In Yukon this summer, a slow motion race is unfolding in indoor pots, under tents, and in backyards.
Week by week, the spiky green leaves of hybrid cannabis plants have been pushing their way up — the first crop in the territory's first-ever cannabis growing competition.
It's called the Yukon Cannacup, organized by the Friends of Cannabis, described by president Ross McLeod as a "very informal affiliation of individuals" from around the country.
"There's a lot of stigma in the Yukon, we're hoping this is a way to break some of the ice," said McLeod, who lives in Whitehorse, when asked why he started the Cannacup.
The rules, he said, are simple: each of the eight participants received the same kind of germinated cannabis seed, after which it's up to them to do whatever they can to produce a healthy plant by summer's end.
Lee Goodwin, who is submitting in the expert class and will also serve as a judge, opted to plant indoors under grow lights. There is also a beginner class for first-time growers.
Just recently, Goodwin's plant began flowering — a key moment in the cannabis plant life cycle.
"That's an exciting point in the growing when that happens," he said.
Goodwin will now begin a careful watch over the trichomes — the tiny hairs that cover the flower — watching for them to turn the "amberish-orange colour" that tells him it's time to harvest, dry, and cure his plants.
Another participant, Billy Huebschwerlen, is taking the opposite approach, plunking his cannabis seed in the soil in his backyard, feeding it nothing but water, and letting it soak up the midnight sun.
"It's been as good as the Yukon can get," he said of this summer's gardening weather.
Judging begins in the fall
All three men say that while the contest this year is meant to be informal and fun, there's a larger goal of building interest in growing cannabis at home.
For Goodwin, who first turned to medical cannabis to help him manage his pain after a car accident, growing plants himself has been a therapeutic hobby.
"I've definitely noticed a stigma with cannabis users. I would like it to be more widely accepted," he said. "The Cannacup is one way of putting it more in the public's eye."
Judging, which will happen in the fall once the dried buds have been cured, will be a looser affair, since the group doesn't yet have the means to test the cannabis for its chemical compounds.
"Until we can get testing involved, I don't think it's going to be super serious," said McLeod.
Judges will assess the size, health and aroma of the live plants, and the taste and effect of the cured buds.
McLeod is hopeful that this year's competition will set the stage for a larger and more formal cultivation contest next year.
"A lot of interested parties were/are apprehensive about what their neighbours and co-workers would think if they participated," he wrote in an email.
"I think that in general most are watching from the wings to see if we can pull the event off, and what the public perception is once we've done it."