Tim Blake stands in front of Area 101 off of High 101 in Mendocino County, California on Oct. 19, 2021. Photo by LJ Dawson

Tim Blake on the psychedelic revolution, moving the Emerald Cup to L.A. and protecting small, legacy cannabis farmers in the Emerald Triangle

Tim Blake spoke to The News Station this fall before the Emerald Cup Harvest Ball. The Emerald Cup was held in Santa Rosa this December one last time before moving to L.A. The Cup celebrated and rallied around small farmers as what Blake calls the “end of an era” of small farmers in Northern California occurs due to traditional farmers being crushed by lower-than-ever cannabis prices, new regulations and high taxes. The Cup gave away 27 booths to small farmers and donated $1 of every ticket to compassionate care (cannabis gifting). We caught up with him about the past, present and future of the industry. 

The News Station: How did you get into cannabis?

Tim Blake: It was called pot, weed. There’s different names of marijuana. But I was 14 years old, and I was a hyperactive kid. And one of the kids at school offered me some pot. And I got stoned. For the first time I just felt euphoria, lack of anxiety. They would put me on Ritalin or something these days. But it just made me completely feel comfortable. I realized I found my friend and ally at 14. My parents moved near Santa Cruz on the coast when I was 15. And I immediately started dealing. And so I’ve been in the business for almost 50 years.

TNS: What are a few of the biggest lessons that you think you’ve taken out of all that experience?

Tim Blake: We had a really beautiful, tight-knit industry. Back in the outlaw days, your word meant something. A handshake meant something. It was a tight community. Nobody worried about anybody else because you were just worried about not getting busted. If you didn’t get busted, everybody’s going to sell their pot. There was no competition because everybody could sell it. Now, it’s like everybody kind of looks at each other. It’s like, ‘what do you got? What do I got?’ It’s like every brand against each other. It’s become very competitive. Back then it was a beautiful, well-run business where everybody was in it for the right reasons. You looked at going to prison for long sentences so you really had to care about it. It wasn’t just a money thing like now. People were really in it for the passion of I’m committed to cannabis. I loved the commodity and the honesty and integrity. It was really integrity. If you had integrity, you could work with anybody. I was getting million-dollar fronts on a handshake back in the 80s. My biggest lesson of all this was integrity. And that’s why I started the Emerald Cup. It wasn’t about anything but friendly competition. I never did it for the money. To this day I get respect because they know that it’s always been about integrity. It’s never been about the money.

TNS: When did you start the Emerald Cup?

Tim Blake: 18 years ago, 2004.

TNS: Did you ever think it’d be something that became one of your main things?

Tim Blake: No, no idea. We started in this little building [in Area 101]. I thought if I didn’t get arrested, I would be happy. We wanted to have a friendly cannabis competition and celebration of the fall harvest. And we disguised it as a birthday party for two of our friends. Most of the people came wearing masks. Most of the people thought we would get busted. And we didn’t. We got really lucky that year. And the following year, the cops did show up, but they didn’t know what to do with us. The cars were all over the highway, and the cop pulled up. And just as I was announcing some of the winners, like ‘number five is the purple kush,’ he’s watching cars go by, and he’s like, ‘I could bust every car for the pockets in these cars.’ And he heard that, and was like ‘I don’t even know what’s going on in there. I just want this to end. Get this shit cleaned up.’ And I’m like, ‘dude, yes, sir.’ And I went inside, and told people they had to move their cars. And they were like ‘fuck the cops,’ and didn’t move their cars. And so we didn’t move any cars. And so we stayed. They didn’t know what to do with us. So it just grew, but I never would have ever conceived it would become what it is.

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TNS: How would you describe the Emerald Cup?

Tim Blake: People tell me that, especially from out of state the first time they come, they’re blown away that people could actually get together and freely use cannabis and sell cannabis and be in a culture like that. Cops are there. Nobody’s hassling anybody, and especially back in the days before legalization, we were doing this when it still was illegal, when it was 2010 to 2017. We were doing it at fairgrounds, it was medicinally legal, but it wasn’t recreationally legal. We were running like $20 million a weekend through all the vendors and stuff. And people were like, ‘This is crazy. How do you get away with this?’ And we were just doing it. It was really fun to watch their expressions. Many people called me to say you know what? ‘I came from out of state. We didn’t know how we’d be accepted. But everybody treated us so cool. It’s like we were just immediately accepted into the tribe.’ And they really thanked us for that. And then people were just blown away by what it was. Now, of course events are happening in other places, but back then, it was a pretty shocking revelation for people to see.

