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Sonoma fairgrounds hosts pot contest
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SANTA ROSA  (AP) — The first time marijuana growers in Mendocino and Humboldt counties gathered to compare crops a decade ago, it was an underground, end-of-harvest celebration open only to a small number of cannabis cognoscenti.

In a sure sign of the sizable role marijuana has come to play in California’s agricultural economy, this year’s Emerald Cup — a competition for organic pot farmers who grow outdoors instead of under powerful lights — was held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

Hundreds of people gathered there over the weekend to shop for high-end seeds and hand-blown pipes and to sample some of the 316 entries at the smoking area open to those with a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana, The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported ( ).

Only weed that was grown organically in the sun and hashish cured without chemicals were eligible for the contest. A panel of judges, including buyers for medical marijuana dispensaries and veteran growers, was expected to announce the winners Sunday.

“The fact that Sonoma County Fairgrounds is opening and welcoming to the medical cannabis community and helping patients come into the mainstream is a testament to the acceptance of cannabis as medicine,” said Sebastopal Mayor Robert Jacob, the executive director of two medical marijuana dispensaries and as of earlier this month, the first mayor in the nation to come from the industry.

The Emerald Cup is named for California’s “Emerald Triangle” — a nickname attached to Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties two generations ago because of their reputations for producing top-notch marijuana. As competition has surfaced from indoor growers who can outwit the weather with artificial lights, automatic watering systems and growth-maximizing chemicals, the Cup founder has promoted the event as a way to keep the spotlight on outdoors cultivation.

“We never thought of it as a branded name, something commercial,” Tim Blake told the Press-Democrat. “But now we’re proud of it. We stand for integrity, we stand for organic, sustainably grown medicine.”

Ben Stone, director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said marijuana has joined wine grapes as an important cash crop and source of economic activity in the county.

“I can’t say if it’s good or bad, but it shows there’s a business there,” Stone said.

Although California in 1996 became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, its reputation as the nation’s pot paradise was eclipsed last year when voters in Colorado and Washington passed initiatives legalizing sales for adult recreational use. At least three initiatives that would try to do the same in California have been submitted to the Secretary of State for the November 2014 ballot, although some activists think it might make more sense to wait until 2016.

A Field Poll released last week found that 55 percent of voters surveyed favor legalizing marijuana use for adults.

“Considering people were going to jail for serious terms for an eighth-ounce of weed in the past decade, this marks a huge turning point in society,” Emerald Cup spokesman Josh Gates said of the event. “The reality of the situation is people smoke pot, grow pot. It’s not going away.”