At the country’s biggest cannabis county fair, legalization is met with a mixture of relief and fear

For the last 14 years, the Emerald Cup has been a raucous two-day celebration of a longstanding California outlaw culture. Over time, it has evolved from a festival in a muddy Mendocino field to a highly choreographed event, but its spirit remains intact.

Each December after the harvest, cannabis growers come down from the mountains of the Emerald Triangle to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for a county fair-style judging of their wares.

Instead of cherry pies and blueberry jams, judges pick the best cannabis flowers, extracts, tinctures and edibles. A win at the Emerald Cup is an imprimatur of quality that can boost a business from anonymity to success. But growers do more than compete here; they come to see old friends and party, compare notes, learn about the latest in growing techniques and strains, and to buy equipment and seeds, the finest of which can cost $70 a piece.

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