How to Become a Judge at a Cannabis Competition

(Frezie/iStock)

Becoming a judge at a cannabis competition may just be the ultimate bucket list item for a cannabis enthusiast. After all, the prospect of being given dozens of cannabis products to rate and review seems like a literal dream come true to the budding ganja connoisseur.

However, there’s much more that goes into judging a competition than meets the eye. If you’re considering applying to be a competition judge, this guide will help you determine if you have what it takes to qualify and can provide a basic understanding of what the judging process entails.

Who Can Judge a Cannabis Competition?

Judge's samples of cannabis product for a cannabis competition
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

Determining who can qualify to judge a cup depends on the type of competition or event. On one end of the spectrum are closed competitions, where judges are hand-selected by staff officials based on merit and experience. These judges are often well-known professionals within the industry, so this type of event isn’t typically open to the public for judging.

On the other hand, some competitions are completely open to the public, requiring absolutely no prior experience, qualifications, or affiliations within the industry. In these cases, those interested in judging simply purchase a pass ahead of time in the same manner as someone who is planning to attend the event.

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Many competitions have adopted a vetting system whereby applicants fill out a questionnaire detailing their experience and industry affiliations. While the public is open to the application process, the event’s staff is given the final say in who is selected for the judging process. This system has become more or less commonplace for competitions today, as it provides fairly open access to the public as well as some control for the event staff to determine qualifications.

How to Qualify to Be a Judge

A judge's kit of samples for a cannabis competition
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

There are no universal qualifications that must be met when applying to be a cannabis competition judge. However, a few considerations should be taken into account before applying.

1. Do you have any prior experience in competition judging?

Understanding the nuances of a particular competition can help you gain an edge when applying as it shows you have a basic understanding of the process. Although not required, having prior experience will go a long way if you’re being vetted for a judge position.

2. Are you an industry affiliate?

If you’re applying to judge either a closed competition or one with a vetting system in place, having industry affiliation can give you the competitive advantage over other applicants. Your ties lets competition organizers know that you could be more experienced with the industry and with cannabis products, and can display a fundamental understanding of the qualitative measures taken to judge submissions.

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3. Are you local to the event?

Many competitions require those who judge to be local to the event. This is due to several reasons, the most important of which is that products must be distributed beforehand in order to provide judges with an ample amount of time to review and submit their considerations. Remember, it’s federally illegal to transport cannabis across state lines, so people who live out-of-state can’t pick up their samples and fly or drive home to another state and try them before the event date.

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Aside from these three considerations, having a basic understanding of the judging process may be the most qualifying factor in becoming a competition judge. Contrary to what some industry professionals would have you believe, judging a competition requires much more of you than simply consuming massive amounts of cannabis in a concentrated timespan while indiscriminately assigning numerical values to the samples at hand. Although each competition weighs qualitative assessments differently, having a keen understanding of how to rate and review a cannabis product is paramount.

One must be proficient in the following areas:

  • Understanding terpene profiles (e.g. the difference between an OG strain and a Tangie strain)
  • Identifying key aesthetic traits in various cannabis products (like bud structure, color profiling, etc.)
  • Assessing tactile nuances (such as cannabis density, concentrate consistency)
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How to Prepare as a Cup or Competition Judge

Samples of cannabis product with a judge's notes for a cannabis competition
(Patrick Bennett for Leafly)

Competition judges are selected well in advance of an event. If you were fortunate enough to have been chosen to judge a particular category of cannabis product, or if you have purchased a judge pass in an open competition, here are a few ways you can best prepare yourself ahead of time.

Read the Rules

Before receiving your samples, familiarize yourself with the rules of the competition so that you have a full understanding of the rating process. Take notes on the competition protocol and keep them on hand when reviewing each sample so you can refer back to them as needed.

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Plan Ahead of Time

Make sure that you have a safe and sufficient space to perform your judging duties. Prepare your space with adequate ventilation. Amenities such as food and beverage should be on hand both as palate cleansers as well as for sustenance.

Build Your Tolerance

Judging a cannabis competition is much more about endurance and much less about the sprint. Consider that some competitions will have you judge dozens (sometimes over 100) samples in a time period ranging from 10 days to as little as three. This means you will be cycling though samples rapidly, so make sure you can handle the rush of cannabinoids to your system (and clear your schedule of any other responsibilities if you can).

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Take Notes While You Try Samples

In order to fairly assess a product, you’re going to want to take as many notes as possible. Oftentimes, going back and trying samples multiple times is simply not an option due to time and/or product constraints. Taking notes can help tremendously in these scenarios to shortlist top performers and select notable entrees for a final rating and review.

There are many benefits to judging a cannabis competition, such as being able to sample and review your favorite cannabis products, knowing that your opinion will factor into determining which company takes home a trophy, and receiving free merchandise to take home after the event. But remember that no matter the competition, be it an open judging process or a closed event, choosing to participate as a judge should be taken seriously at all costs. These events carry a lot of weight for the companies involved, so in order to ensure these competitions remain open to the public, having respect for the process is your responsibility as a chosen judge.

Carry this responsibility with pride; after all, you’re judging a cannabis competition! What could be better than that?