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What It’s Like to Judge a Prestigious Cannabis Competition in a Secret Location

What It’s Like to Judge a Prestigious Cannabis Competition in a Secret Location

Chad G. was exhibiting his artwork to a legion of fans and fanboys upstairs; the gathering looked like a normal affair. Dreadlocks, Grassroots hats and heady pendies of all shapes and sizes were hanging from the guests in attendance. Unbeknownst to a good portion of the night’s visitors, downstairs in the cavernous cellar the weigh-in for the Royal Rumble of Reefer was taking place. The unfinished basement of the new SoHi Gallery on Welton St. was the receiving area for the most prodigious and prestigious cannabis competition of them all…The Adam Dunn Show Invitational (ADSI).

The ADSI is the cannabis competition that every weedhead worth their weight in shake wishes they had the opportunity to attend. Sadly for them and luckily for me inclusion is selective. It’s a pretty clandestine affair. Due to geographical bias many of the competitors still work in the black market. By my good fortune I was invited for the second year in a row to smoke the highest quality cannabis in the country as a member of the Select Non-Competitor Private Judging Panel.

The welcome reception and pre-registration was a chance for old friends to catch up and new acquaintances to be made. It was like my Facebook feed came to life with only slightly less trolling. Tales of getting pinched, robbed, ratted-out, rebuilding empires and redemption were common conversation topics. The drama surrounding years of he said/she said was kept in check. Rule number seven set forth in the Official Competitor Guest Packet explicitly forbade it: NO DRAMA-Everyone who attends this event is an honored guest, invited to celebrate our peers, and to honor our brothers and sisters in their craft, in the spirit of love, peace and communion.

By the way of seven states (CO, CA, MI, RI, IL, OR and WA), 40 of the dankest cannabis strains grown by some of the finest cultivators from across the nation were accepted, labeled, cataloged and portioned for the competition being held the next day in a secret location. The two ounce entry fee was all that stood between the legendary field of competitors and a chance to be crowned the champion. Upon delivery, entrants pulled a card from a deck that now served as their strains’ identity for the duration of the competition.

Part Fight Club, part dick-measuring contest with a heavy dose of camaraderie, a dash of nostalgia and plenty of amazing cannabis, this multi-day episode has grown considerably in size, scope and significance in only its second year. Walkie-talkies, earpieces and a real-time online bracket advanced the technology this year by at least a decade compared to last.

Strict adherence to the rules set forth was expected. For the most part only a few transgressions occurred. No dabbing, pictures or guests were permitted and the honor system largely held everyone at bay. Business talk was strictly prohibited though I suspect a few deals were struck on the sly.

The driving force behind this competition is co-host of the Adam Dunn Show Mitch Shenassa. He’s whip-smart, fully committed to cannabis and unrelenting in his views on what constitutes superior marijuana. More energy and emphasis was put towards planning, management and execution at the ADSI in 2016. Leaving nothing to chance, his ear-to-ear grin said it all as he greeted me and invited me to take a whiff of unspecified entry.

“You can get a pallet of jars delivered to your doorstep for just under a grand…but you need a business address.“

adam dunn show invitationalTwo of Diamonds – One Star (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

He’s proud of the little things. Not worrying about a site for this year’s proceedings? Check! He sent out the secret location in the middle of the night to invited guests. Feeding a very high and very hungry crowd? Covered! Glazed and Confused Donuts and Kobe beef sliders were offered. A hybrid donut-bunned burger made its way on to a plate or two. And of course the aforementioned jars.

A last minute change of venue and late April snowstorms set the tone for the ADSI in 2015. Chaos ensued as a new location had to be locked down. Prearranged transportation ran behind schedule. Attendees who came from as far as Hawaii in nothing but tank tops and sandals were scrambling for suitable winter attire. Rhyme and reason were thrown out shortly after all the competitors were finally bussed to the new venue. Luckily, there was enough cannabis on hand to relieve any and all stress.

Snow threatened the event again this year and prohibited a few people from making it. One Colorado competitor was caught on the wrong side of the Western Slope unable to get through the storm. In a non-weather incident, TSA stopped a Northern California grower from boarding her flight to Denver but let her keep the cannabis in her carry on. A slushy mix made driving unsafe but approachable for seasoned operators or those high enough to not care. Making it to the secret warehouse location was worth the risk; this spectacle couldn’t be missed.

adam dunn show invitationalNine of Diamonds – Louis XIII (Ry Prichard  photo / Provided to Whaxy)

The competition’s format is similar to the World Cup but with little to no corruption. Described in the Official Competitor Guest Packet as a “grouped double-elimination head-to-head tournament format with each round voted on by thirteen competitors”, the ADSI doesn’t sell judge’s passes nor does it rely on or allow for the influence of big name sponsors looking to highjack the affair. Volunteer Jar Runners trading their time for the opportunity to be a part of the event happily replaced dirty bong water and produced fresh samples of bud upon request. Egos are checked at the door at the ADSI.

Set to begin at Noon while allowing time for some to show up fashionably late nobody cared that it wasn’t until about 1:45 that things kicked off. Prior to the first bowl of the ADSI being roasted, a memorial candle was lit and a moment of silence observed for legendary cannabis smuggler Howard Marks a.k.a. Mr. Nice, who had passed away earlier in the week. Some of the luminaries in the room were of the same vintage as Mr. Nice; others were too young to appreciate his significance. Everyone in attendance owed a debt of gratitude to Howard Marks for the risks he took and time he served.

adam dunn show invitationalAce of Clubs – Chem D (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

In the large competition hall, tables were set up by card suit. A quick round of musical chairs arranged the participants accordingly. Spades had drawn the Group of Death moniker with the first, second and third place finishers from the inaugural ADSI now sitting in close quarters ready to go up against one another. Taking a page out of a churrascaria’s playbook, red and green paddles were set up to signal the Jar Runners whether cannabis should continue to be served up.

