Prince George’s Exhibition Hall was jammed-packed with vendors. The expo hall covered 178,787 square feet, and featured over 300 exhibitors with business solutions and resources for marijuana business owners. Between the impressive array of products, tools, and gadgets, four conference rooms, and 50+ diverse keynote speakers, the spring Marijuana Business Conference: Spring 2017 in Washington, D.C., delivered another successful event to the cannabis industry. These conferences, often referred to as “MjBizCon”, cycle around the country. Many of those in the cannabis world have either heard of or attended the annual Las Vegas MJBizCon in the fall, which is the largest marijuana business conference in the country.
This spring’s MjBizCon occurred in mid-May, and brought with it a slew of sunny, balmy, 90 degree days. The conference was hosted within the expansive confines of the upscale Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in the National Harbor, across the way from the National Mall. The Gaylord Resort sports vaulted ceilings, elegant fixtures, and marbled stairwells. The architecture glories – if not requires – the presence of well-dressed business folk, and those in attendance MjBizCon definitely fit the bill.
Marijuana has undergone a lot of transformations since 1996, when California’s Compassionate Care Act was the first state program to allow use of cannabis for those seeking the plant’s medical applications. Marijuana has faced an uphill battle with our Federal government since the early 1900’s: bygone eras of deceptive propaganda perpetuated by films like Reefer Madness. That time also brought about the formation of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and the introduction of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which was voted in by Congress “based almost entirely on this propaganda and misinformation”, as the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has stated. Nixon’s War on Drugs, which has fiercely punished cannabis producers and consumers, is another burden the American public has shouldered.
Two decades have passed since California’s rudimentary medical marijuana program was introduced. Colorado initiated its own medical system in 2000. Since 1998, many states have either enacted their own medical marijuana programs, decriminalized cannabis, or full-on legalized it for recreational adult use. These steps continue to chip at years of skepticism from the public and harsh repercussions from the government, slowly but surely giving way to promising research and scientific evidence in our present day.
Christie Lundsford, COO of ProMax Grow, a company that supplies LED lights to cultivators, believes that cannabis legalization is provoking an “International shift of health and wellness on this planet.” Lundsford was an exhibitor at the event and has an extensive resume in the cannabis industry. She has a longtime background in cultivation but didn’t become a consumer herself until much later, citing a preference for cannabis-infused topical products. In San Francisco, 2011, she spoke at the very first MJBizCon. There were 111 people attending the conference, and only 11 were women. However, Lundsford cheerily explained, 7 of the attending women were speaking at the conference, indicating that most of the women present were in a leadership role. She has worked closely with Dixie Elixirs, appeared on CNN, and is one of the small group of initial contributors to the formation of Women Grow. When asked how she believes marijuana conferences have evolved over the years, she said they’ve become more business-minded than consumer-driven. Looking around, you do see a white collar presence. This crowd is comprised of attorneys, CPAs, members of government, business owners, consultants, scientists, and many other specialists.
Dustin Lato of VaporSlide, an exhibitor that supplies a high-tech vaporizing water pipe slide, said this present MjBizCon was his first cannabis event, having been in the industry for a year. He has, however, been in marketing for three years. He helped his friend’s company (which subsequently also became his company) rebrand itself – from logo to website, to give the product a high-end and professional aesthetic. The resulting look is definitely competitive, and their device is unique. “The cannabis industry is unlike any other industry,” he stated. Lato feels there is more of a communal vibe in cannabis, versus the other industries he has worked in. It’s also still fairly insular at this point. “You can’t burn a bridge, because you’ll burn everyone,” he said.
Shanita Penny, a consultant and founder/CEO of Budding Solutions, said each cannabis conference “Feels like homecoming.” Her first time attending an MjBizCon was in Chicago. As an accomplished and well-credentialed businesswoman with an M.B.A and a decade of experience under her belt, these attendees are her peers: professional, educated entrepreneurs. She feels the crowd has stayed “consistently suits” throughout the duration of her career in cannabis. Penny has been involved in cannabis since 2015 through avenues such as lobbying on Capitol Hill, Women Grow, and as an MCBA (Minority Cannabis Business Association) board member, to name a few.
David Muret, co-founder of Viridian Staffing out of Seattle, attended the Tacoma CannaCon in 2014 as his first conference. He’s noticed these events are getting larger, with more attendees, and that they are growing increasingly more professional, drawing more serious contenders to the cannabis market. Over the years, these types of conferences have shown that they are well-received by the business world. The caveat that Muret mentioned is probably a growing concern amongst professionals who regularly attend these events, and that is the sheer amount of them that happen over the course of a year. “It is harder to predict the value of the event” David explained.
These stories from professionals with varying backgrounds, converging from all over the country, illustrate the direction the industry on the whole is headed as it works vigorously to obtain legitimacy, despite its Federal status as a schedule I controlled substance. The industry is working hard to establish methods that meet the same demands as comparable existing markets, like employee safety, insurance, security, technologies, tools, and cash handling solutions. The Marijuana Business Conference series has helped the cannabis industry propel itself forward as it develops, and enables its participants to educate themselves on the services and resources available to them, and collaborate with each other.