What Is the High Times Cannabis Cup?

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High Times Cannabis Cup
Author avatar By Derek LaRose
March 04, 2022
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A well-established product deserves an award. Thanks to the worlds’ leading social cannabis event—the High Times Cannabis Cup does just that. Initiated by esteemed journalist and writer Steven Hager in 1988, who decided it was time to turn the tables on how the world viewed weed.

Is there any other way to show the world that the best marijuana is worthy of being awarded?

The first Cup awards were held in Amsterdam, and after some years, other countries began hosting this prestigious event.

Cited as the best global social event that brings cannabis connoisseurs together to share weed notes. The High Times festival started small and grew in popularity as the years progressed.

The events created an entertaining environment for marijuana enthusiasts where they could let loose and be introduced to the worlds’ finest marijuana strains—along with the honored awards.

Curious to learn more about what makes this Cup the most distinguished social event? Read on, and you’ll be sure to get your ticket to the next event.

Winners trophies
Winners trophies

What is the Cannabis Cup?

What is the Cannabis Cup? Only the world’s most notorious marijuana competition and trade show. It was hosted by High Times magazine and officially known as the High Times Cannabis Cup since its establishment in the ’80s.

This championship is the highlight of 420’ers year. Getting together with like-minded tokers, cultivators, or anyone older than 21 that shares a keen interest in the world of cannabis, doesn’t get any smokier than this.

This High Times festival is a counterculture event that allows growers worldwide to showcase their brands and products during an entertaining lineup.

Established by former High Times editor Steven Hager in 1988, this festival has grown from a shunned cannabis event to one of the most popular in the world. Hager is a counterculture and cannabis rights activist.

He removed all publications of other drug-related articles from the magazine and focused on the legalization of marijuana instead—such as cannabis culture, lifestyle, and cultivation. He rooted for the rights of weed lovers and made sure that people publically knew his views.

The first High Times Cannabis Cups took place every November in Amsterdam. During the Cups’ teething stages, a handful of people attended this small event. It left a global footprint, growing in participation and attendance ratios as it became more established.

Today, the High Times Cannabis Cup is more than a prize-giving ceremony. Seminars, expos, concerts, and even celebrity guest appearances entertain attendees.

Other entertainment includes:

  • Cultivators have the opportunity to learn from world-renowned growers
  • Live grow room tours are available
  • Cannabis chefs show off their mastered culinary skills in the kitchen
  • Marijuana massage spas leave you feeling renewed

Each year, judges from around the world taste and vote on their favorite marijuana strains during the High Times awards. Some notable yay or naysayers include Tommy Chong, Snoop Dogg, Patti Smith, Damian Marley, Method Man, Redman, Kid Cudi, and Rita Marley.

Judging panels select overall winners according to: 

  • Best new product 
  • Best booth
  • Best glass
  • Best hash strains
  • Best Nederhash

A separate group of expert judges would evaluate which seed company has cultivated the following:

High Times hosted its first Cannabis Cup on U.S. soil in June 2010. This Medical Cannabis Cup took place in San Francisco, California. The High Times Cannabis Cup left its mark in the USA, and soon places like Denver, Michigan, and Seattle followed suit.

The festival took place in U.S. states that legalized medical marijuana. As with the original Cannabis Cup of High Times awards, this event rated each strain according to:

  • Best indica
  • Best sativa
  • Best hybrid
  • Best concentrates
  • Best edibles
  • Highest CBD levels in products

Since 1988 the same judging processes have been used to select the best of the best weed in the world. In 2017, the organizers made some changes—regional competitions were held in various cities worldwide.

The top ten winners of each category from all regions qualify for entry to the World Championship Cannabis Cup.

Competitors of the High Time Cannabis Cup regional festivals submit entries before the competition date in an assortment of categories:

  • CBD (flowers, concentrates, edibles)
  • Flowers (sativa, indica, hybrid)
  • Concentrates (sativa, indica, hybrid)
  • Topicals
  • Non-solvent hash
  • Edibles
  • Medically infused products
  • Vape pen cartridges

This networking event includes the Counterculture Hall of Fame inauguration ceremony during its celebrations. The formality commemorates the memoirs of people who helped shape the evolution of the alternative cannabis society.

Previous inductees were:

  • Bob Marley–1997
  • Louis Armstrong–1998
  • Jack Herer–2003
  • Steven Hager–2012

Homegrown Cannabis Co. stocks a variety of these High Times Cup winners, like:

YearWinner
4th Cup winner in 1991Skunk
7th Cup winner in 1994Jack Herer
8th Cup winner in 1995White Widow
9th Cup winner in 1996White Russian
12th Cup winner in 1999Super Silver Haze
14th Cup winner in 2001Sweet Tooth
Cannabis Cup prize
Cannabis Cup prize

The history of High Times Cannabis Cup

So how and why did all this begin? Every successful plan is always driven by a dire need to change something for the good. Which is exactly what Hagers’ intentions were. The end goal of the High Times Cannabis Cup was to get the rest of the world to respect the herb.

Steven Hager is a fearless and well-respected counterculture journalist in the weed community who became the editor of the High Times magazine in 1988. As he intended, he took the magazine to new heights, with the Cannabis Cup being at the center of it all.

Due to Hagers’ weed interests, he often traveled to Amsterdam, where he became acquainted with people he now calls friends. High Times reporters started covering marijuana-related events in Holland, paving the way for what’s to come. During one of his trips, the idea to start hosting cannabis competitions sparked the birth of the High Times Cannabis Cup.

