Willie Nelson to attend Marijuana Conference in Aspen Sunday (4/18/2010)

By Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times

Thousands of marijuana smokers and growers have come to Aspen this weekend for the first annual Western Slope Cannabis Crown.

It’s Colorado’s version of Amsterdam’s Cannabis Cup, in which growers, providers, patients, scientists, doctors and lawyers will be here to tout the benefits of medical marijuana and the merits of legalization.

The two-day event will wrap up on Sunday at 4:20 p.m. with the “crowning” of the best strain of pot provided by a host of competing vendors. Dozens of strains have been tested by a series of judges for the past week, said Damien Horgan, co-owner of Alternative Medical Solutions, a dispensary on Mill Street, and an organizer of the event.

Willie Nelson, who is a proponent of medical marijuana and is leading the way in alternative bio-fuels and recycling, has been confirmed as a participant in the event, said Gunderson. The singer-songwriter is not expected to perform but instead will be a face for the cause.

“He wants to be a supporter because he believes change needs to happen,” said Pia Reynaldo, a partner in NugSource Magazine and an organizer of the event.

There also will be a “people’s choice” award that will be announced in the coming weeks. About 100 providers will showcase their best strains for 140 state-sanctioned medical marijuana patients who are holding a “golden ticket.”

The tickets, which have sold for as little as $100 and as much as $5,000 on the Internet, allows legal patients to sample products that will be offered in a viewing room at The Gant. Patients will be able to access products, including edibles, and sample them in private.

“[Consumption] is not allowed on the premises,” said Barton Gunderson, co-owner and publisher of Eagle, Colo.-based NugSource Magazine, as well as an organizer of the conference.

Horgan said the viewing room is designed to allow patients to meet growers and providers, and form a relationship with them as their possible caregivers.

“This is supposedly the best medical marijuana that Colorado has to offer,” he said.

Horgan said about 2,500 tickets to the event have been sold and about half of the attendees will be coming from out of town. Two-day passes will be available for $25 at the St. Regis, where the main events and trade show will be held.

That is where about 40 vendors and information booths, as well as speakers and doctors, will be on hand, including those who will be examining and prescribing medical marijuana licenses to those who qualify.

Also at the St. Regis will be a hemp fashion show. Bad Billy’s will serve as an entertainment venue for the event all day Saturday and an industry gathering at the Hunter Bar will occur Saturday night.

There also is a comedy act scheduled at the Belly Up Saturday night that is part of the weekend’s events.

A scavenger hunt for four golden tickets will occur from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Registered medical marijuana patients can register on Saturday to participate. Once a ticket is found, patients can gain access to The Gant’s viewing room. Clues and answers will be based off the history of Aspen and the conference’s programs.

Girls from around town will be selected Saturday and Sunday, and asked to get up on stage to answer questions about medical marijuana. A winner will be selected and she will be crowned “Miss Cannabis” at 4:20 p.m. on Sunday, Gunderson said.

A VIP party was held Friday night at Eric’s in which speakers, contestants and industry professionals from places like High Times Magazine were invited.

“We’re trying to spread this across the city of Aspen,” Horgan said of pumping up the local economy during the offseason. “We want the businesses to reap the benefits.”

The Gant is sold out this weekend, Horgan said, adding it was originally the host venue but the medical marijuana conference grew and it needed to be expanded to the St. Regis.

Both NugSource and Alternative Medical Solutions took over organizing the event less than a month ago and will be in the planning stages for next year’s conference within the next two months, Gunderson said.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We’re really excited about the event and we want to make it more into a festival, with music and make it one of the biggest events in Aspen.”

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