April 19 2016 03:47 PM

San Diego’s cannabis scene inches closer to sophistication

Ocean Beach’s Always Greenest was one of two dozen dispensaries on hand.
Photo by Sebastian Montes

A piney haze has long since settled over the room when the emcee's announcement sends two dozen people rushing to the stage with outstretched hands, clamoring for Angela Mazzanti's attention. But the cannabis model/promoter holds her gummy bear rewards for ransom, demanding first that the eager throng define terms such as CBD and CBN, cannabis compounds that a growing body of research suggests hold astonishingly vast curative powers.

With each answer, Mazzanti scatters gummies into the blissed-out crowd, each candy infused with 100 milligrams of THC—more than enough to render the pot-uninitiated flat on his or her backside.

Celebration, solidarity and, yes, the chance to partake copiously, brought nearly 800 medical marijuana patients to the second iteration of Local Sesh, the newest effort to convene San Diego's cannabis community. Building off the inaugural Local Sesh in January, the recent event played as part trade show and part collaboration of like minds. Nearly 50 local exhibitors filled the 10,000-square-foot tent at the Hilton Resort in Mission Bay, drawn from all facets of the cannabis trade: cultivators, consultants, delivery services, dispensaries and more. At the front of the room, cannabis advocacy groups Americans for Safe Access and POW420 recruit new members. In the back, seedlings-for-sale huddle beneath a nurturing purple grow light. And in between, vendors brandish a bewildering array of buds, extracts and edibles as bleary-eyed patients lean in to take a whiff or sample the proffered wares.

Such events have long been common fare in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but have so far been scarce in San Diego's fledging scene. Last spring's San Diego Cannabis Cup was followed by the PotLuck Expo in November. Now, Local Sesh hopes to position itself as a more business-minded event. Plans are already in motion for a repeat performance.

"We hope to get more people involved so that weíre not just in the outskirts and the warehouses and stuff like that," says 30-year-old co-organizer Devin (who declined to give his last name). "This is our way of coming out of that era and into the legitimate realm."

Measured in terms of political sophistication and financial wherewithal, San Diego's cannabis scene lags behind L.A. and the Bay area, says cannabis attorney Kimberly R. Simms—far, far behind. But she sees events like Local Sesh as an encouraging start.

"Can you imagine?" she says. "In 2016 I never thought we would have a lovely cannabis event on a beautiful day in March at a Hilton. That alone says a lot."

Off near a side entrance, Dion Markgraaff scans the room with quiet calculation. After a quarter century in cannabis, he's now part of General Hemp LLC, a San Diego-based investment firm that owns or has stake in 40 cannabis-based ventures.

"Hopefully, this is the future," he said. "I've seen things here in the last two hours that are totally game changing."

He gestures toward the crowd huddled around a hydraulic contraption at the Medisun Farms Concentrates booth. Picture an industrial-strength panini press, except designed instead to squeeze pot's psychoactive essence into a versatile and highly potent rosin, without need for harsh solvents common to other extraction methods.

Cleaner and more potent is a sort of mantra for the medical marijuana community. Patients are always on the hunt for more effective means to self-medicate. That makes events like Local Sesh a ground zero in an ever-escalating arms race. Vendors boasted breeds that top out above 25 percent THC and concentrates that peak in the 80-percent range—achievements celebrated with trophies and raucous rounds of applause.

The mind-boggling potency is an order of magnitude stronger than what Cookie, a 61-year-old great-grandmother clad in a WuTang Clan t-shirt, has seen throughout her lifetime of smoking her friends' and neighbors' pot. But events like these are also about throwing caution to the wind, she said as she readied to try "dabbing" for the first time, wherein the user smokes a hyper-potent concentrate from a titanium bowl super-heated by a blowtorch.

"To see everyone doing it legally, it's..."

Cookie paused for a moment, falling into a pensive gaze as Parliament's "Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" thumped from the soundstage.

"Our dream became a reality," she says. "I'm not a criminal anymore."

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