This weekend, High Times made Denver feel like Amsterdam as they brought their new Medical Cannabis Cup to the Mile High City. As attorney Rob Corry said on a second-day panel, the event “smell[ed] like freedom.” It is indeed a great freedom that High Times could bring their European marijuana competition to America, in a time when state-legal dispensaries are still raided by the federal government.

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day which echoed the sentiments on the inside of the Exdo Center. Spirits were definitely high as attendees circled the convention floor, checking out vendors offering everything from glassware and pro-marijuana apparel and literature to cultivation equipment and the latest smoking aids. The focus was clearly pro-medical, despite an expected “stoner culture” presence.

Despite that unavoidable stereotype, most people were pretty serious and surprisingly “normal.” In attendance were business owners, medical marijuana advocates, patients, and even folks who were just plain curious about the whole thing. On both days, the Exdo Center was packed from wall-to-wall with attendees, vendors, and speakers.

And it was those speakers which brought people from all around. Panels were held on cultivation, cannabusiness development, legal issues, and regulation. One seminar, on day two, was hosted by a representative of Full Spectrum Labs, who spoke on scientific regulation of marijuana. Full Spectrum Labs tests medical marijuana for everything from potency to contaminants and their hope is to bring all of Colorado into a regulated and tested system. Not only would this system ensure medical purity for patients, it would also help further classify strains for patients to find exactly what they need, instead of having to choose from a variety of strangely-named strains.

It gives me hope to see the industry moving towards self-regulation. It’s a great boon to patients as well as to the movement–when anti-pot advocates see more and more serious work going on in our world, they’re likely to change their stance (even if only bit by bit.) Legal panels spoke about a 2012 initiative for totally legal marijuana, which raises issues of two separate licensing systems–for medical and for recreational use.

However, if that’s the direction we want to head–and for many of us, it is–medical marijuana law will need continued work. As Mason Tvert–a co-founder of SAFER–said on a day two panel, the more regulations we have in MMJ-legal states, the less likely it is the DEA and the federal government will attack state-legal dispensaries and patients. They are looking for opportunities to shut patients and care-givers down.

Legal Issues panel: Warren Edson, Mason Tvert, Dan Hartman, Rob Corry

It is also important, as Division Director of MMED Dan Hartman mentioned on the same panel, for patients and pro-plant advocates to respect the process of lawmaking. After all, this legislation is very new: States are allowed to create laws that directly violate federal laws and, because this is such a new thing, getting everything to line up will take some time. Attorney Warren Edson, on that panel, said that despite lawmakers’ and advocates’ political differences, they are all coming to the same side of the table on this issue.

Of course, when talking about a Cannabis Cup, I can’t fail to mention the “main event” of strain judging. Colorado patients as well as a panel of experts served as the judges for this event, sampling a variety of strains from Colorado dispensaries in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, and other areas. Judges looked for a variety of qualities, including aesthetics, taste/smell, high (for indica and sativa varieties,) as well as more objective characteristics like THC potency and CBD presence.

The winners were announced tonight to an impatient crowd–much to our chagrin, we were not allowed to smoke inside (though some ignored that warning.) The winners of the marijuana categories were:

For a full write-up on some of the strains entered into the Cannabis Cup, watch for Connie Chronnoisseur’s post on the event.

If I got anything out of the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup, it’s hope. Hope for the future of cannabis legislation. Hope for better regulation. Hope for a more positive image of marijuana users across the board. And, of course, hope for total legalization. We are closer now than ever and we get closer all the time. This movement has come so far in the short time it’s existed, and we can expect to see it go even further in the coming years.

Smokers–whether you’re a patient or just a fan–be proud. We’re going places.