Could this event truly be the one that brings the world together to the “one love” of cannabis? 

The early years

The first competition was hosted in a reception room above a bar in Amsterdam in November 1988. The participant ratio was very small at the time, which consisted of a handful of judges with minimal cannabis enthusiasts and companies. Skunk #1 was honored with the first Cup in 1988 and took first place as the overall winner.

This new High Times festival consisted of qualified judges who tasted some of the best strains cultivated in the Netherlands, awarding the Cup to the finest bud. Amsterdam was the only suitable place to accommodate such an event during these times.

As word got around about the competition among cannabis fans, each award ceremony grew in attendance, becoming a prestigious and entertaining event. By the sixth High Time awards in 1993, more than 800 participants had attended.

The Cups proceedings were more underground during the mid to late ’90s due to the odds against the cannabis fanfare. Despite the contrary, the event was unique, raising the bar for other 420 social events.

The High Times Cannabis Cup was joined by the Coffee Shop Cup, which allowed the public to participate and vote. This addition to the contest had judges “coffee shop crawling,” sampling qualified strains and awarding the leading ones.

Each awards festival became more popular as the years progressed, and stakeholders wanted a piece of this cannabis pie. Not only did winning a prize bring forth virtuous meaning to breeders, but seed banks also benefited from increased sales. Coffee Shops selling winning cultivars drew customers’ attention more interested in the buds than the beans.

By the year 2000, the well-established High Times cannabis festival fell into the hands of global commercialization. It no longer represented liberation for respected cannabis fans. 

The age of commercialization

When the High Times Cannabis Cup was commercialized, its credibility fell. Once wealthy investors got involved, marijuana lovers questioned its authenticity.

As the 21st century approached, so did the world of digital marketing and sales. It opened gates for potential investors, giving rise to rumors of fixed winnings, biased judging, and dishonorable behavior. Money was doing the talking, and well, tokers carried on puffing on their delectable buds.

The competition wasn’t regarded as fair game among participants anymore. Some entrants would purchase strains and present them as their own. Steve Hager wasn’t impressed with how the High Times festival had lost its way and had to fix the crack in the system. 

He sabotaged one event by deliberately requesting two acquaintances to enter using buds bred by other growers. It revealed the lack of communication among organizers and unethical arrangements taking place behind the scenes.

Hagers’ actions paid off well as organizers began pulling up their socks, following policies and procedures as required. The High Times festival was run more professionally with improved voting methods, gaining back the trust of competitors and spectators.

In his lyrics, the late famed Bob Marley once quoted, “as it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end.” A profound connection of how before and after commercialization affected the livelihood of the High Times Cannabis Cup. Dignified voting was restored as it was at the onset of the competition.

The raid and globalization of the cannabis cup

Sadly, due to splitting views of marijuana, the High Times Cannabis Cup had its first raid during its 23rd festival in 2010. It drew negative energy toward the event in Amsterdam, and arrangements were made for the Cup to take place in the USA.

Special permissions granted by the Dutch government tolerated the use of cannabis in Holland—it isn’t legal in the country. But the powers that be knew better than to ban it completely, so they created a designated area for its “allowed” use, such as “coffee shops.” 

Legal belts began loosening up in other parts of the world. Certain U.S states and Latin American countries started legalizing the recreational use of weed. It was now acceptable for the High Times awards to be hosted elsewhere, and Amsterdam no longer was the exclusive venue.

The competition took place in the US areas of Northern and Southern California, Las Vegas, Rhode Island, and Portland, beginning an array of new events.

Currently, there are a lot of cannabis cups hosted globally—all with a common goal—choosing the best marijuana. Growers and recreational users today have access to tasty and appealing marijuana strains, thanks to competitors working hard to win the High Times Cannabis Cup.

In 2014, Amsterdam hosted the High Times Cannabis Cup for the last time after 27 years.

Continual dedication to growing the strain with the best qualities led to improved potency, the tastiest buds, aromatic smells, and giant crop structures. The rest of the world wanted in on this, and as such, globalization captured the Cannabis Cup market by storm.

High Times Cannabis Cup trophies and medals
High Times Cannabis Cup trophies and medals

A cup filled with pride

The introduction of the High Times Cannabis Cup to the world is the legacy of marijuana. It created the ideal platform for growers to show off their best strains. Steven Hager’s drive and determination to change society’s perceptions of cannabis opened up doors for many enthusiasts.

An event that awards the finest buds globally while providing top-class entertainment for spectators. No wonder quality strains are known for their best sativa, indica, or hybrid traits.

Knowing where the roots of the High Times festival come from to the magnificent credibility it holds today, raises the bar for cannabis lovers to new heights. Even people who don’t indulge in using this herb share interest in this entertaining event. From a small one-sided event to a global superstar festival bringing together cannabis fans from all spheres of life.

The High Times Cannabis Cup transformed an array of cultivars that tokers and growers can revel in today. Thanks to this competition, we have buds with different potencies, flavors, scents, and growing characteristics. Get your share of these award-winning strains by popping into the Homegrown Cannabis Co. seed store, and judge for yourself.


About the author: Derek LaRose

Also known as Kronic from The Cannabis Kronicles, Derek LaRose is a young ambitious cultivator and a staple educator for indoor cultivation.

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