My judging panel was relegated to the conference room of the secret location. Our seclusion did not lead to disproportionate provisions. We we’re tasked with sampling each entry then choosing our favorites. A suits worth of cannabis was delivered to the table and the panel was left to their own devices. This process was repeated a number of times narrowing the choices until only our top few strains were left.

adam dunn show invitationalNine of Clubs – Underdog OG (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

Other members of the cannabis community who were attending this special safety meeting included representatives from Elite Cannabis and Dark Horse Genetics as well as the man who helped put the beans into Chem Dog’s hand that would change cannabis forever. A steady stream of people who know a great deal more about cannabis than I paraded in and out of the board room all day long. Including myself, a few more “regular” folks sat around the table generally in awe. The NY Rangers playoff game was live streamed to appease a long suffering fan while the rest of the room hoped that overtime wasn’t necessary.

In a room filled with thick smoke I lost track of the details somewhere around the time I puffed on the 5 of clubs. OG’s were prevalent and a few other strains could be notified with little more than opening a jar. As soon as Bruce Banner #5’s ambient aroma was set free from captivity it was recognized by its originator sitting with us. My perpetual state of congestion was no match for some of the flamboyant terpene profiles presented for our enjoyment.

adam dunn show invitationalKing of Spades – Purple Tangie (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

Official ADSI scorecards were available to offer a graduate level rubric to guide our way through the competition. Some panelists’ took extensive notes in small print that began to stack on the table as the procession of strains continued into the evening. My notes were limited to single word descriptions like boo, fruity, cheesy, fire and harsh.

My favorite strain of the competition was the King of Spades, an obnoxiously loud Purple Tangie. Though it was said to have had powdery mildew, I didn’t detect any. My inebriation could have been the cause of my oversight though it’s more likely that I wasn’t paying close enough attention.

Not everyone was as trusting as I. As one of my tablemates put it,

“It’s too bad, it’s a dank strain. It’s ok to have PM (powdery mildew) in your grow—but to not catch it and enter it in a growers competition—I can’t allow that.”

adam dunn show invitationalNine of Spades – SAGE (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

The ashtrays were filled with enough discarded greens to roll joints for days but my senses were being tickled by the hash faeries. Sampling all the cultivars was becoming overwhelming. I needed a bit of fresh air and a reason to break rule number eight: NO DABS. Technically, I was in my car so I do not believe I was under ADSI jurisdiction at the time but I still felt like a scofflaw while blowing clouds in the parking lot.

The competition was fierce. The entrants knew going in that only the perfect bud would be recognized as ADSI Champion. The 9 of Diamonds Louis XIII, who’s grower in the preceding days had received 4 more High Times Cannabis Cups’ for his herb grown both in Colorado and Oregon was knocked out in the round of eight by the 9 of Clubs and eventual runner-up, Underdog OG. The other strains to make it out of the group stage and into the elimination round were unparalleled in superiority.

Only one woman entered the competition though more were invited. Her 4 of Hearts B-well Kush (shown in the photo at the very top of this page) took out the day’s sentimental favorite 9 of Spades SAGE on its way to a third place finish. The other elite eight match-ups featured the Ace of Hearts Copper Kush falling to the Ace of Clubs Chem D and the 2 of Diamonds One Star defeating the Jack of Spades Bubba Diagonal.

adam dunn show invitationalAce of Hearts – Copper Kush (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

The contest ran into the late evening until the final four were smoked out. The competition broke, reconvening back at the SoHi Gallery on Wednesday April 20th to determine the winner from the remaining strains. Following the tournament a live broadcast of The Adam Dunn Show and announcing of the winners took place.

Prior commitments to Center Mass Media’s 4/20 celebration featuring Paul Wall kept me from attending the second day of competition and awards ceremony at the gallery. My unrefined palate was taken well past its limit as I carried out my duties as a judge. The entries were grown with extreme care and prejudice. They are the finest examples of connoisseur cannabis and far surpass almost all cannabis coming out of rec and med shops across the country.

adam dunn show invitationalJack of Spades – Bubba Diagonal (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)

In the end it was the Ace of Clubs, a Colorado grown Chem D that took home the championship and hardware. Or so we all believed. Almost three weeks post competition while I was fact checking I stumbled on a photo comment by the winner buried deep in a Facebook album recognizing that he had misreported his strain while registering it. On the PGA or the PBA Tour an infraction of the same magnitude would call for immediate disqualification and forfeiture of title and prizes. For the ADSI it was a non-issue—an over complication. The real winner of the ADSI 2016 was Chem 4. The confusion will just be a footnote in the annals of ADSI lore.

Tragedy dashed the hope of smoking any heirloom strains from last year’s competition. A perfect storm of events found Mitch Shenassa of Dark Horse Genetics hosting his younger brother at the same time as receiving a grip of steak and other beef products from his father. Mitch’s brother kicked out the storage freezer plug in a dance related mishap prior to bed and the myoglobin released from the meat oozed over the jarred samples and permeated the flower. The beef stink was too strong and the herb was determined inconsumable. The rancid meat bath was unforeseen and is not expected to affect the prospect smoking some 2016 entries next year. Can’t wait!

Feature image at top of page: Four of Hearts – B-well Kush (Ry Prichard photo / Provided to Whaxy)
Emmett Nelson

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