The Emerald Cup celebrated its 19th awards show with conviction. The famed weed event took place at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, California, on May 13, 2023. The Emerald Cup has deep roots in Northern California near the epicenter of cannabis known as the Emerald Triangle. Towering alongside the redwood forest are veritable giants in weed breeding.
“We started out with just the sun-grown flower competition,” says The Emerald Cup’s founder Tim Blake. “That evolved over the years to now, where we have almost 50 categories. We had 7 judges in the beginning. Now we have close to 100 judges.”
Many heavy hitters from the legal and legacy markets throw their hats into the ring. Out of hundreds of applicants, any top 10 showing is impressive. The rigorous and anonymous judging process focuses on quality, smoothness, effect, among other markers. Here’s the complete list of 2023 Emerald Cup Award Winners.
The California weed industry, which has been through a regulatory storm in the last few years, welcomed this bright and auspicious event. Most industry folks showed signs of hard-fought hope and exuberance for what’s to come. The resilience of these entrepreneurs over the years is nothing short of heroic. Most cannabis growers in the running must dig deep to be on shelves today.
MORE FOR YOU
“To fix the disastrous situation we find ourselves in, they need to remove all the excessive taxes and regulations that have crushed the industry in California,” says Tim. If he could write a prescription to aid the cannabis farmers in the state, he says the government needs to federally legalize cannabis and open up interstate and international commerce.
The 1st place winner for Indoor Flower was the in-house bred cultivar called Blue Face by Fig Farms. The strain also won Best In Show, a coveted prize among all the flower entries. Fig Farms is the definition of a mom-and-pop shop. The Oakland-based and Sonoma County-born brand was founded by Chloe Healy and Keith Healy. The duo are as meticulous in their growing process as they are in pheno hunting for unique strains that you’re not likely to see anywhere else. Fig Farms’ ingenuity has won them 1st place Indoor Flower at The Emerald Cup for the second year in a row. “It feels incredible to be recognized for our life’s work,” says Keith Healy.
Other strains that landed in the top 10 for indoor include Gas Face by Sense, French Alps by Cannabiotix, and French Laundry by Maven Genetics, and Watermelon Punch by Decibel Gardens.
Southern Humboldt County was well represented at the 19th annual show. Lantz by Ridgeline Farms won 1st place for Mixed Light and 1st place Breeders Cup. Its founder Jason Gellman is offering up beloved genetics from his family’s legacy. “It’s a huge honor to win among so many great growers,” Gellman says. “Mixed-light produces some of the most amazing flower and brings out a whole other level of terpenes. Winning with Lantz and winning the Breeders Cup is definitely the highlight. It took my pops and me four-plus years crossing strains. I spend the summers growing them out to look for the winner. It’s a lot of work, but keeps my lifelong profession and passion exciting. Every time you pop a seed, you never know what you’re going to get. This seed, we got the one we call Lantz by Ridgeline.”
Nearing two decades since its inception, The Emerald Cup has expanded categories over the years to match consumer demand. At its core, The Emerald Cup remains a regenerative and organic-centered event. This year’s award show highlighted growers from Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity, and Nevada Counties. Regenerative growers won big.
“We started testing with SC Labs 12 years ago, way before anyone else,” says Tim. “We have a Regenerative Farm award to acknowledge regenerative cannabis farmers and to promote and educate society to the benefits of regenerative farming. We have a third party certified award to acknowledge farmers who are farming with the best possible organic practices.”
Sol Spirit Farm won 1st Place for its stunning bud LMNT in the 3rd Party Certified Flower category. This includes Sun and Earth Certification, a 3rd party certification option for cannabis growers that is akin to what other industries have. Sol Spirit sits on a river-adjacent property in Trinity County and offers a stunning cannabis-friendly glamping experience on their property so visitors can see award-winning weed grown in person.
