BY MIKEL WEISSER
No, before you ask, Jim Morrison is not dead. And, “Errl” isn’t misspelled either, thank you very much.
What Morrison’s brainchild, The Errl Cup, is however, is Arizona’s most popular, more important medical marijuana event series. This July 13th in Northern Phoenix the festivities will kick off on Morrison’s eighth Errl Cup and 4th year of hosting cannabis consumption events where the tokers number in the thousands.
While High Times fabled Cannabis Cups may focus on America’s top buds. AZ’s top competition is all about the oil. I mean errl. “Errl,” BTW, sorta sounds like “oil” in some accents. In this case, the “oil” in question refers to cannabis concentrates used for dabbing or in vape pens. Once a controversial aspect of a market in need of a code word, nowadays products like wax, shatter, crumble, terp sauce, THCA crystals and whatever else they’ve invented in the last fifteen minutes, account for a significant part of the industry.
“All the Media Puts Out is Negative Stories”
“In terms of medication, concentrates are a purer form of marijuana,” Morrison explained to Nate Nichols of Phoenix New Times in late 2015. “All the media puts out is negative stories about people who don’t know what they’re doing…The stigma has to change. People take pills every day, and sometimes they die from them. Nobody has died from marijuana.”
Not only is Morrison already Arizona’s hottest cannabis event creator, this July’s Cup will be his biggest adventure yet. Part trade show, part freak show, high stakes competition, and involuntary industry tell-all, the Cup has come to be a chance for patients to find out the true numbers behind the hype.
A slim tan fair haired high-energy man in his 50s, realtor James Morrison is widely regarded as the patients’ patron saint. You could try to sing his praises, but it probably wouldn’t listen. He’d rather be playing darts instead.
“It is important to have large events like this,” Morrison insists, occasionally tossing off yet another bulls-eye. “Cannabis users have had to hide in the shadow our whole lives. Marijuana patients don’t even know who we are because we rarely get to congregate in large groups–see how we interact, what our likes and dislikes are. But importantly, this event is a chance for the public to find out what the dispensaries are selling to us.”
As the event website explains the premise: “With our Dispensary Accountability model we go out and “secret shop” dispensaries in the Errl Cup Event areas with our money. Then we have the product independently and blindly tested by a lab and True MMJ Patients in the event city. The patient choice winners and all results are publicized at The Errl Cup event, online and in print media.’”
A Potential Scandal Awaits
The competition’s mission statement makes clear the standard the Cup hopes to set for the Arizona industry: “clean, consistent, high quality medicine for all patients.” There are 12 categories all in all, including awards for dispensary customer service, environment, etc. Aside from the actual lab results, patients judge the competitions. This summer more than five thousand patients applied to be judges for the July 710 Errl Cup. One hundred and thirty-four were selected.
For some dispensaries top awards will gain them bragging rights for top honors in a highly competitive half a billion-dollar industry. For others, potential scandal awaits when the true results are shown to the public.
Morrison first had the idea after his sister passed away. She had been using cannabis to treat symptoms of her MS. It eventually killed her, but near the end of her life Morrison began to feel some of the budtenders weren’t helping her situation with their recommendations and much of the marijuana his sister was purchasing from dispensaries was making her conditions worse.
“They were definitely lowering her quality of life. You know, giving her indicas instead of sativas for MS. They didn’t know what they were talking about. Then after she was gone, we started doing some testing on the medications she had and that’s when I decided I got pissed. It was pure junk, most of it. No wonder she was getting worse from breathing in that crap.”
“Jim decided we were the guys to do it”
Partnering with longtime friend Blake “Jay” Nehri, launched their first Cup in 2016. “At first, we were just trying to find quality marijuana for Jim’s sister, and it was outrageous. Not only wasn’t there any testing, but growers were just labeling strains without even knowing what they were. It was totally unacceptable. Somebody needed to do something, and Jim decided we were the guys to do it.”
Prop203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, which created the industry, somehow omitted testing requirements for cannabis that was being labeled medicine. Despite having one of the more strictly regulated markets in the nation, the Errl Cup is the only public announcement of Arizona medical marijuana industry testing results. “Over the years, we have posted every test result from every competition,” Nehri explained. “There’s like 2500 of them posted by now.”
All the state’s top dispensaries will be there with their products on display and rigorously tested … whether they want to be there or not. And patients will be pouring in by the thousands to watch the results of this industry-shaping bi-annual event.
Of course, in reefer mad Arizona, not everyone is thrilled with Morrison’s idea of good clean fun. “At first nobody wanted anyone coming in and reporting their test results, or letting patients judge the quality of the product,” Nehri explains. “Now they use winning an Errl Cup as part of their marketing campaigns.”
