“My agenda is not the agenda of competition.” Douglas Dracup, founder of Hitman, made the announcement to a crowded room filled with the heady energy of cannabis connoisseurs. Though the industry’s tastemakers had all been called to the VIP lounge high above Manhattan’s THC NYC museum for Hitman’s Best Of New York Competition awards ceremony, the organizer’s message rang unironically true. Everyone was there not really to compete, but to celebrate the variety and innovation sprouting throughout the cannabis space.

Cannabis Industry Legends At Hitman's Best Of New York Competition

This year marks Dracup’s tenth hosting cannabis events, including the 710 Cup and the long-running Chalice Festival. His Best Of Competition, which highlights top-tier brands in each major market across the United States, has become similarly esteemed. The 2023 Best Of New York Competition saw four days and nights of networking, sampling, judging, and partying at different locations throughout the city, such as Sony Hall, all for the purpose of crowning winners in categories such as Best Prerolls, Best Edibles, Best Solventless, Best Flower. A renowned collection of judges included hash pioneer Mila Jansen; music industry veteran Phillip Leeds (famous for his work with Def Jam, Billionaire Boys Club, Jay Z, Questlove, and Pharrell Williams among others); cannabis educator and hashish consultant The Dank Duchess; DJ and founder of Essential Extracts Nikka T; hash hole pioneer Fidel; 3rd Gen B, patriarch of the multi-award-winning cultivator 3rd Gen Family; storied cultivator Crockett of Crockett Family Farms; hip hop mover and shaker Steph.V of Certz; and Champelli, California’s Bay Area OG cultivator.

“Legends come together because they trust Doug and it’s all about community,” declared Nick Bryan, founder of Golden State Banana and one of Dracup’s closest collaborators in organizing the Best Of Competition.

Dracup and Bryan will do it all again come July 26th, when they debut their latest Sweet Tooth Competition in the Big Apple. Sweet Tooth is poised to be a strain-specific event, seeking the best of new and classic variations on Cakes, Cookies, Zkittlez, Runtz, and Gelatos. Those who love an apres-supper smoke, rejoice!

Hitman glass on display at the Best Of New York Competition Awards (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin
Douglas Dracup, founder of Hitman, addresses the crowd at the Best Of New York Competition awards show (C) Hitman

Best Of New York Competition Founder Douglas Dracup On Recovering After Loss And Celebrating The Cannabis Community

For Dracup, putting his energy back into events for 2023 was a challenge after rebounding from a number of significant losses. As he explained at the Best Of awards ceremony, he first took a $3.2 million hit a few years ago when his fifth Chalice Festival suddenly shut down by government officials in California after licensing regulations changed. He spent time afterward relaunching his brand and thinking strategically about where to go next. Then in February, he suffered the most devastating loss of all when his father passed away.

“He was such a driving force in my life,” Dracup said of his dad. “And I got put in a situation where I was like, ‘Do I want to keep doing this or not?’ And the answer is yes. This makes me happy, it brings me joy, and I like uplifting this community that I’m part of.”

It’s a thought the entrepreneur would reiterate later in the evening as he applauded the competition’s winners: “I’m bouncing back here after a huge loss, but I’m always swinging at the pitch trying to reach for my fucking dreams. And I see a lot of people out here building a brand and building a legacy… I’m trying to lift up my friends; I’m trying to give people opportunities in this space. And everybody deserves a fair shot. There’s a lot of politics in this shit, so when it comes to my awards, [this] means a lot to me: This is a fair competition. I bend over backwards to make this legit.”

That sentiment is what made Dracup realize he truly was too legit to quit, and why the Best Of Competition has endured. The New York show this spring is only the second of its kind, but its creator understands when one of his ideas has wings. “I think it’s big to know your demographic by being part of the demographic,” he commented. “The response is unbelievable [from] the people in New York – the city is just such an amazing place. I’m just so grateful to be welcomed by so many people here, and to provide opportunities for these people [dedicating] themselves to the cause… I’ve seen a lot of major brands build their brand at my show and the awards.”