Rosin Tech Labs took home 1st place in the Solventless Infused Pre-Roll category. Its hash holes offer a combination of rosin and flower from Luma Farms. “You have to be part of the community to survive in this industry,” its founder Sam Jurist recently told me at Hall of Flowers. “You’ve got to actually be part of it, not fake it. You need to really live it and breathe it. Show up for the community. We really love what we do, so I feel like that comes through in the products that we make.”
Mila Jansen, an author and lifelong activist known as the Hash Queen, was given the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in hash alchemy. The winner for Most Innovative Product was Rainbow Cheddar Flower by Compound Genetics x Node Labs x The Original Resinator x Industry Processing Solutions.
“The competition has matured right alongside the cannabis industry over the past 19 years,” says Taylor Blake, Associate Producer running The Emerald Cup alongside her father Tim Blake. The indoor flower competition took off this year with almost twice as many entries as the sun grown flowers. The number of entries has also expanded and contracted along with the market pre-legalization, in the medical days of Proposition 215, to now post adult-use legalization. The Emerald Cup keeps a category exclusive for Personal Use and honors the work of medical caregivers to this day. These growers aren’t in it for the money.
“Each year, seeing the joy of those who win on stage is such a rewarding experience to be a part of. Our contestants represent the best of California cannabis,” says Taylor. “I think a lot of cannabis consumers can appreciate a variety of products so we want our competition to reflect that.”
Taylor says each judging panel consists of individuals with a variety of different preferences and varying levels of purism. “We ask that our judges give each entry in their category a fair chance, no matter what their personal preference is,” says Taylor.
“There is so much resiliency in the cannabis community, and you really feel it when we come together,” says Taylor. “Many of us have had a hard past few years and we could use some breaks.” Suggestions Taylor has to aid the regulatory issues in California’s weed industry include: lower the taxes on operators, eliminate the 280E tax code, and have counties across California open up more pathways for licensing and allowing events. “I would want it to be done in a way that is helpful to legacy communities all over the country rather than more harmful,” she says.
Taylor said that the Indoor flower category grew the most in 2023. “We also saw an increase in the solvent-less cartridges, gummies, and the alternative cannabinoid flower categories,” she says. “I think the most disruptive category is our tincture category and I would love to see more entries in that category next year.”
Tim leaves The Emerald Cup winners with a message of inspiration: “Our winners are going to see how much winning the Emerald Cup means for a brand, they’re going to see us help them get their products on the dispensary shelves, and we’re going to produce some winners markets over the year.”
The diverse California cannabis culture is deeply rooted in legacy and tradition. For generations, cultivators, breeders, and product makers throughout the state have worked to continually raise the bar for what the plant can do.
A celebration of innovation, community, and of course, great weed, the Emerald Cup honors the best and brightest from across the California industry. From sun-grown flower to edibles, concentrates to pre-rolls, retailers to social justice warriors—and everything in between—the Emerald Cup is often referred to as the “Academy Awards of Cannabis” thanks to its revered status and highly sought-after trophies.
Now in its 19th year, the storied cannabis contest held its awards last weekend overlooking the San Francisco Bay at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. Emerald Cup 2023 was one for the ages, featuring a red-carpet entry, live music, the always fun Guild Extracts boat offering multiple cruises throughout the all-night soiree, and of course, the awards show itself. Hundreds of contestants, judges, sponsors, press, and other esteemed guests gathered from dusk ‘til dawn for a night of jubilant revelry—and a nonstop sesh.
Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake was in awe of the transformation his event has experienced. What started as a small gathering in Mendocino has grown into one of the most revered and well-respected competitions in this space.
“We started off just wanting to get away with a contest and have nobody go to jail,” Blake told GreenState. “I was an old outlaw. I never had any clue we’d evolve to this.”
The contest is a massive feat, with anywhere from 12-20 expert judges in each category. Products are scored on a variety of criteria, from appearance to aroma to packaging. The judges meet weekly on Zoom for over a month to discuss their individual qualitative results, eventually working out quantitative perspectives to decide who will receive a coveted trophy.
Placing at the Emerald Cup is an honor hundreds of contestants seek to earn annually, as a win is both an immense honor—and a unique selling point, something that brands in the struggling California market so desperately desire.