TNS: Do you think there has been an over-obsession of brands and quality?

Tim Blake: No. Before it was legal, everybody could sell their pot a lot easier. And so it wasn’t as much obsession with all the brands and all that. As soon as we started getting towards legalization, then it came down to brands and quality. Now if you want to be a brand, you got to have the best. You better have the best, or else you’re not going to sell your stuff. Once they started smoking that quality of bud, they all wanted it. Then nobody wanted b-grade, and it just avalanched from there. Once you can go into a dispensary, then it was an equalizer.

TNS: What are the top three things you think people should be paying attention to or watching right now in the cannabis industry?

Tim Blake: Every one of these states should be really learning from us, and making it as easy as possible for their legacy farmers to survive. Every state, every area should really be doing the best they can to help support the legacy farmers and the product makers, the people that were making edibles and tinctures and salves in the beginning. They should do everything they can to help them survive so there isn’t an extinction event for all of them across the country. 

Then I would have us open up as quickly as possible federally, so we could take on the international markets because people love California bud. They love American bud. And we need to get those markets because right now South America, Colombia, Costa Rica are all blowing up with cannabis. They’re opening up completely. And so we have this small window where we can kind of become the true world leaders. And if we don’t open up federally, which would mean internationally, we’re not going to have that spot. We’re not going to get that. We should take it. It’s ours.

They should really deal with compassionate care and make as much free accessible cannabis to poor people, minorities, people in need as possible. It would really help society if people were smoking pot on the streets rather than doing crack or fentanyl. You’d see a totally different look in their eyes. You want to help society, give them all cannabis.

TNS: How do we move forward in a way that doesn’t hurt the small farmers?

Tim Blake: You open up farmers markets. So we used to have farmers markets, and all the buyers would come in. It was a great thing. If you look at farmers markets in every city, it’s all small farmers. It’s all people doing small farming, organic produce. It’s great. You need farmers markets in every city, in every city in California and in this country, where they’re just supporting small farmers, just like they do agricultural products. And then you’d have at least those farmers who would be there to direct consumers and help people out. So you need small farmers markets, and you need to make it easy for them to exist and not put all the taxes and regulation on them to crush them.

TNS: When is the Emerald cup moving? 

Tim Blake: Next year.

TNS: Why are you moving the cup away from the Emerald Triangle?  

Tim Blake: We’re moving the Emerald Cup to LA. And why is that? Because the Emerald Triangle didn’t embrace cannabis fast enough. And the base moved to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. That’s where we moved the cup down. Northern California, they didn’t embrace it quick enough. And so who became the head of all cannabis, LA. Now it’s the biggest cannabis market in the world. They embraced it. They just took it in, because they’re smart. And so now, the power spot of cannabis in the world is going to be LA. And that should have been the Bay Area. We were the spot. We didn’t do it. And, you know, God bless them. That’s why we’re moving to LA. And that’s where it’s going to be the biggest media market and the biggest cannabis market.

Where is most of the market? When we moved to Sonoma, all the triangle people, half of them, didn’t want to go down there. They thought we were traitors. Then when they realized how much business people did, it’s like, ‘Are you selling pot here at the Emerald Cup or here in Laytonville?’ And then when you’re at that awards ceremony, you have all those consumers looking at you. So it’s business.

TNS: Was there any time you thought you were going to get out of the industry after you got arrested or any craziness happened that you were like screw this, I gotta go find something else?

Tim Blake: Several times. I’m writing books about it. I had the cops and the Feds show up here. And they busted my place across the street, showed up with choppers and everybody’s saying, ‘OK, we finally got you, Tim. Let’s just go, you’re done.’ I told them, ‘screw off.’ I wasn’t going, I wasn’t gonna tell them anything. And my guys held their mud, and I actually walked out of that but they stole the crop that was so beautiful. They were robbing crops. And this was such a beautiful crop. They brought the trucks in rather than choppers and they carried it all out. They stole about 400 pounds which was worth about a million bucks. So they decided to let me go. I really thought I was gonna get it. That was probably 2004.

