Your Ultimate Guide to the Errl Cup 2023 Cannabis Festival

The Bong Wars are a highlight of the Errl Cup.
The Bong Wars are a highlight of the Errl Cup. Mike Madriaga
Cannabis connoisseurs of the Valley, rejoice. Thanks to the Errl Cup, you don’t have to wait until 4/20 to publicly celebrate your love of the leaf.

The biannual two-day event, which launched in 2014, is a cannabis festival and award ceremony that’s “focused on consumer appreciation and dispensary accountability,” according to organizers. It’s also a massive celebration attended by tens of thousands of locals.

Dozens of Arizona dispensaries compete for awards in 36 different categories highlighting the best cannabis products — including flower, concentrates, oils, and CBD — which are judged by local smokers and evaluated for quality by labs.

In addition to the awards, the Errl Cup — which gets its name from the slang term for cannabis oil — also features appearances by dispensaries, several dozen vendors selling a variety of marijuana-inspired products, local food trucks, live music, joint-rolling contests, and smoking competitions like Bong Wars and Vape Wars.

Oh yeah, attendees can also score free samples of cannabis at the event from dispensaries. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse.

Errl Cup co-founder Jay Neri tells Phoenix New Times the event is unlike any other offered in the Valley.

“Nobody else offers a free event where you can go in and possibly go home with ounces of product,” he says. “It's a game-changer for some people. They can't afford cannabis, so they come here and what they get here can sustain them and the event educates them where to spend their money.”

The Errl Cup started nine years ago after co-founder Jim Morrison attempted to find a suitable medical marijuana strain for a family member afflicted with multiple sclerosis, but encountered low-quality products with adverse effects. He teamed with Neri to create something aimed at holding Arizona dispensaries accountable and helping cannabis users make informed buying choices. The pair began using their own money to buy cannabis products from local dispensaries and have them tested by a laboratory.

“And then we came out with the results and we threw our first event to basically put on the map what real quality cannabis was in Arizona and where you could find it,” Neri says.

The Errl Cup’s popularity has blossomed over the years, as have its attendance numbers. Neri estimates approximately 25,000 people attended each Errl Cup event in 2022. It's since expanded to multiple events — including the annual Errl Camp, which is set for September in Camp Verde — with thousands of local cannabis consumers applying to judge products for the awards. Neri says their opinions definitely matter.

“Nobody cares what we think [about cannabis], so what we like to do is to pick people in the community who actually buy the products to be judges. They’re the ones who are using it on a regular basis,” Neri says. “What matters is who's going to go to the shelf and put up their hard-earned dollars and buy your product. Their opinions matter the most.”

Errl Cup organizers also continue to have the quality and safety of each cannabis product assessed by labs with the results factoring into determining award winners. Neri says cannabis testing is an important issue, echoing calls by politicians and government officials over the matter in recent years.

So who are The Errl Cup’s latest winners? That will be revealed during the event this weekend in Mesa. What follows is a complete guide containing everything you’ll need  to know before attending.

When and Where Is the Errl Cup?

This year’s event happens on Saturday, March 11, and Sunday, March 12, at the Thompson Event Center, 1901 North Alma School Road in Mesa. The venue, which is also known as Scarizona Scaregrounds during the Halloween season, is located just north of the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway.

What Are the Hours?

The Errl Cup will feature staggered entry times each day for various ticketholders. To wit: Those with VIP tickets can get into the event starting at 9 a.m., current medical marijuana cardholders can enter at 10 a.m., and patrons with fast passes will follow at 11 a.m. The general public will then be able to enter at noon. The event runs until 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.

Who Can Attend the Event?

Any adult who is at least 21 years old and any 18-and-over MMJ cardholders from states allowing medical marijuana will be allowed to attend.

How Much Is Admission?

Tickets for general admission and MMJ cardholders are both free through The Errl Cup's website, though online registration is required. Fast passes, which get you in at 11 a.m. each day, are available for $25 per person. VIP tickets are officially sold out.

Can Children Attend?

Absolutely not. The event is strictly for adults.
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Organizers said plan ahead to avoid lines at the event.
Mike Madriaga

What’s the Best Way to Get There?

Neri says there might be a line of vehicles trying to get into the venue, so he recommends getting a lift to the event, either from a friend or a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft. Unfortunately, Valley Metro doesn’t offer any bus or light rail service to that part of Mesa. “When tens of thousands of people are trying to show up and traffic's crazy, you'll have a better time if you can get dropped off and picked up afterward,” he says. “It's one less thing you have to worry about.”

Where Can I Park?

Thompson Event Center will charge $20 per vehicle to park at the venue. If you'd prefer a cheaper option, Neri recommends parking at the nearby shopping center Mesa Riverview, 857 North Dobson Road, and then taking an Uber or Lyft.

Will There Be Security Screenings?

Yes. Attendees will have to go through a metal detector and have their bags searched.

What Should I Bring?

Comfortable footwear, various forms of sun protection, such as hats or sunglasses; sealed bottles of water, a fully charged cell phone; cash, debit or credit cards; a government-issued ID, and your MMJ card if applicable. Backpacks and bags are okay but will be searched upon entry.
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Personal use cannabis is OK to bring to the event.
Mike Madriaga

Can You Bring In Cannabis?