“When you see a seal on a product in a dispensary that says Emerald Cup-approved, that’s our version of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” explained Luna Stower, chief impact officer at Ispire and a two-time Emerald Cup cartridge category judge. “It’s a consumer report. Because the judges are consumers.”
Winners inspire and captivate the crowd
The Emerald Cup 2023 awards winners were a lively and inspiring group, representing the entire state of California—and beyond. The first accolade of the night was given to photographer and cultivator Ryan Gageby, aka Freegrow8, who received the “Best Photo-Amateur” award. Gageby, who flew in from Michigan to accept his trophy, told GreenState the honor was one of the biggest moments of his life so far.
“There has to be a higher power looking over me,” he said. “This has been a lifetime of trials and tribulations. I just want people to know that no matter how hard life gets, never just give up. My goal for my life now is to inspire others and to follow their dreams.”
In addition to the photography trophies given at the beginning of the show, several other non-product specific and “honorary” awards were handed out throughout the night. Cornerstone Wellness in Los Angeles, Big Sur Canna+Botanicals in Carmel-By-The-Sea, and The Bright Spot in Fairfield all won “Best Dispensary” for their respective regions.
The “Visionary Award” was given to Supernova Women co-founder Amber E. Senter, while longtime event producer Alex Aquino took home the “Trailblazer Award.” Weldon Angelos, founder of The Weldon Project, a non-profit supporting cannabis prisoners, was tapped as the winner of the “Social Justice Award.” His trophy was accepted by Luke Scarmazzo, who was celebrating 100 days of freedom from incarceration on the night of the Emerald Cup.
Cannabis genetics icon Soma, founder of Soma Seeds, was inducted into the Breeders Hall of Fame. Soma is credited with creating some of the most cherished cannabis varieties in history, including Amnesia Haze, Lavender #1, and New York City Diesel.
Hash queen Mila Jansen, inventor of the revolutionary Pollinator trichome sifting machine, traveled from Amsterdam to receive the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. Nearly 80 years old, Jansen is clearly young at heart, dancing across the stage to collect her trophy.
“It’s very special,” Jansen said of the award in a conversation with GreenState. When asked what message she wanted to share with the Emerald Cup attendees, Jansen implored others to “get out the staple gun and staple on that smile.”
Another incredibly inspiring moment came when Wendy Baker, founder of popular gummy brand Space Gem, took first place in two categories after years of entering. The brand won the Alternative Cannabinoid Edible category for Sleepy Fig 1:1 CBN:THC Mind Expanding Belt and the coveted Edibles-Gummies category for Sour Spacedrops.
Along with her trophies, Baker was also celebrating ten years of Space Gem, a true feat for longstanding legacy operators like herself.
“This is like a miracle moment for me,” she told the cheering crowd. “I started in my home kitchen.”
Last but certainly not least, the flower category is always among the most prestigious of the trophies handed out at the Emerald Cup. Individual awards are given to the top placing sun-grown, indoor, mixed light, sun-grown greenhouse, 3rd party-certified, and personal use (aka homegrown) bud; pre-rolls are given their own category altogether.
Jason Beck, an Emerald Cup flower judge and the longest-continuous retail operator of cannabis in the United States, asserted that the contest’s thorough and dynamic vetting process is one that ultimately sets the standard for the global industry.
“The flower judging is probably one of the most contentious competitions in the Emerald Cup, and for that matter, in the world, because I do revere the Emerald Cup as being the premier cannabis competition,” Beck proclaimed. “I truly think that the format that they have for judging really adds extra layers to that type of credibility in regard to that type of competition.”
Beck added that he would like to see more craft cultivators enter the personal use category thanks to the diverse range of winners the flower contest saw overall. Brandy Schneider of Sierra Living Organics took first place in personal use this year for the farm’s innovative Terp Blendz, which blends different cannabis varieties to create new and unique flavor profiles and effects.
