Every day a new edibles company gets started in California as ganjapreneurs flock to the expanding cannabis space. With the looming possibility that adult use of cannabis will be approved by voters in November of 2016, businesses are looking for exposure in a crowded marketplace, hoping to establish their brands early and build customer loyalty.

Attracted to novelty, patients are finding innovative options in a world of diverse cannabis-infused edibles no longer dominated by brownies and baked goods. The entries in the HIGH TIMES SoCal Medical Cannabis Cup represented a wide variety of medicated products, displaying creativity and a sense of fun as the industry attracts intense mainstream interest. Major trends finding traction with consumers include medicated honey and teas; savory choices such as infused BBQ sauces, ketchup and jerky; and discreet, female-focused chewing gums.

Seeking to appeal to a mature demographic of baby boomers returning to cannabis, as well as first-time users, some businesses like Altai and To Whom It May are betting on a combination of high-end, elegant packaging, along with premium ingredients paired with low doses of THC in gourmet confections to attract these desirable customers. However, designing products and business plans around an uncertain future is not without its risks, especially since most California medical patients seem to prefer high-dose edibles that are more economical to purchase. The winners in this contest are all high-dose options intended for patients with increased tolerance. Pot patrons still want the biggest bang for their buck.

When shopping for any cannabis-infused edible, carefully consider your needs, lifestyle and desired experience. A 90-pound anorexic female seeking appetite enhancement might choose a high-dose beverage that's easy to sip, versus a 250-pound male construction worker with back pain who wants relief from an infused beef jerky. There's a perfect pot product out there for everyone!

With so many choices to navigate, it's important to respect your limits and look for products that will offer the dose you need in a satisfying portion size. The amount of THC that each person can tolerate varies greatly according to individual body weight, metabolism, health and diet. If you're new to cannabis edibles, eat no more than 10 milligrams of THC and wait two hours before consuming any more cannabis foods. Be responsible and educate yourself before eating pot food, and you'll have an amazing, fun, relaxing time.

HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup judges rate products on a scale of 1 to 5 in each of these categories: Appearance, Taste, Potency, Originality and Healthiness. Specific questions on packaging and label information can earn additional points for competitors. The average scores of all judges are combined with lab test results to determine the overall scores for cannabis-infused edibles entries. With professionalism increasing exponentially each year in the edibles industry, all 20 of these top entries were rated highly by the judges, and any of these items can be recommended as worth your consideration.

First Place Winner
500 mg Pizza Sauce by Clean Healing

After launching at the SoCal Cup just last year and taking a promising Second Place award, brother-and-sister team of Graham and Tatum Cohen split with their former company and came back in 2016 with a new brand and a determination to crush the competition. Clean Healing pizza sauce offers a savory, sugar-free medication option that fits easily into a healthy lifestyle.

Judges raved about the sauce's originality, high quality ingredients and healthiness, along with the interactive aspect to the sauce, saying "I bought some pizza dough and made a pizza with one jar of sauce...very powerful stuff! It delivered a great high and was very tasty. Organic and vegan as well, that's always a plus for many people. Made some pasta with the sauce for lunch... man this stuff is versatile and potent!"

Bonus: Clean Healing's recipe for gluten-free flatbread, perfect for pairing with their savory sauce!

Second Place Winner
Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Crunch Punch Bar by Punch Edibles

This tiny treat packs a whopping 225 milligrams of cannabinoids into a small square of peanut butter flavored chocolate. Each bar is divided into nine squares of 25 milligrams each. Judges loved the high and appreciated the large dose, remarking "The small squares make for easy dosing. Great economical treat for patients, small amount of packaging with a large amount of milligrams." While some judges noted that the chocolate wasn't the tastiest or most high-quality, they did agree that "what it lacked in flavor, it more than made up for in effects." Indeed, Punch Edibles stays true to their name and packs a punch with plenty of THC!

Third Place Winner
Gravity Lock with Paris OG by Goodies by MaGooch

All of the judges appreciated the potency and versatility of this hash-infused olive oil, which contains 1300 milligrams of THC in 1.5 fluid ounces, enough for 30 servings of 35 mg at 1/4 teaspoon. Adding just a dash to pasta, sauteed veggies or drizzled over popcorn can enhance a meal without adding an overwhelming weed flavor. One judge shared his experience: "At first, I had it with some balsamic vinegar and bread and butter. It hit me pretty hard and fast. The next bottle, I used with some pasta and garlic and butter, and same thing! A smooth, pleasant ride, without having to overload on chocolate or cookies."

Bonus: Make these medicated empanadas from Goodies by MaGooch!

Honorable Mentions

4. Best Capsule Named for a Famous Musician:
Jimi's Meds - Pure THC Oil 25 mg Cannabis Capsule by Jimi's Cannabis Collection

A simple combination of "organically grown strain-specific cannabis flowers" and organic MCT oil (medium-chain triglycerides), these capsules impressed judges with their effectiveness and healthiness. One judge wrote: "With organic mct oil and organically grown strain specific flowers this product shines healthy." These capsules are a great option for patients seeking moderate doses of pain control. Bearing the likeness of Jimi Hendrix, these capsules are a product of Purple Haze Properties, a business partnership formed by the late musician's brother.

