An open laptop was precariously placed on a breakroom table at Enlighten’s growing facility last Monday. Behind the computer, High Times Director of Events and Competition, Mark Kazinec, furiously typed in a series of entries on an elaborate spreadsheet in between fielding endless phone calls.
“I am determined to make this event go well,” explained a jittery Kazinec in between calls.
Although he was dressed in stoner fashion – slip-on shoes and a tie-dyed shirt – Kazinec is the antithesis of what one would expect of a pothead. In fact, Kazinec was brimming with energy as he rattled off the details of the upcoming High Times Alaska Cannabis Cup People’s Choice Edition. After a five-minute sales pitch, Kazinec slowed down a little bit before addressing the elephant in the room – the 2018 Alaska Cannabis Cup.
“Alaskans have a long memory, so there has been a lot of skepticism about [High Times] after what happened four years ago,” says Kazinec.
In what has gone down in the Alaskan Cannabis industry as an epic failure, the 2018 Cannabis Cup festival endured the last-minute disappearance of headlining act Methodman and Redman and accusations that awards were bought by the highest bidders. Although the accusations of cheating were never substantiated, the fiasco left a bad taste in the mouths of Alaskans, many of whom disavowed High Times.
But four years have passed, and Kazinec and his team have high hopes for the updated version of the cup.
“This year, we are doing the High Times Cannabis Cup People's Choice edition. So, it’s really different from what we did in 2018 because now it's open to the public, making it more democratized,” explained Kazinec.
Traditionally, Cannabis competitions have been judged by a panel of vetted industry insiders. However, this iteration is an attempt to eliminate the opportunity for cheating by putting consumers in the driver’s seat by offering nine categories of product kits priced between $119 - $279.
“We’ve collected products from about 70 different brands and put them into 2,000 judging kits that will be available for purchase at selected dispensaries in Sitka, Wasilla, Palmer, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Seward, Talkeetna, and Fairbanks. We really have tried to spread things around to make this statewide and to give more consumers a chance to be involved,” said Kazinec.
At the outset, the cup seems to be running smoothly but with judging kits being picked up this weekend, there is still a chance for disaster to strike.
“Obviously, there is a risk when you do something like this because you have no guarantee that the people who purchase the kits will follow through with filling out the judging forms. But we will be sending out multiple reminder emails and text messages to encourage people to really judge these products. Part of this working well relies on Alaskan consumers to honor the work and money that local businesses have poured into the event by taking the responsibility of judging seriously. The industry wants real, authentic feedback and this is a unique opportunity for them to get that,” explained Kazinec.
The hard and soft costs of entering the competition aren’t lost on Kazinec who freely admits that entering products wasn’t cheap.
“The lost product revenue was huge, especially when you factor in the taxes that we have to pay no matter what the weed is used for. I think that was probably that's probably the biggest issue I had with the whole thing – that $800 a pound tax is hard when you’re a smaller grower. And that doesn't even mention the costs of labor or packaging,” said High North Cannabis owner Jason Heileg.
The exorbitant tax structure of the Alaskan Cannabis community has proved to be a major hurdle for growers across the state.
“Anyone who thinks they are going to enter the industry to make a lot of money finds out quickly that that isn’t the case. You have to grow because you love the plant, not because you expect to get rich. Growing in Alaska is a labor love,” Quintessence Farms owner Nicholas Gelinas told Alaska Leaf Magazine in a February 2022 interview.
Even with the high costs and uncertainty surrounding the participation of kit purchasers, Heileg believes that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
“We don’t know if the money will come back to us in the form of future sales, but we hope it does. As a brand, we have always been pretty generous about letting people sample our products and we wouldn’t be here without them spreading the word. So, from that standpoint, we don’t mind investing in the competition,” said Heileg.
Cannabaska’s lead grower, Jason Lepley echoed Heileg’s sentiments.
“I think it’s worth it whenever you can get your product in the hands of people that aren’t in Anchorage. The exposure is worth the time and money investment because it’s great exposure,” explained Lepley.
Certainly, exposure to new markets is the primary reason to enter a competition like this, but Lepley is also hoping to use it as an opportunity to refine his products.
“A lot of people are gonna get to smoke our flower. Some will love it. Some will hate it. Some will say it's okay. Either way, that feedback is vital. We just rebuilt our cultivation facility and we want to know what people think about our flower. We can think we’re great but entering a competition like this is a great starting point to find out what people really think,” said Lepley.
However, Lepley isn’t just focused on the feedback, he also wants to win.
“I mean, it’s always fun to win because everyone wants to be able to say they are the best of the best,” explained Lepley.
Judging kits for the High Times Alaska Cannabis Cup will be available for pick-up on Saturday, August 27, 2022, at select dispensaries. To pre-register for a kit, learn more, or see a list of participating dispensaries, visit cannabiscup.com/alaska-2022