Great Northern Extraction: marijuana concentrate producers compete against prohibition

At an unadvertised location in Vancouver's Gastown, leaders in the illegal marijuana extract industry met to sample and exhibit their product.  

Unidentified participant sparks a bowl of shatter marijuana extract. Right now it is illegal to possess but a case before the Supreme Court of Canada may change that.

On Sunday night, a brick pub in Gastown hosted the Great Northern Extraction— an event billed as the largest recreational marijuana concentrate competition ever held, anywhere.

Nearly 300 people came together to judge 19 samples in four categories: indica, sativa, hybrid and solvent-less. Each category was defined by either the family origin of plant matter used or chemical variables in extract production. Judging was based on the aroma, flavour, strength, smoothness and appearance of each sample.

The location for The Great Northern Extraction was kept secret. Even competitors waited until the final hours for details because the contest, samples and methods behind marijuana extraction are illegal under current Federal law.

Inside the building, signs reminded patrons to smoke downstairs. The smell of handheld torches hung in the air as it became denser, hotter and more aromatic through the night. 

"We are in a grey area," said organizer Mike Dubuc of The Eden Medicinal Society. Dubuc added that under current laws every event and transaction in the medicinal marijuana field is an act of civil disobedience. 

Marijuana extracts including hash, kief, budder, wax and shatter (or "dabs" as it is known amongst attendees), are illegal to the public and prohibited for use by marijuana patients. 

Shatter is a highly potent extract with an amber glass appearance and a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) concentration usually five to six times stronger than the marijuana plants it is made from.

In other words, it gets the user high in a hurry. 

Extracts are made using leaves, flowers and stock combined with butane solvents or glycerine bases. Since the entire plant can be reduced in production, it is considered to be a waste free cost-effective alternative to dry flower marijuana harvest. 

Dubuc says he does not "dab" (ingest shatter) but sees the science behind extract production as another example of the innovation-driven economic potential of the marijuana industry, even now, while it remains illegal.

Shatter paraphernalia—glass art made specifically to consume concentrates— costs far more than rolling papers or a pipe. Some glass "oil rigs" are priced into the thousands. Hand blown rigs from local and travelling artists were also on display at the show.

Dr. Ed Rosenthal is a leading researcher on the origin, properties and use of extracts, in his book Beyond Buds, he wrote that concentrated forms of marijuana have developed over the centuries beginning in India and Afghanistan when kief, the crystalline granules present on the plant, where collected from the fingertips and pressed together to form hashish.

This rudimentary innovation evolved into pre-prohibition marijuana-infused elixirs, cooking oils, balms and other extract products available for legal trade. After marijuana became criminalized the development of extracts went underground, and according to Rosenthal have emerged as the shatter on display at the Great Northern Extraction. 

"This is sort of like an amped-up version of the hash contests from the 1960s and 70s," said master of ceremonies and international marijuana activist Marc Emery. "This really shows the sophistication and the money now cycling through this industry."

Emery continued to note the War on Drugs has ghettoized ingenious people for no other reason than their tastes in inebriation do not follow accepted legal means like alcohol and pharmaceuticals.

According to Emery, progress in the concentrate movement, or "dab" culture, is the next generation of the economically diverse marijuana industry and Vancouver is the epicenter  of this experience. Emery said he believes this with such fervour he can be found six days a week at his downtown Vancouver head shop serving dabs to customers interested in a sample. 

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