Cannabis at California’s State Fair

The Cannabis Exhibition at this year’s California State Fair is another big step in the plant’s path to acceptance.

By Nikki Lastreto | August 1, 2023

Cannabis Exhibition California State Fair

California State Fair. PHOTO Amadscientist

Pinch me, please! This was the second year of the Cannabis Exhibition at the California State Fair at Cal Expo in Sacramento, and I still have a hard time believing it really happened.

Swami and I were honored once again to be ambassadors for this very special event, along with 18 others from various sectors of the industry. The fair lasted 17 days, and each of the three weekends was packed with special cannabis events (although no cannabis was actually allowed on site). While cannabis remains classified as a “product” as opposed to a “crop” (go figure), it seems appropriate that it should be at the fair, alongside wine, vegetables and fruits. Oh, and the funnel cakes and corn dogs, too.

The Cannabis Exhibition is all about educating the canna-curious and awarding the canna-cultivators. According to event producer James Leitz of Cultivar Brands, there were 250 entries into the competition this year, and 63 winners were awarded in the heart-warming ceremony held the first weekend. Many of the farmers were on site to accept, some even asking to have the medals placed around their necks, like true Olympians. “They wanted their Golden Bears,” Leitz said, referring to the trophies of the Bear, which has been the fair logo since it began 168 years ago.

Cannabis Exhibition California State Fair
Nikki and Swami with the iconic California State Fair’s Golden Bear.

Cannabis’ Time to Shine

California is the first State in the Union to sanction a cannabis competition and exhibit. The 7,500-square-foot exhibition hall was indicative of their commitment to honoring the plant. The programming on the main stage was varied and informative, featuring everything from wellness panels, storytelling, organic cultivation guidelines, indigenous farming and even a Sunday morning meditation guided by Swami Chaitanya. There truly was something for everyone, from newbies to well-seasoned growers.

The second weekend celebrated women in cannabis, which was super special. Produced by Mskindness Ramirez and a crew of awesome women in weed, the Sunday presentations included panels on the challenges and benefits of using cannabis during motherhood, as well as other life stages. They also published “The Ethical Consumer’s Green Book,” a handy guide full of information for interested consumers.

Keiko Beattie speaking on the Women Weed Wellness panel as part of the Cannabis Exhibition.

The final week focused on Veterans and treating their traumas with cannabis as well as presentations by the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) about the legality of cannabis in California. It all wrapped up Sunday, July 30 with demos and talks about making edibles, canna-beverages and how to pair comestibles and cannabis.

In 2022, James Leitz, along with Brian Applegarth and Caitlin Tamony, marketing director at Cultivar, had the vision and the connections to make the exposition happen. While this year, Applegarth has chosen to focus on expanding cannabis tourism; he remains a Cannabis Ambassador at the State Fair. Leitz and Tamony carried on and did an amazing job this year creating even more informative displays that ranged from the history of cannabis to photos of legacy growers and types of consumption. There were even some hemp plants on display behind a glass wall.

One of the most fun displays was set up by the DCC and featured a large wall that said, “Where Do You Buy Your Weed?” Visitors were given sticky notes to stick their answers up there, some of which were pretty funny. My personal favorite: “I ain’t no snitch.”

Cannabis Exhibition California State Fair
“I ain’t no snitch.”

“The California Cannabis Exhibit has been a wonderful opportunity to interact with the public about cannabis. Fairgoers, and our staff, have enjoyed our ‘Where do you buy your weed?’ display,” shared Nina Lemke, the DCC’s manager of outreach and education. “The seemingly simple question has helped start discussions about cannabis safety while also inspiring friendly debates on best licensed retail stores. It’s been a very positive experience for everyone.”  

This was the DCC’s first year at the fair and it felt like such a positive step, as they’ve been very supportive. “We chose to align with the various DCC license types to create our categories for judging,” Leitz says. “Since the fair is all about education, we wanted to keep the awards based on science at this point, as opposed to people actually smoking it to judge. It’s time for cannabis to join other commodities and shine.”

Cannabis Exhibition California State Fair
Honoring California’s legacy and craft community at the Cannabis Exhibition.

Cannabis, Corn Dogs and Cotton Candy

It’s also of interest that many of this year’s winners were also Emerald Cup winners, although The Cup uses a different technique and definitely has humans judging, rather than basing the awards on the highest lab numbers. Alec Dixon of SC Labs handled the lab testing on all entries and, as he always says, “High terpene numbers equal quality craftsmanship.” Not only terpenes were judged, however, as awards were also given to the highest-scoring THCa, CBDa and CBGa cannabinoids. The best numbers in six primary terpenes were also awarded. The three divisions, classified by their light source, were Outdoor, Mixed Light and Indoor Grown, and each section received awards in all categories, both gold and silver levels. To feature the seal of a State fair winner on your product carries a lot of weight.

Visitors were funneled first through the educational exhibits and award-winner displays, into the stage and presentations area and then to several booths featuring brands, industry organizations and farmers to answer your questions. “Our docents are the farmers,” Leitz proudly announced.

Award-winners proudly displayed at the Cannabis. Exhibition

To whet your whistle, a special slushie stand offered refreshing colorful CBD-infused beverages which were most welcome considering the thermometer outside rose as high as 106 degrees on some days. Luckily, the hall was nicely air-conditioned. Randy Reed of Scientific Solutions, along with his wife Angelica and their wonderful dog Cami, were busy the whole time making the drinks for interested consumers, many of whom had never tried any type of hemp or cannabis product before. “I tell them it’s like taking a vitamin for your cannabinoid system, and once they try it and get relief, they always come back for more,” Reed said.

The last booth, just two spaces away from the DCC, was the very popular Humble Root cannabis delivery company. Located in Sacramento, they were brought on to run the exclusive State Fair delivery service. The way it worked was customers would check out their menu at the booth, register and then place an order. Next, they’d go outside to meet and pay the driver outside the main entrance to the Fair.

Cannabis Exhibition California State Fair
The day’s most popular tee-shirt: Cannabis, Corn Dogs & Cotton Candy.

Irvin Hernandez and Colin Schmidt were running the booth and said that the most popular items were the edibles, although they also featured winning State Fair flowers from this year’s competition on their menu. It was all “easy peasy” and 100% legit. “We’re following all the rules to set a good example,” Irvin explained. Mental note for next year: You can get more than corn dogs and cotton candy at the State Fair!

Leitz and Tamony did a great job of laying out the exhibit. “Once they experience all the education etcetera, they exit through the gift shop,” Leitz laughed. Merch sales are a big deal at the State Fair and their most popular T-shirt says, “Cannabis, Corn Dogs & Cotton Candy.” Also available were rolling trays, grinders and even a bong with the State fair logo on them—how far we have come!

I admit to seeing very little at the rest of the fair, which stretches across 350 acres, including all the animals, display gardens, amusement park rides, many exhibition halls, sky tram and more. The Cannabis Exhibition was captivating and made me proud to be an Ambassador. This is yet another step—and a big one—on our path to full acceptance.