All photos by Evan Mann, courtesy of the Emerald Exchange

Situated at the apex of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties, the small but fertile “Emerald Triangle” region of Northern California offers perfect growing conditions for outdoor farms to thrive and the space to do it in privacy. 

It’s these same elements, however, that have made many growers in the area feel cut off from the opportunity to influence coming legislation, as well as each other. Many who voted “No” on Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use in California, are now anxious as to what 2018’s legality will mean for their unique way of life.

The Emerald Exchange is an annual farmer’s market and wellness festival taking place this weekend on a private ranch in Malibu, offering this relatively isolated group the opportunity to interact face-to-face with the patients they serve. Vendors specialize in artisanal, small batch cultivation, with a focus on integrity, environmental preservation, and the role of cannabis in the practice of wellness. Unfortunately, legal weed in California is bringing with it restrictions prohibiting free samples, as well as on-site sale and consumption –– which threaten the very existence of events such as EmEx.

Photo by Evan Mann, courtesy of the Emerald Exchange

As legality allows big business to enter the cannabis industry, events like EmEx become increasingly necessary for preserving the livelihood of vulnerable small growers who truly know about the plant and care about the environment. Emerald Exchange’s founder Michael Katz explains, “We feel it's important to create events like this for the cannabis community to help promote the health and wellness components of cannabis. We support the small batch cultivators from Northern California and want to see them be able to sustain their way of life in the face of the big businesses coming into the space. In the same way people care about where their food comes from, they care about where their cannabis comes from. The Emerald Exchange creates a direct connection between patient and farmer.” But the same laws that open the weed world to the everyday consumer threaten those consumers’ ability to access safe, high-grade medicine produced by the people who care the most.

Meital Manzuri, a defense attorney with over a decade experience in cannabis-related legal issues, has been helping guide EmEx through legal issues surrounding the event. “You’d think that more regulations would mean more clarity, right? That’s hardly going to be the case,” she says. “There are a lot of terms in the state’s regulations that remain undefined, making it difficult to truly know with absolute certainty within what lines you can legally operate. It’s like solving a puzzle or maze when there’s no real algorithm in place."

“For example, the state has banned the public consumption of cannabis," Ms. Manzuri continues. "But nowhere in the regulations is it mentioned what distinguishes a ‘public space’ versus a ‘private space.’ On top of that, there’s a whole host of other questions that will directly impact whether or not an event is legal. Some of these questions include: Is the event restricted to 21+? Is it cannabis or cannabis products that are being sold at the event? Where is the event being held? Do you need a temporary state event permit? Does the local jurisdiction allow for such an event? Is there going to be on-site consumption? Are gifts or samples being offered? Is there alcohol being served? Is there a charge for admission? The list goes on and on. And how you answer one question affects whether or not you can legally answer another. Events like EmEx will constitute an extremely nuanced (and mostly grey) area of cannabis law in 2018, but it will be interesting to see how creative the industry can get.”

Photo by Evan Mann, courtesy of the Emerald Exchange

Thankfully, there’s never been a shortage of creativity in the marijuana industry, and this year’s Emerald Exchange is no exception. In addition to vendors, a Wellness Village with a full program of classes and workshops, a VR experience from Grassfed and The Art of Edibles, live art and music, as well as the HERB pop up sound particularly exciting. On top of it all, Christopher Sayegh, known as The Herbal Chef, will be previewing his experiential concept behind the first legal brick-and-mortar Los Angeles cannabis restaurant, HERB, set to open in 2018.

By purchasing a ticket to one of the four special meals taking place, (two Saturday dinners, two Sunday Brunches), guests will embark on a curated journey while ingesting a light dose of THC (10mg) over the course of the hour. Sayegh explains, “They can expect a really cerebral experience. They’re going to have to use their creativity, their intelligence, they’re going to relax and fall in love with the experience we’re putting on for them. It’s more of a narrative than anything, as all guests will be asked to participate in the meal. Everyone has a job to do, and it’s going to be really interesting to watch people participate in the experience while they’re being gently elevated. Beginning to end, we have everything curated. They’re going to start in the dining room, and end in a beautiful nature CBD lounge.”   

Photo by Evan Mann, courtesy of the Emerald Exchange

In a win for the upside of legal cannabis, big ideas like HERB can finally take shape, offering a new take on a night out, where patrons can skip the bar for a wholly unique dining experience. On a less grand scale, many operating within the industry are simply looking forward to having some clarity. “I think that it’s going to be really awesome to just have defined licenses so we can go about our damn business," says Sayegh. “We’ll finally have a system in place that’s going to have some regulations to it, and function like a normal economy.”

Katz echoes this sentiment, saying, “We're definitely looking forward to a time where we can be fully compliant with fair regulations so we're not constantly looking over our shoulders.”

Photo by Evan Mann, courtesy of the Emerald Exchange

While the future of this complex and sprawling industry is yet to be determined, legality is sure to change the landscape as we know it. Festivals like Emerald Exchange will likely continue to shape the craft cannabis market, while big business will swoop in, providing the mass market a Coors Light equivalent. Luckily, in an industry where fiscal numbers are already exceeding billions, there's room for most to carve out an existence. As long as the OG cannabis community continues the vibrant, supportive, and imaginative direction they've been forging for decades, the industry can grow its medicine and smoke it, too.

"The community is really what makes the Exchange so special," says Katz. "We're so blessed to have generational medicine makers come down to SoCal and share their knowledge and products with us. It's a great platform for creating direct connections in the cannabis space, but with the fun and positive vibes of a festival. Like any event, it's the crowd that fills it with life."

For more on the Emerald Exchange, which takes place August 12th and 13th in Malibu, visit the festival's website here

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