In a post-Obama world (almost anyway) it seems strange to be walking around a trade show that is dedicated to the cannabis industry and all of its ancillary operations. Considering what just happened, politically it's hard to say what will become of this fragile monster of an industry.
Trump seems to be doing what many expected him to do, stack his cabinet with good ole boys and swamp monsters. We can only hope he sees the promise of this budding industry (pun intended) and at least lets the states decide what's good for their own population.
With recent legislation passing in California and Nevada to go recreational, it seems that it's only a matter of time before the feds just fall in line and legalize it. We shall see, but until then let's talk about what's going on now after soaking up the 2016 Marijuana Business Conference and Expo last week in Las Vegas.
For starters, it almost seems like the event itself has fallen behind the times with its use of the word marijuana instead of cannabis to brand the conference. Is marijuana an old or even offensive term? To many in the business saying the "m" word is kind of like referring to Asian people as orientals, it's just not politically correct anymore and to many the term represents a negative connotation much like weed or grass or even pot.
Marijuana is the past and cannabis is the future, so let's get to it shall we.
Walking into this conference, I expected a full dose of the counterculture in maybe one small wing of the convention center. Nope, this was quite the opposite, instead of a bunch of aging hippies rocking tie dyes the conference was filled with what looked to be very legitimate well-heeled business people. A least a very large chunk of them seemed legit, there were, of course, the usual misfits riding shotgun staking out their piece of the cannabis pie.
There were dashes of the old school, but this felt almost like a buzzing tech conference of the late 90s. Optimism wafted through the air like a thick cloud of pot smoke, err cannabis smoke, err vapor.
There was just about every ancillary type of business you could imagine from cannabis consultants to tax specialists to legal firms to sprinkler manufacturers. This conference was an ancillary bonanza, and it became very apparent that these are a lot of the people that are making most the money, especially the lawyers.
It's nice to feel that entrepreneurial optimism, it's damn near intoxicating, but it's very easy to get caught up smoking the kool-aid.
This industry is still a very fragile economy and will no doubt yield many winners, but there will be a lot more losers just like with any gold rush scenario.
Let's start with the growing supply companies and outfitters; there are simply too many of them from what I could see. The small to mid-size farmers are looking at some real challenges in the coming days of industrial-scale cannabis.
This hard truth is where I think you will see the first round of blood baths, too many guys selling dirt and lights, only a few can win here and scale their businesses to profit. The industry needs large-scale, high-quality producers to get the quantities necessary to meet the demands of a state like California.
The "me too" syndrome seems rampant with lots of identical products and very few real innovators.
The most interesting companies were the ones that had found their own lane and were innovating or bringing superior quality to the marketplace. For now, it's all very exciting, and the growth is staggering. Below are some of the companies that caught my attention either with their innovative product or overall presentation.
The Standouts of 2016:
This Boston-based (yeah, Boston) start-up has an idea that will either revolutionize the way people consume cannabis or die right on the vine. It's an idea that makes a lot of sense for the new and somewhat busy consumer; the CannaCloud is approaching the market much like Keurig. Yes, cannabis pods! This device looks similar to a Volcano Vape but instead of a skanky plastic bag the vapor is served up in what kind of looks like a water bottle type of cannister. CannaCloud is working with a variety of cultivators to make sure the end consumer has plenty of choices for their pods. So whatever brand or strain you want (or at least in theory) will be available to you. I do see the upside of working with the same cultivators or brands to deliver a consistent experience, and the ease of use will be a big upside for the noobs.
It's nice to see this kind of product in the works; it's just what the mainstream market needs to get the hang of it!
A small start-up form Southern California that specializes in vape pens that give you exact dosing indicators. Each time you take a pull on the pen an LED indicator lights up to let you know exactly how much THC / CBD you have ingested. No more guessing at how much you just vaped, you know exactly with the Indose product. They have also worked out a labeling system that applies moods/feelings to each pen they are selling. This simple and straight forward system is a blessing to the cannabis noob that has no idea what OG Purple Sticky Fuzz is; they just want to know how it's going to make them feel. Indose will be selling their own pens filled with cannabis oil as well as making the pen available for other cannabis oil manufacturers.
This Detroit-based company has introduced a new Hemp CBD filled soda that is probably one of the most delicious things I've tasted in a long time. Coming in 7oz bottles with incredible flavors like Blue Raspberry, Caramel Apple Pie, Cartoon Cereal Crunch (aka Capn' Crunch) and Pomegranate Lemonade. I never got enough in my system to know if there were any actual effects from the CBDs, but I sure loved the taste, and I guess that's pretty important for soda. The verdict is still out on the CBD effect. Hopefully, I can get my hands on a case of Cartoon Cereal Crunch and find out. Stay tuned!
