This year’s Marijuana Business Conference & Expo was the largest ever, both in size and attendance. More than 18,000 attendees filled the Las Vegas Convention Center November 14-17, hearing panels on “Global Expansion & Hottest International Markets,” attending seminars on “Applying Big Ag Techniques to Cannabis Cultivation” and checking out booths on everything from CO2 extractors to rolling papers. In just five years, the convention has gone from a few ballrooms at Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino to more than 300,000 square feet at the LVCC. Much has been made of Vegas’ potential to become the center of the U.S. cannabis industry and, friends, this is what it looks like.
Wednesday’s opening keynote speeches were a bit of a family affair. To kick off the conference, MJ Business Daily editor-in-chief Chris Walsh led a panel on the future of the industry. To close the morning, U.S. News & World Report chief White House correspondent Kenneth Walsh spoke on “From Nixon to Trump: Marijuana and the Presidency”—after an intro from his son, Chris. The senior Walsh discussed the birth of the war on drugs with Harry Ainslinger in the 30s through the hardassery of Nixon and the movement toward legality that happened under Carter and then slammed to a halt under Ronald Reagan and “Just Say No” Nancy. Walsh brought it up to the present with Donald Trump or, more specifically, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, “a very zealous anti-drug figure.”
“I think he is fully capable of taking action to take us back in time to when marijuana was criminalized,” Walsh said. He also drew parallels between Trump and Nixon’s stance, noting that both were more interested in drugs as a base-galvanizing issue or means to mudsling than as a personal, moral issue. “I don’t know if, in the end, he’ll allow Sessions to pursue this as vigorously as Sessions might want to,” Walsh explained. Everyone in the LVCC that day sure as hell hopes he won’t.
Say “marijuana convention” and people’s eyes either light up with interest or narrow in disdain at the thought of miniskirted models handing out free bud. Not here, pal. While there may have been some suspicious vaping going on outside, the convention floor was a weed-free zone. All edibles uninfused, all vape cartridges unfilled, all bowls unpacked. What there was, was every imaginable object and service required for cannabis, from cultivation to consumption: high-tech grow lights and organic pest control, mad-scientist extraction machines and inventory tracking software, glass display cabinets and slick packaging. However, the MJBizCon did offer one useful thing to stoners: a seemingly endless supply of swag lighters.
The increasing legalization of marijuana is making it more acceptable on many levels across many demographics. The convention’s abundance of CBD products underlined that point. Pure Ratios had patches; Therabis and Green Gorilla offered products for pets, while the OGs of CBD, Charlotte’s Web, had a full complement of products. There was also a daylong “the Business of Hemp” forum that had a heavy focus on CBD.
Of course, the MJBizCon is where companies trot out their slickest smoking devices. Pioneers of vaping, Pax, were promoting the Pax 3, as well as the Pax Era, a vape pen that hooks up to your Smartphone. On the opposite end, Kandy Pens offered the mahogany-finished Flacko Jodye vape, which looks like the kind of fancy vintage pen F. Scott Fitzgerald would have pulled out of his pocket (but was actually designed by A$AP Rocky, go figure), as well as the Muvi, whose retro is more reminiscent of a Sony Walkman or Star Trek communicator. Ooze offered a variety of amusing little gadgets, like a stash-concealing lighter or a multi-compartment dab tray. And, of course, there were bongs and pipes galore. If you want a pipe shaped like a lobster or a five-foot bong, this was the place to look.
While the edibles offered as samples at MJBizCon contained no THC, that didn’t mean folks weren’t going back for seconds, as manufacturers continue to raise their game in terms of taste and creativity. Goodship’s array of cookies and candies were appreciated by a crowd that never seemed to leave its candy shop-like booth, which was stocked with sea salt chocolate chip cookies and a coffee and dark chocolate candy bar that is to die for. Also getting the flavor is Honu, another company from the Evergreen State, who knocks out some delightful confections—their coconut snowball truffle won the Dope Cup for 2016 and it tastes quite deserving indeed.
One of the last panels was “What’s New in Washington DC: Federal Policy Update,” which featured Dina Titus, congressperson from the very district where the MJBizCon was happening. “I understand this is the biggest marijuana conference ever held anywhere in the universe,” she said. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Congress’ answer to Bill Nye, had been announced as her co-panelist, but there was a last-minute switch to Rep. Dana Rohrbacher of California.
The pair discussed the future of cannabis and, once again, the spectre of Jeff Sessions haunted it like cranky elven undead. Sessions has said he’ll leave Obama-era regulations in place but, as Titus pointed out, “I don’t trust him for a minute. He said he didn’t know any Russians too and that’s changed.” (I am sure Rep. Titus was not casting shade on Rep. Rohrbacher, although Paul Ryan did once joke to his congressional buddies that Rohrbacher was one of “two people I think Putin pays.” Guess who the other one was.) The pair discussed the issues with passing permanent legislation, as cannabis is one of Congress’ many “kick the can down the road” issues, yet, as Rohrbacher said, “Every fear [they] have of marijuana cannot be addressed in an illicit market, it can only be addressed in a taxed and regulated market.”