Morrison hopes the transparent nature of his event will give the industry a chance to be honest and the community a chance to connect. The first time Morrison decided to hold the thing he and some friends secret shopped around the at all the major dispensaries and then announced the event. “We had 76 entries at about 30 booths and over 2000 people showed up. The next time, people knew about it already. We had 160 entries and about 3300 people showed.”
“They didn’t shut us down, and they could have”
“In the summer of 2017, the PHX Fire Dept showed up and made us stop letting people in at about 7200 people. They didn’t shut us down, and they could have, but instead, they just capped the number of people we could admit. This January over 8500 people showed up. It was crazy, but it was also a lot of fun.”
With the Jones Case victory late last month, for many, this upcoming 710 Errl Cup will serve as a victory bash for the Supreme Court case and as a celebration of concentrated cannabis and its thousands of supporters.
“It is not about the money. It costs us money to do this,” Morrison explained. Proceeds from VIP ticket sales and exhibitor fees go to veterans’ organization and an MS non-profit organization.
Ryan Treacy of C4 Labs, the company doing the testing for the Cup, agrees Morrison is a patients’ hero. “C4 came on from the start. From the beginning, we have loved the progress and innovation Jim uses in designing the event. In the absence of mandatory state product regulations this is the only way for the patients to take control in the industry.
“I’m not biased. I don’t pick this company over that one in the competition,” Morrison laughs. “I don’t even do the testing. I just show the results. Very few dispensaries will sell the same caliber of product at the store that they send to the competition. It’s sad but true, but we’ve verified it again and again.”
Oldy, Moldy, Mildewed, and Fungus-ed
A fiery patient advocate, Treacy appreciate the way Morrison’s Errl Cup process holds dispensaries to account. “Even after five years, the results are still all over the place,” Treacy explained. “There are a few companies that are always scrupulous and test everything and follow the highest standards to produce quality products. But others …” he just shakes his head.
Oldy, Moldy, mildewed, fungus-ed or fungicide-d, sprayed with respiratory damaging pesticides, unpurged of residual solvents, Morrison’s seen it all. “We’ve had samples come back at half the potency they were claiming,” Morrison nodded.
“We’ve had CBD oils come back with no CBD in them at all,” Nehri laughs bitterly.
Treacy confirms some of the horror stories of the potential health hazards of unregulated industrial scale production of cannabis. “Jim is right about the crap product some people try to market in this industry,” Treacy cautions. “There’s some absolute garbage out there. We have seen it all. That is the brilliant part of this competition, the secret shoppers. Everybody’s marijuana gets put under the same microscope. The places who are doing the due-diligence do get rewarded.”
Plunging into the Process
In his near-non-existent spare time, Morrison has been pushing for testing legislation. In 2016 Morrison started promoting a legislative idea he called the “Clean Medicine Act,” requiring all Arizona dispensaries to test cannabis and cannabis products before they put it on the market. “If this were regular pharmaceuticals, people would be in an uproar,” Morrison explained to Nate Nichols of Phoenix New Times. “Because it’s marijuana, there’s an attitude from some that testing isn’t important. This is a medication that saves people’s lives. People need to change the way they look at it.”
This year, after years of being sidelined from the negotiations between legislators and industry lobbyists, Morrison and Nehri plunged themselves into the process. In addition to attending multiple stakeholder meetings and talking endlessly with supportive legislators like LD26 Rep. Isela Blanc, Morrison hired a cannabis chemist and together they drafted one of the many testing bills at the Capitol this year.
Though their bill didn’t make the final cut, Morrison and Nehri testified in favor of SB1494 and used their patient network to rally support. The experience showed Nehri how far they still needed to go to educate the legislators making the laws on cannabis. “When we went up and testified they didn’t even understand the language we were using. I referred to CFUs and it was like I was speaking a foreign language, like they needed a glossary or something to even talk about the issue intelligently.”
The Errl Cup is open to all medical marijuana patients with no charge to attend and no charge for people receiving cannabis and cannabis concentrates at the Cup, though there are VIP packages available. Jim explains, “Admission is free with a valid medical card. I’m tired of those events they create where you have to spend $50 just to get in and then who knows how much on medication. State law states that people can’t sell their products outside of dispensaries, so all the entrants have to give their samples away.”
American Royal Palace, 1915 W. Thunderbird Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85029
Sat, Jul 13, 2019 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
(Valid Medical Marijuana Card Required.)
Part 1: The Long Road to Safety
—Mikel Weisser is the editor of the Arizona Cannabis Monthly and state director of AZ-NORML.