“We are truly honored to be recognized in the largest stage in cannabis,” Schneider exclaimed. “Our unique terroir, love, and all-natural homegrown inputs allow our plants to show amazing expressions. To see it translate and be chosen just solidifies that we are on the right path!”
Regenerative agriculture darlings Sol Spirit Farm from Trinity County took home first place in the 3rd-party certified category for their Element strain (a variety GreenState tried at Hall of Flowers). The award is given to cultivators who go above and beyond the California licensing requirements for cannabis; Sol Spirit Farm’s flower is Sun+Earth certified, meaning the growers adhere to strict environmental standards throughout the plant’s life cycle.
“Regenerative farming could help us solve our current climate crisis, and regenerative cannabis farming is an important part of that,” explained Judi Nelson, co-owner of Sol Spirit Farm.
Nearly all of the flower winners paid homage to their Emerald Triangle roots in their acceptance speeches, taking time to honor and reflect on the struggles facing legacy cultivators and their communities.
“Getting recognized in one of the biggest contests in the world, the Emerald Cup, helped solidify our hard work and dedication to the plant while spreading a message that the small craft farmers are still here and quality always will win over quantity,” said Jason Gellman, owner of Ridgeline Farms, whose LANTZ flower took top honors in the Mixed Light category along with Breeder’s Cup. “It’s not a job. It’s our way of life.”
Dan Pomerantz, owner and founder of Rebel Grown, echoed Gellman’s sentiments. Rebel Grown’s Double OG Chem #15 won the sun-grown category as well as the Breeder’s Cup, two of the top prizes at the Emerald Cup overall.
“There are a lot of cannabis events and cannabis awards. But this one is the one that has the most impact and the most meaning, being that it really comes from the Emerald Triangle,” Pomerantz told GreenState via phone.
“Our farmers in Southern Humboldt were one of the few still standing with licensing in our neighborhood. It’s a big deal for us and for other Humboldt County farms and companies to be taking these first-place awards because it solidifies that we represent the pinnacle of the culture.”
“Best in Show” stirs spirited debate among judges
The Emerald Cup added the “Best in Show” award a few years ago, and up until now, the honor was always given to sun-grown flower. But all that changed in 2023.
Blue Face by Fig Farms took the top spot for indoor flower, the Breeder’s Cup, and Best in Show, a hat trick pretty much no one saw coming.
“To be completely honest with you, it’s the last flower I’d want to win with,” Keith Healy, co-owner and CEO of Fig Farms, admitted. “Numerous times, we’ve discussed taking it out of rotation because of how low the yields are, but it always stays in our lineup because of its one-of-a-kind terpene profile and its absurdly potent effects.”
According to several firsthand accounts, the final judges’ deliberation around the Best in Show winner was remarkably difficult as the group worked to decide between the top sun-grown and indoor entries. Passionate arguments were made on both sides, making the race too close to call at many moments.
“The flower meeting was definitely very lively,” said Emerald Cup associate producer Taylor Blake, in a call with GreenState. “That’s the great part about how we conduct our judging process: it’s not just points—it’s points and conversation.”
Jeff Levers, a two-time edibles judge and co-founder of Beard Bros Pharms, was not surprised to see Fig Farms take home top honors at Emerald Cup 2023 given the quality of the product, seeing it as an evolution of the market and the contest as a whole.
“It’s definitely interesting to see an indoor flower win ‘Best in Show’ for the Emerald Cup with its sun-grown roots, but it just further illustrates the point that the judges are looking for the best flower, regardless of cultivation method.”
“The ride of a lifetime…”
While the white ash settles on this year’s awards, the Emerald Cup team is already looking ahead. 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the event, promising to be the biggest one yet. The Emerald Cup has grown from humble beginnings to being known around the world as one of the preeminent cannabis competitions.
“We have some major plans,” teased Tim Blake. “In my mind, it’s just become bigger than I ever could have dreamed.”
His daughter and predecessor Taylor Blake was also struck by how far the Emerald Cup has come and expressed excitement about the future.