Yes. Flower, concentrates, vaping devices, packaged and sealed edibles, and even dabbing rigs are allowed, Neri says, but only in “reasonable amounts.” In other words, if it's a large cache of cannabis or has been packaged for resale, it’s verboten. “If you got one baggie with a couple of fingers of weed and some blunt wraps, we’ll assume you'll just be smoking out with friends,” he says. “If it looks like it's for sale, you're not bringing it in. If it looks like it's more than an ounce, you're not bringing it in.”

So You Can Use Cannabis At the Event?

Most definitely. Feel free to light up, vape up, or enjoy an edible. As we mentioned, vendors will also give out samples for attendees to try.

What Else Isn’t Allowed Inside?

Weapons of any kind, any illegal substances, or anything considered to be dangerous or disruptive. Additionally, outside food or beverages — other than sealed edibles or bottles of water — and pets that aren’t registered service animals won’t be permitted.
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Scenes from the Errl Cup in October 2022.
Mike Madriaga

What Sort of Food Is Available?

Neri says that 10 different food trucks and vendors will be at Errl Cup, each selling different types of eats. Options include pizza, tacos, chicken and waffles, kettle corn, frozen treats, and Mediterranean-style cuisine. In other words, you’ll be covered when the munchies strike.

What About Drinks?

Vendors will have soft drinks like water, juice, soda, and energy drinks for sale. No alcohol will be available at the event, which means you’ll have to stick with cannabis to get a buzz.
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Scores of vendors are on hand with free samples and merch to purchase.
Mike Madriaga

What’s the Vendor Lineup?

More than 100 different vendors will have tents or tables at this year’s Errl Cup — including local dispensaries, smoke shops, retailers, and artisans — and will offer “weed plus more.” Dispensaries will hand out free samples of cannabis, ranging from flower to concentrates. “You can’t buy any cannabis, since it's all free,” Neri says. “The dispensaries will have samples available so you can try their product and then come to their locations if you dig it.”

Elsewhere, smoke shops will have bongs, glassware, trays, rigs, and other accessories for sale. Attendees can also buy T-shirts and other apparel, handmade jewelry, or a wealth of other cannabis-inspired items. "I've had a guy selling potato sacks [decorated] to look like old cannabis sacks from the 1800s,” Neri says. “So there are all kinds of unique things you could buy.”
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Local bands are on tap for the two-day festival.
Mike Madriaga

Will There Be Music?

Yes. An outdoor stage will host sets throughout the weekend by three different local bands, each from various genres. Funk ensemble Rio Grande will kick things off at 11 a.m. each day with a mix of both covers (their rendition of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won't Do For Love” is quite awesome) and original songs. Indie hip-hop act Optimystical will bring its experimental sounds to the Errl Cup at 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. And because every good cannabis festival could use some irie vibes, reggae quartet The Conveyors will perform at 1 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.
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The Bong Wars during the Errl Cup in October 2022.
Mike Madriaga

What Are the Bong Wars, Vape Wars, and Errl Wars?

They’re three different competitions taking place on both Saturday and Sunday where Errl Cup attendees attempt to consume cannabis in its various forms as quickly as possible. The winners of each contest will earn bragging rights, a “championship chain,” and an enormous buzz.

Bong Wars are a single-elimination tournament where 32 participants will pack and smoke fat bowls of flower from water pipes. Competitors go head-to-head and whoever smokes their bong load the fastest will move onto successive rounds, which feature progressively larger bowls. The battles start at 10:30 a.m. each day and run through approximately 3 p.m. Meanwhile, Vape Wars and Errl Wars will feature a similar setup, albeit involving vaping concentrates or oils (respectively).

Neri says berths to the competitions are only available through the Arizona dispensaries sponsoring each competition, such as Lake Havasu’s Farm Fresh Dispensary, which is putting on Bong Wars, or Tucson’s Earth Extracts, which is involved with Errl Wars. While the field of competitors is pretty much set, you might try contacting each sponsor to see if any invites are still available. But even if you aren’t participating, the contests can be fun to watch.

Are There Any Other Competitions?

Yes. There will be a joint-rolling competition held each day. It's open to any attendee and Neri says upward of 500 people typically compete. An Arizona Organix Dispensary gift bag will be awarded to whoever can roll a doobie the fastest. More information and signups will be available at the event.

When Will the Winners Be Announced?

According to Neri, winners will be revealed on stage throughout the weekend. Most of the categories will be announced on Saturday with winners of the concentrate and flower categories being announced on Sunday. Glass trophies will be awarded to each winner.

What Are the Award Categories?

Categories include various strains of flower, concentrate, and oils — including indica, sativa, hybrids, and CBD. They also have categories for edibles both sweet and savory; handcrafted products, such as joints, pre-rolls, moon rocks, and blunts; and topicals and tinctures separated by THC and CBD. “We try to recognize as many of the different avenues of products that are available in Arizona as possible,” Neri says.

How Are the Winners Determined?

Neri says each product — be it flower, concentrates, oils, or CBD — is evaluated by Errl Cup judges, who fill out a seven to 10-question survey, or tested for quality by labs. Organizers of the event then calculate a weighted score based on the results. Surveys make up 75 percent of the score and lab results count for 25 percent.

How Can You Become A Judge?

While Neri says the judging process for this year’s Errl Cup has already been completed, local cannabis users can apply to become judges for future events. Anyone interested can sign up through the Errl Cup website and fill out a short questionnaire. Organizers will then use a random number generator to pick judges a few weeks prior to an event and post videos of the selection process to their YouTube channel. Judges will then receive kits with instructions on how to evaluate their particular cannabis product.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

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