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[Previously in Cannabuzz: Josh was honored to be chosen as a judge for the famous High Times Cannabis Cup—until he discovered what he’d be judging: vape pens from a mysterious source.—eds.]

As a judge for the High Times Oregon Cannabis Cup, I was assigned “vape cartridges” as my product to review. Normally, that would have been great—but in light of what at the time was the still evolving EVALI (E-cigarette Vaping Associated Lung Injury) crisis, naturally I had concerns.

A month prior to picking up my judge’s kit, I wrote about how state regulators had recently announced that the suspected culprit, vitamin E acetate, wasn’t a banned “undisclosed agent” and may be present in some Oregon vape carts. As OLCC Executive Director Steve Marks said, “My worry is that some of these folks may have gone around and put vitamin E in their products that we are unaware of.... If it’s in our products, it’s out there and we don’t have a clear way to know which ones it may or may not be in.” At the same time, Oregon Health Authority reported that one of the EVALI victims who had died reportedly purchased THC carts from at least one licensed Oregon dispensary.

The High Times judge’s kit contained 10 carts, filled with .5 to 1 gram of oil, all packaged as if ready for sale. This was in no way the vastly preferred “blind judging” style, wherein all identifying details about the product are removed (including its name, producer, etc.), thereby insuring the judge won’t be influenced by any existing biases, good or bad.

I asked budtenders at the dispensary where I picked up my kit if any of the carts contained vitamin E. They were simply handling the distribution of the kits, so they didn’t know. The kit had a few brands I’d heard of, but most were kinds that I had never tried or seen.

I have a friend who owns a large dispensary that compiled a lengthy list of “good carts”—with verified ingredients and producers—so he graciously agreed to look at the ones I was given and determine if they were listed. “Wow,” he replied. “We actually carry none of these brands.” He also noted there was one brand he had never heard of either—that we will call, for the purposes of this article, “Brand X.”

I emailed High Times and requested confirmation that “none of these carts contain the thickening agent Vitamin E acetate.” I didn’t receive a reply, so I asked again through the website in which judges’ ballots are submitted. Again, no reply.

I began reaching out directly to producers of the carts to ask if they used Vitamin E. I received confirmation that they didn’t, but couldn’t find any info for “Brand X.” My friend said the brand name didn’t exist in METRC, the state’s cannabis products tracking system, but using the license number, he determined their legal business name and phone number. Multiple calls to this number went unanswered.

On October 24, I emailed High Times again and asked if they could provide a contact at Brand X to “confirm it was free of vitamin E,” resulting in this telling exchange:

High Times: Everything is OLCC certified and passes the test in METRC.

Me: That wasn’t the question, but thanks.

High Times: We don’t give our competitor info. Thanks.

Well, no need to “give it out,” it’s all on the packaging that the carts are in—save for “Brand X.” I was astounded at the lack of awareness or concern High Times was showing toward the health and safety of their judges.

The owner of the Cup’s venue offered to guest list me, and I arrived to find a scattering of booths and a few attendees milling about. I recognized a half dozen plus, all whom were associated with brands competing in the Cup. Stepping outside, I joined a crowd seemingly comprised of mostly other contestants.

The MC announced several times how consumption of any kind, including vaping, was strictly forbidden, and could result in your expulsion. Tickets are $80+ to a cannabis event where one isn’t allowed to smoke? Cool.

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Eventually winners were announced, the crowd emptied out, and the headliner played to a smaller audience than they deserved.

Those who won were worthy of the honors, and I hope it boosts their sales. But as a judge and attendee, this event came off as a crass cash grab—one that embodied none of the spirit of the original Cups. High Times has some great writers, but do yourself a favor—skip the Cup.