“To see it grow and evolve into where it is now is truly the ride of a lifetime,” she pronounced. “To see the community come together is by far our favorite part, and to see the influence that the winners have in the industry and to see the impact that the Emerald Cup has had on the industry is truly humbling. I’m really excited to see it usher itself into the 20th year and see where it goes from there.”
On May 13, the 19th (almost annual) Emerald Cup celebrated cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers. Though the legal cannabis industry has faced growing pains and economic collapse, farmers from arguably the hardest hit county, showed up and showed out, taking home several top honors.
Jason Gellman holding up awards for his Ridgeline Farms cannabis.
Southern Humboldt’s prodigal son, Jason Gellman of Ridgeline Farms, took home 1st place for Mixed Light and Mixed Light Breeder’s Cup, with Ridgeline Farms new Lantz strain. He also placed 13th and 17th in the sungrown category.
Forbes quoted Gellman in a recent article talking about the Breeder’s Cup win, “Winning with Lantz and winning the Breeders Cup is definitely the highlight. It took my pops and me four-plus years crossing strains. I spend the summers growing them out to look for the winner. It’s a lot of work, but keeps my lifelong profession and passion exciting.”
Ridgeline Farms awards displayed on the big screen at the Emerald Cup Awards 2023
However, Gellman didn’t celebrate his wins alone, instead championing his fellow Humboldt County cannabis producers, stating, “We showed up big this year. It was pretty amazing.”
Huckleberry Hill owner, Johnny Casali, took home three 1st place honors in the CO2 Cartridge, Icewater Hash, Preroll – Infused Solventless Extract categories as well as 2nd place in the Preroll – Non Infused category. Casali said, “We had a Whitethorn Rose runaway,” talking about Huckleberry Hill’s signature strain.
Casali’s Whitethorn Rose strain was the top winner for his farm, Huckleberry Hill.
For Casali and Gellman, both legacy farmers that have watched the rise and fall of the cannabis industry over the span of their lifetimes. “This year’s Emerald Cup took on a special meaning for many of the farmers out of southern Humboldt. Too many farmers to name …took home first place trophies. …One thing that seemed consistent with the winners was [that] family legacy strains dominated the podium,” Casali told Redheaded Blackbelt. Like Gellman’s Breeders Cup win that was bred with his father, Huckleberry Hill’s award-winning strain, Whitethorn Rose, was a true family collaboration. “This was a strain I bred to one I grew with my mother over 40 years ago,” he stated.
Two years ago, the federal legalization of cannabis didn’t seem like a pipe dream. Senators Chuck Schumer, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden were drafting the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which would end federal prohibition and scrap pot’s classification as a controlled substance, while the SAFE Banking Act, which would make it easier for banks to work with cannabis businesses, was en route to the Senate. At the same time, Nancy Mace, a Republican Representative from South Carolina, introduced a GOP-friendly bill to legalize marijuana. And odd political bedfellows like billionaire Charles Koch and Amazon came out in support of ending the country’s cannabis prohibition.
But when Congress postponed voting on the three bills at the end of 2022, pot stocks cratered and the price per pound of legal bud crashed. Today, the dream of legalization has gotten a bit hazier and caused the first employment drop in the history of the $26 billion legal weed market. But, with 88% of Americans in favor of legalization and nearly half living in a state or district where it’s legal already, according to Pew—not to mention the 12% increase in sales projected for the industry this year—there are reasons to keep hopes high.
For the past several months, Forbes has interviewed dozens of industry analysts, investors, entrepreneurs, executives and business owners, studying sales data and financial documents to identify the 42 entrepreneurs and leaders who are paving the way for the inevitable green rush. Publicly-traded companies were not considered in order to highlight smaller, entrepreneurial brands and people revolutionizing the industry from the ground up—and bettering its chances at legalization.
