The industry’s largest show continues to grow by leaps and bounds
As I recover from the hazy aftermath of the annual Marijuana Business Conference in Las Vegas, here are a few of my initial takeaways from the largest event in the legal cannabis industry:
- CBD remains a major buzzword of the cannabis industry. Hundreds of growers and various product manufacturers attended the event, shining a light on both the diversity of products available and the complexities of CBD laws and the market. There are three distinct categories of producers out there: state-licensed marijuana growers who focus on high-CBD strains, state-licensed hemp growers focusing on oil production, and companies manufacturing a range of balms, salves, tinctures and food products derived from hemp grown in Canada, China or any country outside the U.S. It will be fascinating to watch in the coming years if regulations adjust to stabilize this market or if the chaos persists.
- Industrial hemp, right now, is an after-thought. Obviously, marijuana is the primary focus of the Marijuana Business Conference. However, there was no shortage of state-licensed hemp farmers and hopeful entrepreneurs waiting for their respective states to implement cultivation programs or to pass legislation allowing hemp production. Almost without exception, these folks intend on growing medicinal hemp for CBD oil, rather than stalks and fiber for building materials. In a lot of ways, I see industrial hemp being both a bigger business opportunity and a more interesting storyline than medical or recreational marijuana.
- In some ways, MJBizCon has gotten too big. It’s hard to complain about an event that brings thousands of entrepreneurs and businesses from across the globe together under one roof, but the sheer size of it almost makes it too difficult to get any meaningful business done.
There were probably hundreds of people I would have liked to have said hi to while in Las Vegas, but simply got lost in the shuffle of other meetings, manning the booth and trying to network with as many people as possible. According to show organizers, just walking the entire show floor at a reasonable pace would have taken 45 minutes; if somebody were to spend five minutes chatting at every booth, that would take 57 hours.
- The technology boom is coming. To think where the industry was at just a handful of years ago, when it seemed every grower was boasting about hand-watered, hand-tended and hand-trimmed cannabis, it’s fascinating to watch the shift toward automation. Cannabis growers — like most farmers — are quickly discovering that their margins are razor-thin in a legalized market.
Everybody still wants to talk about their top-tier quality and proprietary strains, but they’re quickly recognizing the value of automated packaging machines and extraction processes, machine trimmers that get more sophisticated every year and cultivation management technology that removes human error. Cannabis tech has blossomed over the past couple years, but I think the real boom is still to come.
- The blueprints have been written; entrepreneurs need to read them. Every time a new state comes online, optimism reigns supreme in the early stages. Although the legalization of cannabis represents a huge business opportunity for thousands of people across the country, it’s important to remember there will be more people who fail than succeed. Entrepreneurs in California who didn’t pay attention to the ups and downs of Washington and Colorado will be sure to repeat those mistakes.
- The word “consultant” still draws a raised eyebrow of skepticism from me. The only thing I can say here is to be very selective in hiring anybody. If you need an expert in regulations and licensing, hire an attorney. If you need an expert in finances and taxes, hire an accountant or a qualified chief financial officer. There are some consultants that have a Ph.D. or decades of verifiable, specialized experience in their field (like the people on Marijuana Venture’s Content Advisory Panel). Be skeptical of anybody who tells you their experience in the cannabis industry is more valuable than a college degree or commercial horticulture experience.
- The public relations industry has finally caught up with cannabis. For the first two years or so of running this magazine, publisher Greg James and I would marvel at how rarely companies would reach out to us with press releases about new products. I attended a PR-media networking event a few years ago, just a couple weeks in advance of the CES trade show. Two of the reporters I talked to at the event were receiving more than a hundred emails per day pitching products and story ideas to journalists leading up to the event.
Marijuana Venture publishes a Product Spotlight section every month because we know industry professionals like to stay up to date on the latest lights, extraction equipment, greenhouse components, technology and packaging innovations. We do this at no charge to the company and completely independent of any advertising. It’s probably the easiest and cheapest way to get the word out about a new product aimed at the marijuana community.
In all the cannabis industry events that have happened in the past four years, I’ve rarely received more than a trickle of pitches leading up to the event. This year, for really the first time, I got bombarded with pitches and “Can I introduce you to so-and-so?” emails before MJBizCon. It’s nice to see progress in this regard.
That said, many PR professionals don’t seem to have a great understanding of how media companies operate, and may actually be doing their clients more harm than good. But that’s a subject for another day.