Cannabis Cups

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In the last few years, cannabis cups have burst onto the Spanish scene like magic mushrooms. With the rise of these competitions, we are hearing a lot of opinions (not all positive) regarding the yardstick used to judge contenders’ samples. And the thing is, right now, there is a lack of agreement as to the standards panels of judges should follow when rating the main characteristics of buds: presence, smell, taste and effect.  

by Xosé F. Barge

Inevitably, judges are going to focus on many subjective elements when scoring a cannabis sample. By that I mean that the sampler’s preferences are always going to have some influence on his judgement, which is why it is essential that judges be selected carefully and that they are specialised in the category they are scoring.

Panel expertise

As I see it, this expertise must be based on indoor home growing when it comes to buds. Not everyone will share this view, but that’s what well-founded opinions are for: to be debated. In my case, I’ve been indoor growing uninterruptedly for more than ten years. I think it’s extremely important that a professional panel be made up of people who grow in environments which they control, rather than just samplers, cannabis aficionados or occasional outdoor growers (with particular emphasis on the latter, who often consider themselves to be seasoned growers – which they may well be – but not indoors).

I say this because when we grow indoors over a certain period of time, we start to get a clearer picture of the differences between, say, a strain grown hydroponically and one grown in soil; between chemical, mineral and organic fertilisers; between a cannabis grown in extreme situations such as high temperatures and one grown in optimal conditions; between a perfectly clean weed and another that’s not so clean; between a long variety… etc.

A cannabis aficionado or habitual consumer may be able to pick out many nuances, but would struggle to identify the differences that characterise a good crop and a good treatment of the bud, which in my opinion is fundamental to be able to properly evaluate the result.

If we entrust the scoring of samples to experienced indoor growers, we would have a little more certainty in terms of their judgement (with objective and subjective aspects) and the fact that it’s based on experience and not just momentary perceptions.

Transparency

Cup transparency is one of the most widely-debated topics. While opinions may not be spread publicly through websites, social networks or blogs, there are always rumours – especially with the more well-known cups – about results potentially being manipulated.

In my opinion, the best solution would be for contestants, upon submitting their entry to a cup, to receive a code that uniquely identifies their sample. The sample is labelled with this code and then sent to a specialised external laboratory (or similar facility) for analysis and handling, from where it is then sent to the judges, all completely independent of the organisation. This would ensure participants’ names and the link between the code and the real name of the strain or participant remain entirely anonymous.

Conducting this process under controlled, laboratory-grade circumstances would prevent samples from being tampered with or altered with external agents. It would also ensure, for example, that samples in the solvent extraction category contain no harmful quantities of such substances or that there are no pollutants or disease in the bud sampled.

Categories

There has also been a lot of debate as to which types of categories cups should offer to participants. After much consideration and discussions with various professionals, we believe the best formula is as follows:

Sativa

Indica

Solvent extraction

Solventless extraction

CBD-rich varieties

Terms such as “resins” or “extractions” end up being rather non-specific and can lead to confusion, and creating specific “hydro”, “bio” or “outdoor” categories makes it very difficult to assert that the buds have actually been grown using these methods.

We believe it is essential to create a distinction between sativa and indica varieties (without ever speaking of pure sativas or indicas) since there are many seasoned home growers who specialise in one or both types and only occasionally (or very rarely in some cases) consume the other. There will be those who grow sativa or indica strains indifferently, and consume them equally, but this is generally not the case among home and professional growers, who tend to specialise and homogenise their crops. In a perfect world, the users who are most familiar with each of these subspecies would be entrusted with scoring that category.

Meanwhile, although under CBD a distinction could also be made between sativa- and indica-leaning plants, we don’t believe they are different enough to warrant two categories. Of course, based on my personal experience, there are plants of a sativa-like appearance, with a substantially long bud and high CBD content that produce a relaxing effect which, though different, is closer to that of an indica rather than a sativa, and vice versa.

As regards extractions, in the solventless category there is no doubt that an Ice-O-Lator is not the same thing as a Rosin, and the same can be said for a solvent-based extraction that uses butane versus one that uses methanol. Catering for all of these discrepancies would leave us with a cup with too many categories. For this reason we tend to generalise and divide extractions into two classes.

How to judge a sample

We probably need to wait for cannabis to be legalised and to become a specialist field – like, say, the wine industry – to be able to generalise certain judgements over marijuana buds. For now, all we can say for sure is that there is no consensus. That renowned home growers with many years’ growing experience are given such drastically different results in some cups (for example, with one judge giving a score of 9 for presence and another giving a 1, or one giving 8 for smell and another 4) doesn’t make the matter any easier.

For now, without delving too far into the differences, which could bring on a never-ending debate, we believe judges must be selected based on the essential experience we’ve already talked about and, above all else, they must be given sufficient time to evaluate the samples. To achieve this, there must be no more than two samplings per day. For cups with prizes that are held at weekends, I don’t think effect should be scored, and it goes without saying that excess consumption must be avoided if we want to properly evaluate the rest of the bud’s characteristics.

Talking with different judges, many agree that a score of 0 should only be give to samples which present a problem such as a diseased bud, or an inadequate purge in the case of solvent-based extractions. And many of course affirm that awarding a very low score to a strain for any of its characteristics based solely on personal considerations is highly egocentric. This is precisely why judges must be carefully selected.

Publication of results

Like it or not (speaking from experience as a loser), the results and scores from each judge must be made public. This allows for total transparency and clears up any potential grey areas or questionable behaviour by samplers. Such behaviour will disqualify judges from future contests, if necessary.

By publishing results, we inevitably ruffle the feathers of those having received the lowest scores, but we also elevate the level of the cup, giving it a transparency that is otherwise difficult to achieve. To those who lose, I recommend that they take a moment to reflect on what went wrong. In my case, for example, I entered a hydroponic, mineral fertiliser-fed sample with a high CBD content in a general indoor category dominated by buds grown in soil using organic fertilisers. While my entry may have had a better appearance and certainly produced a better yield, its organoleptic qualities and even its effect weren’t a match for my competitors.

Conclusions

To summarise, we will have to wait a little longer for cannabis to be legalised in Spain and for general scoring scales to be established, as well as the implementation of specific training for experienced home cannabis growers and professionals. In the meantime, we must leave the scoring in the hands of indoor home growers who are able to demonstrate their experience and impartial judgement.

In turn, cups must continue to work on their organisation if they are to implement more transparent methods and serve as a favouritism-free launchpad for the best national and international home growers.

See you at the XII Spannabis Champions Cup in 2017!