Nick Bryan of Golden State Banana, left, and Douglas Dracup of Hitman, right (C) Hitman
Hash queen Mila Jansen with her Emerald Cup Lifetime Achievement Award at the Best Of New York Competition awards (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin

Indeed, the joint was packed (pun intended) full of heavy hitters. Sponsors included Golden State Banana, Queens Cannabis Clubs, Gotti, VIBES Papers, Santa Cruz Shredder, Essential Extracts, Ripple Wellness, Certz, Jerome Baker Designs, The Kaleidoscope Collective, Toro Glass, Masonic Smoker, Jungle Boys, Zatix, New Terp City, PAYD Genetics, Divine Garden, Piff Coast Farms, OMG Events, Attitude Seedbank, Mata, Gas God, The JUSTUS Foundation, Apex Ancillary, House of Hash, Flavor Boyz, Legalized NYC, Lifted, The Dab Fellaz, and more. Those who visited the three days of the competition were treated to Nikka T’s spinning and master classes that provided insights into best business practices. From breeding and selection, to seminars in hash, to advice on branding, it seems no aspect of “giving the people what they want” was neglected.

“I’m willing to go above and beyond to make the experience worth it for everybody here, for the judges and competitors,” Dracup asserted. “It’s a balancing act every time you do a show. But I love the process, I love it. I feel so good because this year went really well and everybody got a lot out of it. Last year, a dude from the city who I met for the first time came in first place for his flower and it really changed his career. To come back a year later and see him working with a lot of the people he met at my show gives me fulfillment. That’s why I’m doing this. I have passion and I care about being a catalyst in this space.”

A full crowd at THC NYC's VIP lounge for the Best Of New York Competition awards (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin
Fidel at the Best Of New York Competition awards (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin

Who Won Awards At Hitman's Best Of New York Competition?

At the awards ceremony, judges, competitors, consumers, and vendors all mingled under the magical forest atmosphere of the private lounge. United in a happy haze, it was somewhat difficult to tell who was vending and who was there just riding the vibes. Although the answer soon became evident: Everyone came out for the vibe.

As the winners were announced, featuring Choice Awards from specific judges and the top three rankings in each category, some clear standouts emerged. Eric Caster of Calibrate Cannabis, based in upstate New York, got multiple plaudits in the Solventless division. Ripple Wellness earned kudos in both the Solvent and Solventless categories, plus an honorable mention in the Choice Awards. New Terp City reigned supreme again and again, topping lists in Solvent, Solventless, and Edibles. Certz made splashes with its Sour Diesel and Green Apple. Hash certainly proved itself to be on trend also, with Skunkfoot Farms’ Freshie Hash Hole and Hash Cru’s Hash Wraps scoring among the highest in Prerolls.

Asked about the sheer volume of industry movers and shakers in attendance, Dracup responded, “I have the support from the industry because they see my intention and what I’m trying to do here. They know that it’s culture, not corporate, and this is what it’s about. The people hear it. Having people believe in me is inspiring me to go harder. And the real moral of the story is that you’ve got to support people around you too, ‘cause they’re capable of moving mountains if you believe in them. I’m so grateful for those in this room. It’s an honor to be around legends and I’m fortunate that a lot of them are my friends before business.”

Douglas Dracup at the Best Of New York Competition awards (C) Jaime Lubin / Honeysuckle Media, Inc. @jaimelubin

The Sweet Tooth Competition, Presented By Hitman And Golden State Banana

The Sweet Tooth Competition, which will similarly span several days (July 26-29), is gearing up to be a summer’s delight of elevated pleasure. Judges, sponsors, and competitors will enjoy an opening ceremonies mixer, a potluck social, a candy-themed party, and an awards show. Presented by Hitman and Golden State Banana, Sweet Tooth is sure to give everybody a fantastic sugar high.

“Sweet Tooth is centered around Runtz, Gelato, Cakes, Zkittlez,” Dracup noted. “I’m creating subcategories for all of those, with hybrid categories. These are all the things that people are growing right now. When you make it specific, it adds a different angle to [the competition]. I’m not trying to rinse and repeat, but innovate. I think that’s pushing this industry.”

Fans of Hitman should also be looking forward to the brand’s upcoming drops from its apparel line, which has launched 52 different backpacks and bags in just the past year. Dracup is working on new additions to Hitman’s glass line, and expanding some social club ideas as well. “I’m making the brand more well-rounded and more understood by people for what it means,” he added. “And what it really means is, it’s okay to take a loss and come back from it. Not everything goes according to plan. But if you're dedicated and you persevere through those challenges, it's even more fulfilling to stand at the end of that and celebrate. And that's what we're doing.”

Sweet Tooth Competition comes to New York City July 26-29, 2023. Competitive entries are accepted through July 21. To sponsor or compete, or for additional information, follow @sweettoothcompetition on Instagram or email sweettoothcompetition@yahoo.com.

To learn more about Hitman, visit takeahitman.com. For more about Golden State Banana, visit goldenstatebanana.com.

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Featured image: The view from the judges' stage at Sony Hall during the main Best Of New York Competition (C) Hitman