event.

In Virginia, there’s still a level of discomfort toward marijuana, where possession is legal, but buying and selling is not. And a legal market for marijuana likely isn’t coming anytime soon. Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently said he’s not interested in greenlighting such a measure.

That leaves cannabis users trying to change marijuana’s reputation while following a law they say makes no sense.

Saturday’s competition, which runs from 1-8 p.m., will be held at a specialty gardening store, HomeGrown VA, at 1704 Arlington Road, just off Arthur Ashe Boulevard.

About 80 contestants have entered from the Richmond area and beyond Virginia, and 350 spectators have RSVP’ed. Contestants can enter a number of different categories, including the two main varieties of marijuana — indica and sativa — plus baked goods, candies and more.

Indica, a shorter and bushier plant, is known for its more intense effect on the user and is typically chosen for medical use. Sativa, a taller, thinner plant that takes longer to grow, provides a lighter effect.

It generally takes eight to 12 weeks to grow a marijuana plant, and the type of seeds, the soil and how consistently the grower cares for the plant affect the ultimate product.

Andrew Houghton, a 32-year-old contestant from Northern Virginia, uses coconut husks as soil. Judges will consider the product’s appearance, color, smell, flavor when consumed and the effect on its user, Houghton said. They’ll name one winner per category.

Houghton has his own business selling hemp plants, which is legal in Virginia, unlike marijuana. But hemp has come under scrutiny, too, and Virginia changed its law this year.

Now, hemp must have a 25-to-1 or higher ratio of CBD to THC. Houghton said his plants have less than 0.3% of THC – the component of marijuana that provides a high — meaning they have no psychoactive effects.

There’s still fear among marijuana enthusiasts, Houghton said, who worry they’ll run afoul of the law, which is detailed and specific. In Virginia, residents 21 and over can consume marijuana in private. (While Saturday’s event is open to the public, it’s occurring on private property.) They can grow up to four marijuana plants at home and carry up to one ounce.

But many say the law makes no sense, because people can use, grow and share marijuana. But they can’t buy or sell it.

And aspects of the law seemingly are going unenforced. Marijuana delivery services have sprung up in Richmond and generally have avoided being arrested or charged. One federal prosecutor in Virginia said her office would pursue large-scale marijuana sellers, not local dealers.

But people shouldn’t have to deal with high prices or shady hand-to-hand deals, Houghton said, who suggests people grow their own plants. It’s not as hard as it looks. He tells people to ditch the dealer.

To some degree, cannabis still has a bad reputation, Houghton added. He hopes Saturday’s event can work to change that reputation. Marijuana, he said, has fewer negative effects than alcohol and can be used to treat anxiety and sleep deprivation.

“It’s a whole lot more than just getting high,” Houghton said.

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Region: Virginia