5. Healthiest Edible:
Raspberry Macaroons by Utopia Farms

Previously a First Place Winner at the NorCal Medical Cannabis Cup last summer, Utopia Edibles has a well-earned reputation for healthy, eco-friendly edibles designed for those with dietary restrictions. High quality ingredients include real raspberries, along with coconut, almond flour, agave nectar, coconut oil, vanilla and Himalayan crystal salt, combined to create a treat that’s absolutely delicious, while also gluten-free, raw, vegan, non-GMO and kosher. Judges remarked "A very tasty raspberry macaroon with very little cannabis taste at all. Eating the whole package is too easy. These are vegan and gluten free and for being GF they taste AMAZING! They are not dry like most GF items can be and have good raspberry flavor that is not artificial tasting."

The professional, nicely designed packaging conveys all relevant dosage information, with 50 milligrams of THC per macaroon for a total of 200 mg THC per package. Overall, these macaroons represent a fantastic effort from a new cannabis edibles company committed to eco-friendly values.

Bonus: Make Utopia's Peppermint Patties at home with this simple recipe!

6. Best for Your Grandma:
NuGum Fresh Mint THC Gum by Bhang

This quick-acting gum delivers a potent dose of 50 milligrams of THC per piece, with four pieces in the package. While judges weren't crazy about the taste, the hard-hitting effects won them over. One judge wrote: "It wasn't some huge brick of a brownie, or anything like that, it was just meant to be a quick, easy way to dose yourself up. The packaging and labeling was great, which is to be expected from a company like Bhang." Another explained "this was one of the edibles we were more pleased with during our assessment of strength and relief."

7. Best with Milk:
Medicated Churro Bites by Gold Drop Co with Maxx Power Edibles

These medicated churro bites were lauded as an excellent option for low-dose patients, with 140 milligrams of THC in the bag, allowing for incremental dosing throughout the day. Judges enjoyed these fun little treats as a medicated cereal as well, mixing them with milk for a psychedelic breakfast! One judge remarked "These churro bites were absolutely delicious. Sweet and cinnamony, these were packaged very well, labeled very clearly, and put both me and my roommate pleasantly to sleep on the couch."

8. Nicest Packaging:
Super Maxx Extra Strength Milk Chocolate with Almonds by Maxx Power Edibles with WEED Studio City

Newly redesigned packaging made this bar very appealing to judges, who felt it was a bar perfect for enhancing creativity and maintaining focus, noting that perhaps a sativa strain was used for the infusion, although this information was not given. One judge wrote: "This tested well with all three of us, during one of the first days after judging began. Patients became alternately talkative, and then relaxed and mellowed before chiming into the conversation again. With minor pain relief, this was a somewhat mentally stimulating chocolate bar." The entire bar contains 220 milligrams of THC, divided into six servings of 36 mg each. While the packaging and label information were excellent, judges felt the bar could benefit from higher-quality ingredients, and one health-conscious judge objected to the use of a partially hydrogenated oil.

9. Most Beautiful Edible:
Artisanal Cannabis Macaroons - Winter Edition by Madame Munchie

A past champion, with a First Place win in NorCal during 2014, these artistically decorated macarons were a hit with judges, who wrote: "Can't say enough good things about these. The macaroons, which came in different flavors and looks, were absolutely phenomenal. They were all original flavors, and they were easily marked and labeled. They hit just as the dosage said they would, and were very pleasant to sit back and enjoy." Beautifully conceived flavors perfectly packaged for gift-giving, these elegant treasures are a wonderful way to introduce a new user to cannabis foods. Split one macaroon in half for a gentle 10 milligram dose, or eat the entire cookie for 20 mg of THC.

10. Best New Drink:
Habit Strawberry Soda by Natural Infusion, Inc.

A newcomer to the cannabis business, Habit Strawberry Soda made a strong positive first impression on some judges, who liked the taste, even saying the drink "almost has a creamy finish like those strawberries and creme candies." Others disliked the cannabis aftertaste and felt there needed to be better dosage advice on the package. Ninety milligrams of THC is more than a single serving, so better instructions on how much of the drink to consume in one sitting would be appropriate.

11. Best Savory Snack for Meat Lovers:
Reef Jerky - Maui Wowie by Badfish Extracts

After a First Place win in the Edibles category last year, Badfish is back with an eye-catching, redesigned package and new flavors, including spicy Firestorm and Cannabis Cup entry Maui Wowie, each dosed at 100 mg of THC. Judges were happy with the Reef Jerky, which many preferred as an alternative to sweet edibles, leading one to remark, "Very flavorful and tender...not chewy at all and no taste of cannabis," while another raved that it was "clearly dosed and well packaged. I enjoyed sampling this for sure."

Bonus: Check out an awesome recipe for BHO Barbeque Sauce from the boys at Badfish!