Then I helped the people who started the biggest dispensary in the Bay Area. They ended up busting them for a $59 million laundering scheme. But I set them up with the approval up here. These kids came through here. I invited them in to walk by the indoor grow. I had some purple indoor pounds. These two kids I started talking to, they told me this plan to become the biggest Bay area dispensary by selling purple to all the people in the hood. And they didn’t know who I was, so I fronted them one pound. Within a year, we were doing about 5000 pounds of purple. We were buying every pound of indoor purple from here to Garberville so nobody could get it. They had a line of like 200-300 people a day coming in, getting purple, but then they got busted.

TNS: Tell me a little bit about how you think the psychedelic industry is evolving?

Tim Blake: Last December, somebody called me up and asked me if I could get a box of mushrooms, 100 pounds. Four people called me up in the course of a month. And I was like, ‘What the fuck is going on? I mean, what is happening?’ I went out and realized there was a revolution going on. I realized that last December. I realized we were going into a completely different era and a revolution, and the psychedelics are going to take over.

I started microdosing this year, and it changed my life. I’ve always been a psychedelic guy. We have a survivor’s breakfast. If you made it to breakfast on the Emerald Cup day, because we all did psychedelics at midnight, you got a free breakfast. So we had cooks come in and make a gourmet breakfast for like the 100 people left standing. The cup three years ago, we had like 1500 people doing that. We had like, two ounces of Molly, three pounds of mushrooms, five bottles of acid. We just lit up the whole place. So I’m a psychedelic voyer as much as any cannabis person ever. I’ve been doing psychedelics since I was a kid. I was a macro doser. But I didn’t understand microdosing. So then I started microdosing, and was like, ‘oh, this is incredible. This 1/10 of a gram or two tenths of a gram, it’s incredible.’ They say that, within 30 days, it’ll change your whole psychology, get rid of PTSD, depression, anxiety, all this stuff. And it does, I mean it just like, activates you. My friends call it the happy pill.

TNS: What do you think have been the most rewarding parts of the last decades?

Tim Blake: As sad as it is to see all the small farmers [get crushed], the most rewarding part is to actually see cannabis go legal, and then run across the country, across the world. And now cannabis is taking its rightful place at the head of the table in all agricultural and secular plant medicine products or plant medicine products. And so even though we’ve got all this trauma going on, to see cannabis go to where it is which will lead to psychedelics right down the road. We’re going to change society. And so I wouldn’t change that. The psychedelic thing is mind boggling. I thought we’d take another 20 years or 15 years for psychedelics [to legalize].

TNS: What do you hope for the future of California?

Tim Blake: California was the leader in almost everything in the world, leading thought process, music, technology, and cannabis. And we’ve lost our way. We need to regain that, and be the leaders in free technology coming in, and healing modalities and medicine, and bringing psychedelics to the rest of the world. And we need to really regain that. And cleanup all these cities. Show that we can take all these homeless people, and we can build functional camps to help them rehabilitate themselves and work projects and show the world that we can lead. We kind of have the biggest mess, so we can clean it up. We can be the most inspiring place for people to come and see how to get it right.

TNS: As far as cannabis goes, what do you hope for the future for the country?

Tim Blake: Nobody’s going to stop it. Cannabis is going to be in every state in the country. It’s going to be utilized by mainstream people for medicine, or for some benefit in every aspect of everybody’s lives. It’s going to come into the clothing industry, the building industry — every aspect of industry is going to be affected by cannabis. And it’s going to be what it should have been. Back in the old days, all the ship cloth, all the sails, all the clothing was cannabis. Everything was cannabis. And that’s what it should have been. It was the cotton industry and the timber industry and all the big money people that didn’t want cannabis because it’s renewable, it doesn’t wear out, it’s easy to grow. It’s going to go back and do what it should have done if it wasn’t demonized.

LJ Dawson is a reporter who has been published in NPR, Denver Westword, NBC, Kaiser Health News and POLITICO Magazine. Her newsletter, The Des, covers the American justice system. Her bio is here.

LJ Dawson is a reporter who has been published in NPR, Denver Westword, NBC, Kaiser Health News and POLITICO Magazine. Her newsletter, The Des, covers the American justice system. Her bio is here.

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