Covering the cannabis industry exposes reporters to all kinds of extremely interesting stories and, especially, people – ranging from rap superstars like The Game, Berner and Twista; to KISS’ Gene Simmons; to former Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada; to rock legend David Crosby; to senators, NBA champs and NFL players… However, few stories are as stimulating, thought-provoking and exciting as that of Tim Blake, long-time cannabis advocate and founder of the famed Emerald Cup, often considered the leading cannabis competition in the world.
Despite decades of successful entrepreneurship, Tim is far from wealthy. “But I’ve got my stories,” he likes to say, when prompted about this. So, let’s hear them out.
Tim grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. His parents then moved to an artist community in Santa Cruz County, California.
He was raised in the bosom of a Catholic, yet very liberal family. “It was a very alternative, spiritual family,” he remembers. “It was the middle of the sixty's and Santa Cruz was a very liberal county, so everyone was smoking weed.”
As Tim recalls, he started smoking around the age of 13, and rapidly moved on to selling weed in his high school as well. He wore long hair and owned a dog named Hash at the time.
“I grew up with the biggest dealers, and saw them turn into kingpins,” he says. “I saw this grow through the 70s and early 80s into a very huge, successful business – until they started busting all the loads.”
It all changed in the weed world, and fast, when mandatory minimums were imposed in the U.S., Tim recalls. “People went from six months in jail to five or ten years, immediately, and the whole business changed in front of my very eyes.”
That’s when our hero first heard about indoor grows. People told him they were going to grow weed in garages, using the same sorts of lights you found in a Safeway. “I thought they were out of their minds,” he says.
As Tim narrates, he was a weed dealer through the entire 70s and 80s. “We were running Mexican weed from Arizona, getting what we could in; a lot of hash loads and stuff. It was a tough life.”
As things got harder, Tim decided to set up some other businesses. Let’s call them, insurance.
“I was running a couple big production companies at the time. I went from being a kingpin to being flat like everybody else,” he comments.
But life wouldn’t remain boring (nor steady or predictable) for long. As his production businesses failed, along with the overall U.S. economy, so did his personal life, marriage, and even his weed-related dealings.
By that time, the DEA was after him and his father-in-law, he assures, reminiscing of the time he almost got 15 years in prison when a friend was busted and said the pot was Tim’s. “My lawyer told me if I held my mud [stayed strong] I would only get six months. So I did… I went to jail, started writing a book at that point, and got out of jail six months later.
“I moved up to Mendocino, California to this property we’re at right now,” he says, as he looks around and smiles for a while – apparently taking in the beauty of the spot we’re sitting at.
But Mendocino was not a happy place from the start, he adds. When he got out of jail, he found out that his former partners had stolen his entire crop. Once again, he was weed-less, and money-less.
It took only three years for Tim to transition from a one-light indoor grow to a 110-lights grow op. As it might be expected by now, the whole thing went up in flames. Literally.
While Tim was out of town, his cousin started a fire in the barn, attracting the attention of the police. By the time Tim returned home, his crop was gone. Again.
“But I was lucky,” he adds, laughing. “I was really lucky because, as it turns out, a guy in town had already snitched on me and the police was getting ready to bust me. So basically, Mother Earth, Mother Nature, saved me by starting a fire.”
A friend told Tim he could find out who had turned him in by finding “Mickey Mouse.” As it turns out, the enigmatic tip led to a pizza parlor Tim and his crew had been going to for years.
Mad because the pot posse had moved on to a better restaurant, the pizza guy had called the cops on Tim. “I had to go back on the road, hide for a while, again, and then come back and start over.
“I actually had to go over that same thing two or three more times… Until the Feds caught me… I sat there with the feds for like three hours (which you never do) and went back and forth with them.. I basically argued that they’d set me up and tortured me because I had tried to help this guy that was known as The Anti-Christ, or Mad Mike. He was an enforcer for the Hells Angels… And one that law enforcement agencies really wanted to get.
“I had to build relationships with shady people, got robbed many times, had to learn how to fire a weapon, deal with the Mercers and withstand gunfire for eight days… But I meditated through it all… I was like a monk.”
The Emerald Era
Almost an hour into the conversation, Tim had discussed religion, U.F.O.s, government agencies, business successes and failures… But still, no mention of the Emerald Cup.
It’s time, we said, and saw Tim’s face lighten up.
Inspired by his love of country fairs and carnivals, one day Tim decided to put together what he expected would be a small competition for cannabis growers to showcase their stuff.
“I’m a pretty ballsy dude, so I just did it,” he says. “That first year we pulled it off. It was pretty amazing because everybody thought we would get busted. Two of the three winners of the competition didn’t even show up… It was a mess.
“In the second cup we organized, the cops showed up because there were so many cars parked on the highway, and were just like, ‘what is going on here? This is crazy.’ They could hear the announcer inside saying things like ‘this is Purple Kush’ and things like that.
”That visit ended with the cop asking Tim to have the cars moved. “He was a single cop there and he had no idea what to do,” Tim adds.
The third year of the Emerald Cup, the cops naturally showed up again. And yet again, they allowed Tim to host his event, as long as he had no cars parked on the highway.
Through it, he says, the police was always on his heels, always about to bust him for dealing, possession, money laundering, helping out the wrong people… He’d finally had enough of being an outlaw, a bandit, a rebel.
So, we got a few sheriffs and people from the Emerald Triagle in California together and, after a few months, got permission to start a grower’s collective; legally, and in spite of his infamous past. And, even though many pushed back, the genie was out of the bottle.
Flash forward to 2018. Tim is finally legal and has been for six years, having even survived and IRS audit and substantial pressure from the DEA. “I’ll be the first cannabis entrepreneur that has the IRS’ seal of approval,” he assures, confidently.
“Cannabis growers are outlaws, but not criminals,” he concludes, reminding us that laws and ethical behavior aren’t always aligned.