12. Most Original:
Vegan Cannabis Caviar by Trophi

Straight out of a science fiction future, you have a cannabis-infused vegan caviar. What is it made out of? Water, organic black truffle infused olive oil, gold cannabis oil, organic activated charcoal, organic algae, calcium and organic sea salt. Does it taste like caviar? Not really. It tastes like seaweed in cannabis oil, and it's not as salty as expected. It does arrive elegantly packaged, with 250 mg of THC, and according to the lab, it contains exactly as much as promised. Some judges felt it "was just plain weird," while others were intrigued, writing "This is a very impressive edible with beautiful packaging. Not something I would purchase for daily use but something I would go out and spend a little extra for a special occasion."

13. Most Potent Hard Candy:
Captain Kirk's Live Resin Hashers by Captain Kirk's Edibles

A new hard candy from veteran Cannabis Cup champion Captain Kirk, these candies pleased judges with their potency. "Clearly marked strong medicine for high dosage patients," one judge noted, while others raved that the hashers were "definitely extremely pleasant once they kicked in." The package suggests that 398 milligrams of THC is "one serving in four pieces," with each candy marked as containing 99 mg. This is way too strong for average users, and it's important that packaging advise a serving of only 10 mg for new users.

14. Great for Camping:
Megawellness Honey Bar by Baked Bees with Nameless Genetics and The WEED Studio City

This honey, nut and fruit bar contains 130 mg of THC, and the packaging recommends that this dose be split among six servings for about 21 mg each. Judges praised this solid healthy choice, saying that "this bar is dense but tastes very good and there is no after taste of cannabis that I could detect." This tasty option offers excellent packaging and label information, but needs more detailed dosage advice or incremental marks on the bar to further guide consumers.

Bonus: Try Baked Bees weed honey in five delicious recipes!

15. Super Classy Branding:
Altai Brands Dulce de Leche Bon Bons 25 mg by Greenwolf with Loud Pack

Nailing their lab test perfectly, these bon bons tested at precisely 25.7 milligrams of THC each, offering a predictable dose in an elegant portion size. Judges raved about these hand-painted truffles, writing "with a single piece, there is little chance for discomfort from accidental over-consumption, and that is a great concern for newer patients," while another felt that "the dulce de leche is very good and pairs well with the bitterness of the dark chocolate." Altai Brands is making a name for themselves as the gourmet chocolate for discriminating cannabis consumers.

Bonus: Go inside the Altai edibles factory!

16. Most Promising Newcomer:
Sloth Bars

This caramel, brown sugar and chocolate Sloth Bar arrives in a charmingly homemade package bearing the simple logo of a sloth's face. While tamper-proof packaging and increased label information would be appreciated, this is a great effort from a new company. Going slightly over their listed dosage on the lab test with results of 54.4 mg of THC per serving, this Sloth Bar would have been around 218 mg total, exceeding the 200 mg promised. One judge noted: "Dig the simple earth friendly vibes and the high dose offered in minimal packaging." Others enjoyed the lack of cannabis flavor with such a high dosage.

17. Fanciest Cannabis Cupcake:
Cookies n' Cream Oreo Cupcakes by Chronic Desserts

Pastry chef Leilani at Chronic Desserts creates gorgeously decorated medicated confections for San Diego collectives. These cupcakes contained a whole Oreo cookie, along with an adorable marijuana leaf fondant topper. Judges noted that the cupcake was delicious, rich and moist, but that it didn't deliver the effects usually felt with a 100 milligram edible. That was OK with some judges, who just ate more cupcakes!

18. Most High-End Packaging:
To Whom It May by The Art of Edibles

These beautifully packaged chocolates each have a 'personality' of their own and flavors to match! Low dose chocolates deliver 15 milligrams of THC, perfect as "a gift to a sophisticated, pretty stoner chick that you are trying to impress," wrote one judge. Others felt the amount of packaging, while elegant, was distracting and wasteful, wishing for more of a focus on the chocolates themselves and less on presentation.

19. Best Pick Me Up:
Green Tea by House of Jane

Refreshing iced tea with no hint of cannabis flavor, great for relaxing after a long hot summer day! Packaging was professional and informative, even including a hotline for patients to call the company with any questions. Label clearly states that 10 milligrams of THC is considered one dose. Judges loved the taste of this liquid option, along with its "nice uplifting high," plus the medicinal benefits of green tea are a plus!

20. Most Interesting Idea:
Uncle Bubba's Cann-A-Chili by Uncle Bubba's Cann-A-Chili sponsored by Divine Wellness Center

This do-it-yourself, cannabis-infused Cajun chili kit contains a spice mix and a bag of kief that patients add to their own choice of protein. Containing "4 doses of 55 milligrams of THC" each, this is an interesting idea that would benefit from some refinement. First, 220 total milligrams of THC is more than four doses, it's more like 22 doses of 10 milligrams each. Some judges were worried that the kief wouldn't properly activate in the mix, but one judge really enjoyed this chili, noting "it has a nice kick and a nice high to go along with it. The packaging has nutritional information and this makes a great meal."