This year would see the Emerald Cup’s award show move to the Bay Area for the first time after a long stint in wine country before the pandemic and last year’s show at The Montalbán in Hollywood. While nowhere in the state worth having the cup could be considered neutral territory given how many competitors dot the state from north to south, the Bay is one of the better spots to have it because it’s essentially halfway between L.A. and Arcata — most of the state’s cannabis enthusiasts and businesses lie between that two points, too. The venue at Richmond’s Craneway Pavilion was undoubtedly the most gorgeous the cup has seen since it left the redwoods in the early 2010s for bigger venues closer to population centers.
But the most beautiful sights to behold on the water’s edge were the glass cases filled with this year’s entries. As the judges, contestants and special guests entered the venue, they were greeted by the cases. The flower entries were the most packed, as people wedged in tight to get pics of all the pretty buds for the social media adventures.
As the award show kicked off, it was like the final countdown to the big categories at the end began. After making its way through some of the more niche photography and product categories, it was on to the social justice awards. In one of the coolest moments of the night, Luke Scarmazzo came on stage to accept The Social Justice Award on behalf of his good friend Weldon Angelos.
Angelos was released in 2016. He was originally sentenced to serve 55 years over a cannabis conviction with a mandatory minimum sentence but only served 13 years. After his release, Angelos began advocating for others who remained in the circumstances he was able to escape, eventually founding The Weldon Project. One of the people Weldon has helped get out of prison was his close friend Scarmazzo.
As he took the stage, Scarmazzo noted he was celebrating 100 days since being released from prison after serving 15 years over medical cannabis. The news received one of the loudest ovations of the night.
Other awards would include The Pioneer Award going to Amber Senter for her work on Social Equity and The Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award going to Mila Jansen for her contribution to the world of hashish over the last 50 years as an entrepreneur, smuggler, and inventor.
From there we started into the big dog categories of flower and hash. This year’s theme was champions still crushing it. The rest of the evening would feature a carousel of repeat winners or those returning to the podium after a year or two off.
One of the biggest returns was Ridgeline Farms. After being the only mixed-light cultivator to qualify for the Zalympix finals, the LANTZ hype rolled on this weekend with Ridgeline taking top honors.
Founder Jason Gellman shared the experience with L.A. Weekly.
“With all the competition going on these days, The Emerald Cup to me is still the most prestigious and authentic. The judging is taken seriously by a talented group hand-picked for their dedication to the plant,” Gellman said. “As our small cannabis communities have taken a giant hit from the challenges of the industry, it’s as important as ever to stay relevant. I take lots of pride in growing the best herb possible, so when I submit my entries I always feel they have a chance to win.”
After the near-perfect farming conditions up north for most of the last year before monsoon season hit, it was expected Southern Humboldt would be very competitive. Most of the years that a NorCal farmer didn’t win the cup it had something to do with mother nature. Gellman was proud to see what the county did this year.
“This year, Humboldt County showed up big. Winning is huge, but it’s more about us representing our community as a whole than just one of us,” Gellman said. “Ridgeline took home multiple awards including first in mixed light with my new strain LANTZ, but what we were the most proud of is winning the Breeders cup.”
Gellman had been working on creating this strain for over four years.
“Lots of time, energy, money, fails and finally one giant win,” Gellman said. “I knew LANTZ was the one, but this just solidifies it. The cup was a giant success this year and was great to see so many real heads in the game. Overall, it was a great day in the bay”
Rebel Grown took home top honors in the Full Sun. After regularly gracing the top 10 and top 20 over the years, this time they were able to take first place with their Double OG Chem.
In indoor, Fig Farms would became the only indoor farm to ever win The Emerald Cup twice after now winning both the past two renditions of the contest. The Blue Face that won the indoor category was also the first-ever indoor flower to win The Emerald Cup’s prestigious best-in-show award.
“The love we received at the Emerald Cup has elevated to a new level,” Keith Healy of Fig Farms told L.A. Weekly, “Two years at the top spot for indoor flower, and this year going a step further by receiving Best in Show. Fig Farms’s Blue Face is the first indoor flower to receive the Best in Show award, which has been given exclusively to Sungrown flower until now. I am so proud of our team, and truly honored in a way that cannot be put into words.”