Spirits were high at the 5th annual Marijuana Business Conference in Las Vegas this past weekend. Attendees were universally excited by the election results, which saw voters approve 8 out of 9 marijuana legalization ballot measures.
This year’s conference was the biggest ever, sold out with attendance exceeding 10,000 people. Next year, the conference will be moving to a bigger site at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The conference featured a dizzying array of vendors spread across three expo halls, all of which were jam-packed.
Every sector of the cannabis industry was well represented, including all manner of lights, soil, and fertilization products for growers, as well as greenhouses and grow rooms of all sizes. There was a wide variety of extraction equipment and cannabis-infused foods, candies, and beverages. A number of consulting firms offered their services to help investors get licenses and set up their businesses. There were a number of media publications, investors, firms with packaging equipment and label makers, vape pens, and much more. An entire new sector of software solutions has emerged to manage everything from seed to sale, accounting, and legal compliance. The sheer quantity of technology on display was overwhelming and demonstrates that the future for cannabis is going to be very high-tech.
“The conference exceeded our expectations in every way,” said conference director Chris Walsh. “To hit over 10,000 attendees at a Marijuana Business Conference is basically the best-case scenario we could have envisioned. We had 400 people at our first event in 2012 and I don’t think we ever contemplated that we could have reached this level by now. This is a reflection of where the industry is going, the potential, the business opportunities and the jobs this industry is creating. Who knows, in five years maybe we will be at 50,000 people if the industry keeps growing in this way. The industry has arrived.”
There is no question that the election results were a huge victory for the cannabis industry with eight out of nine states approving legalization ballot measures. Full recreational legalization in California, the sixth largest economy in the world, is a watershed moment in the history of marijuana legalization and portends the opening of the biggest marijuana market anywhere. Victories on the east coast in Massachusetts and Maine are not too shabby either and represent another major chink in the armor of prohibition.
The only dark cloud anyone was discussing was the uncertainty over the Trump administration and what attitude the new president will take towards legalized marijuana. Though Trump spoke approvingly of medical marijuana during the campaign and has generally indicated a state’s rights approach to social issues, the fact that Trump has surrounded himself with arch-prohibitionists such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, the new pick for Attorney General, sends an unnerving signal. It remains to be seen whether the Justice Department will target marijuana producers and businesses or take a hands-off approach that allows the states to follow the will of the people.
Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance spoke of his concerns about Trump. The longtime policy activist appeared on a panel with Rob Kampia from the Marijuana Policy Project, Dale Sky Jones from Oaksterdam University, and Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom. Nadelmann warned that the election of Donald Trump presents huge potential risks for the cannabis industry because mid-level prosecutors in the Justice Department have the power to make life very uncomfortable for the cannabis industry even without directly challenging state legalization laws.
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Nevada State Senator Tick Segerblom was far more optimistic and animated in his declaration that Nevada would become America’s Amsterdam and home to a thriving cannabis tourism industry after the legalization vote. Nevada has long embraced state’s rights and has allowed gambling and prostitution for decades, so marijuana should be a natural addition to the mix. Segerblom indicated that he expects Nevada to fiercely defend its state’s rights just as it has in the past on other issues.
The conference included a keynote from magician Penn Jillette who recounted his lifelong support of marijuana legalization even though he has never smoked it once in his life. Jillette is a noted libertarian who feels the government should stay out of the personal lives of citizens and their choices of what to do to their own bodies. Jillette reminded the audience to not let the industry forget its roots or leave behind the funky, idiosyncratic personalities that always gave the cannabis community so much character. As the cannabis industry becomes legalized and professionalized it runs the risk of losing the fun and danger as a wave of anodyne corporations move in with their corporate boards and focus group approved products. “Don’t forget the funk!” warned Jillette.
We shan’t, sir, we shan’t.