Cannabis Convention Goes to Pot

Louis Woznicki was planning the cannabis celebration to end all cannabis celebrations: Cannapalooza. The contract for the event was signed back in September. It was to be held March 19–21 at Mandalay Bay and bring to town 200 vendors and 50,000 to 75,000 attendees.

By January, Woznicki had spent around $250,000 on national marketing and was in talks with lighting and entertainment aficionados. That’s when the 62-year-old businessman learned that Mandalay Bay terminated the event, no explanation given. (MGM Mirage officials said that policy prohibits them from revealing details of business contracts with any convention customer.)

“When I got the news I just kind of imploded,” Woznicki says. “It wasn’t anger, my world just caved in on me. I invested a quarter of a million dollars in putting this show together.”

What irks Woznicki the most is that he was straight with the convention staff when he signed the contract. “I said are you completely comfortable with what I’m going to do here? I’m going to put on a trade show about cannabis. It’s going to be a lot about education of the cannabis industry but there’s also going to be a commercial element.”

He was clear that the commercial element would include vaporizers, bongs, glassware, advanced growing systems and more—and he urged Mandalay Bay staff to run it by their legal department. He says he was still met with enthusiasm and support.

But by January, that enthusiasm and support turned to tension and suspicion. Because of the nature of the event, Woznicki still had some concerns and requested to meet with officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He says he wanted to answer any questions they had, and let them know that he’s a successful businessman in the textile industry, not “some idiotic doper from L.A.”

At the meeting, Woznicki says he felt ambushed. He’d expected an informal chat. What he found was nearly 25 officials hailing from the Nevada Gaming Commission, the county, undercover officers, narcotics officers and more.

They all had the same issue: It’s against state law to sell, deliver, possess or manufacture drug paraphernalia, and to cultivate marijuana. It didn’t matter to them that Woznicki had asked about paraphernalia issues up front. And they weren’t swayed when he pointed out that bongs and glass pipes are sold throughout the city and county, accompanied with signs that say “For Tobacco Use Only.” With a show called Cannapalooza, it seemed, there’s little question as to the purpose of the items.

Days after the meeting, Woznicki received the official letter terminating his contract. Cannapalooza had fizzled.

Metro says it had nothing to do with it. “Mandalay Bay could not hold that event for whatever reason, and it’s their convention space,” Public Information Officer Marcus Martin says. “We can’t tell a business what to do or what not to do with their private property.”

Woznicki hopes to hold the show sometime in the future, but admits that the soil, particularly in Las Vegas, isn’t exactly fertile. In the meantime, he’s not sure what he’ll do. To him, the issue is larger than a breach of contract. “It’s become a civil rights issue, a first amendment issue, freedom of speech and right to express yourself,” he says.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, isn’t so sure.

“If they just did a cannabis convention where they were just talking about legalization and things like that then there would be some significant free-speech implications,” he says. “If the issue is the sale of paraphernalia, even though we believe the law is wrongheaded, it has been upheld.”

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