By Garrett Rudolph and Patrick Wagner
Business people from around the nation visited Tacoma, Washington for the first-ever CannaCon. The event featured more than 100 vendors geared toward the cannabis industry, as well as speakers and seminars throughout the four-day business-focused event.
CannaCon coincided with the 23rd annual Seattle Hempfest, just 34 miles north on Interstate 5. Hempfest has been billed as largest event of its kind — part festival, part protest, part activists’ rally, part celebration.
Here are eight takeaways from CannaCon:
1. The face of the cannabis industry is changing. The stereotypical, counterculture look of the marijuana crowd may always be a part of the industry, but it’s evolving rapidly toward the mainstream. Surely, not everybody will embrace this change, but it has to be acknowledged as part of the process of legalization so many activists have devoted their life to.
CannaCon was a perfect example of that shift.
To a casual observer, a quick walk-through of the Tacoma Dome during the four-day trade show would have probably looked pretty similar to a trade show for the construction industry or a gardening expo. Sure, there was a booth or two that displayed pipes and bongs, grinders, vape pens and marijuana-themed clothing. But far more prevalent were vendors working to alleviate the banking obstacles cannabis business owners are facing; lawyers, accountants and insurance agents were staking their claim as go-to business professionals for the former black market industry; companies with backgrounds in science served both the growing community and the testing needs of the industry.
Other vendors and speakers included heating and air conditioning experts, security firms, local gardening celebrities, and even … a government official. It’s safe to say even two years ago, a government official would have had to go incognito if they were attending a cannabis industry convention.
2. The fact that CannaCon was even successful shows a different approach and different mindset than many of the other large cannabis industry events. Scheduling it during the exact same time frame as Seattle Hempfest was some combination of brilliant, bold, daring and dumb. And even now, it’s hard to say which of those descriptions is most accurate.
On one hand, there are probably hundreds of people that would have liked to go to both events, but were somewhat forced to pick and choose. CannaCon did offer a shuttle to Hempfest, which allowed for some back and forth, but many people were not willing to make that trek.
Still, the events had completely different focuses, and many of the folks that were interested in the business aspect of the industry had no interest in Hempfest. At the same time, Hempfest is such an institution that it’s hard — if not impossible — for a newcomer to compete for people’s time and money. It’s likely some of the Hempfest organizers were none too pleased there was another cannabis industry event in the same region at the same time, but with nearly half a million people attending Hempfest every year, CannaCon’s attendance probably barely made a dent.
In the future, would CannaCon be more successful being held a different weekend than Hempfest? It’s hard to say. Some people outside the region might not have even come to Washington if not for the “world’s largest pot protestival.”
3. Edibles are big. There was a lot of interest in edibles and a lot of people asking questions about best practices, different manufacturers and the regulations, both from the medical side of the industry and the recreational side.
From the perspective of state-licensed retailers, the edibles selection and supply can’t expand soon enough.
At CannaCon, there were seminars on cooking with cannabis and developing tinctures. At least three of the vendors with booths manufactured extraction machines that will likely be used by processors as a first step for creating a wide variety of marijuana-infused candies, baked goods and beverages.
Then there are the Magical Butter machines. They’re fairly compact, reasonably priced and seem simple enough to use. Although they aren’t large enough for most commercial operations, they’re probably perfect for smaller-scale cooking projects for the home chefs.
As marijuana continues its shift toward the mainstream in the near-future, is it far-fetched to imagine hundreds of thousands of kitchens having Magical Butters in their cabinets, right alongside the Keurig and the Cuisinart?
4. Interest in the cannabis industry expands well beyond the borders of Washington and Colorado. People stopping by the Marijuana Venture booth came from all parts of the United States and Canada. There were lots of people from Florida, who were preparing for business opportunities in medical marijuana, just in case the Sunshine State voters approve Amendment 2 in November.
There were also dozens of people from California’s medical market, looking for ideas and products that would boost their company to the next level in profitability and efficiency.
There were also quite a few people from the South, interested in the nuts and bolts of the industry, as well as the chance to visit a state where they could freely visit a growing number of retail stores selling legal marijuana (if those stores had product in stock, that is).
Just as many people in Washington have taken fact-finding missions to Colorado to develop their business models, many others are visiting Washington to see where their state could be headed in a few years.
5. CannaCon was part of the first wave of trade shows dedicated to legal cannabis. A number of attendees talked about industry events in Las Vegas, Denver, Portland, Chicago and Los Angeles that they were either attending or thinking about attending.
Although only two states in the U.S. currently allow recreational marijuana, nearly two dozen other states have implemented some form of medical marijuana — a likely first step to full legalization — and at least two more (Alaska and Oregon) could join the recreational party soon.
Other recent events, like the National Cannabis Business Summit and Expo, hosted by the National Cannabis Industry Association, or the International Cannabis Business Conference in Portland on Sept. 13-14 indicate the direction the industry is headed.
6. There’s a massive difference between I-502 applicants and the “run-of-the-mill” marijuana entrepreneurs. It seems I-502 applicants are getting more comfortable with their backgrounds and their business plans being poked and prodded. Perhaps Marijuana Venture’s vantage point as a well-liked local trade publication makes applicants feel more willing to open up.
Or perhaps it’s just a factor of the Washington State Liquor Control Board peeking inside every nook and cranny for the past eight months.
If you’re going to apply for an I-502 license, be prepared to be completely transparent — or there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get your license. It seemed many people that were going through the complex and challenging application process were initially resistant to reveal things like addresses, sources of income, criminal history, their well-guarded growing secrets and techniques, or even their real name.
Now, people are ready to draw you a map on a napkin, invite you over for a tour, tell you all about the time they were busted for possession in 1986 and explain step-by-step how they take care of their plants to produce the best bud in the region.
7. The phrase “outdoor grown” might already be passé. Speaking with Jeremy Moberg, president of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, he explained why he prefers the term “sungrown.” The WSIA has focused its efforts on educating lawmakers and business people about the environmental and economic benefits of using the sun to grow cannabis, rather than millions of watts of artificial lighting.
Not only is sungrown cannabis better for the environment, you have to admit: It’s got a nice ring to it.
- The gold rush mentality of the marijuana industry continues to draw parallels to the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. Everybody wants to jump into the next million dollar idea.
The positive sides of the equation are that there are millions of dollars in this industry to be made. There are going to be some really good products, tools and inventions developed and implemented in the coming years. As advanced as the cannabis industry is now, it’ll only accelerate from here.
The flip side, though, is that there’s a lot of competition. CannaCon showed that for sure. With more than 100 vendors spread across the Tacoma Dome floor, there were at least a half dozen packaging companies, three that made trimming machines, three that built extractors, four different magazine publishers, three or four trade associations, a handful each of nutrient and soil producers, etc.
And this industry has challenges the dot-com era never had to face. Imagine the dot-com boom if the Internet were banned by the federal government. And people could face long-term prison sentences for using or selling the Internet.
Those are the kind of challenges this gold rush faces.