Aceso features a portfolio of wellness products that focus on Hemp CBDs and other natural ingredients focusing on the ailments of everyday life. With three recipes: Calm, Wellness, and Soothe that have been developed to fight all the stresses and anxiety that life throws at you. Each recipe comes as either a topical spray and powdered drink that can be consumed relatively easily. I tried both the Soothe and Wellness drink mixes, and both tasted decent and mixed fairly easily in my water bottle after a couple of good shakes. Soothe had more of an effect on me physically and felt kind of like a small dose of Xanax for lack of a better comparison. Aceso has developed an incredible brand that will most likely do very well with the Yoga set and cool conscious hipsters. I'll be taking a deeper dive with the products in the coming weeks. Dixie Elixirs has a lot of great products and seems to be one of the categories leaders in branding and design. It may sound trivial, but great branding and packaging often can make or break a product, these guys get it right, especially with Aceso. In a business plagued with lame logos, terrible imagery, and bad fonts it's nice to see great design. Ok, I'll take my marketing hat off now... sorry.
This San Diego-based company has created a product line that I'm incredibly excited to try. Brewbudz is a line of flower based coffee, tea, and cocoa that are delivered in a Keurig ready pod system. Brewbudz pods could potentially revolutionize the way you get your cannabis, and it's particularly exciting to us coffee freaks. What's also cool about the pods is that they are 100% compostable, so you get your green on while getting your green on, it's a win-win. So once you are done with your pod you can just throw it on the compost pile or in the compostables bin (you should get one if you don't have one). I'm really looking forward to testing out these pods to see if the taste and experience live up to my expectations. I sure hope they do!
I know what you are thinking, cannabis chocolate is not all that innovative or exciting. What Kiva has done is not going to change the cannabis road map, but they sure have made some delicious cannabis-infused chocolate and chocolate covered espresso beans. I got the chance to sample the non-infused chocolate and espresso beans at the show and was impressed with the quality and the taste. The promise of Kiva is that you are getting an exact dose in your chocolate that doesn't have the yuck factor of that cannabis aftertaste that plagues so many other products. Kiva has rolled out in Las Vegas and will be available in other medical/rec legal states soon. With both dark and light chocolate varieties (6 in total) you will certainly find a bar that fits your taste buds.
There was quite a buzz about Pure Ratios product at the show, and many of my in the know cannabis friends were pointing me in their direction. I, unfortunately, didn't get a chance to talk to a representative because the booth was always too slammed, which is a good thing and helped support the hype. This brand's big standout factor from what I was told was the overall quality of the product, the high CBDs and the accurate dosing. I hope to have more to report soon, but these guys were getting internal props in a big way.
Pure Ratios is committed to developing patented proprietary solutions to cannabis-based products that are supported by both natural medicine techniques and extensive scientific research. Our mission is to provide more efficient delivery of cannabinoids throughout the body with consistent dosing. - from the company website.
Ok, maybe I just love this company because of the double entendre that is Baked At Home. Or maybe it's the fact that they have come up with brownie mix that will mask the taste the somewhat gross taste of cannabis. If you've ever had a pot brownie, you know what I'm talking about. This little Brooklyn-based company does one thing, and that's Sweet Bliss Brownie Mix. This proprietary mix is designed to absorb canna-oil so what you get is a delicious brownie with no nasty THC after taste, no gluten, low sugar and real cacao. The company has more mixes in the works as well. Brownies anyone?
CBD is all the rage right now in the medical and wellness worlds, and Charlotte's Web (named after Charlotte Figi) is a proprietary hemp extract developed by the Stanley Brothers in Colorado. There is a definitely a controversy brewing about cannabis-based CDB's and hemp CBDs, but that doesn't seem to matter on the medical side of things. Hemp CBDs don't get the benefit of the THC balance that is found in cannabis but that seems to be irrelevant in regards to pure medicinal applications. More time and research will tell, but for now it certainly seems that hemp CBDs are working and this one of the better brands around.
This was the product that made national news when it helped Charlotte Figi overcome her debilitating seizures and helped progress the fight for medical cannabis. This is one of the companies leading the way in high quality CBD Hemp and one that you will probably see a lot more of.
The Marijuana Business Conference and Expo probably just had its best year ever. The conference was incredibly well produced with fantastic panels and great vendors (most of them anyway) and a lot of very excited attendees and future cannabis entrepreneurs.
If you are even remotely interested in the business of cannabis, this is a must-attend conference for sure.
I have no doubt that this trade show will continue to get bigger and progress as the cannabis boom continues to creep across the country. There is still a lot to learn about hemp and cannabis, but all the positive indicators are very encouraging as are the incredible new products about to hit the market.
Is there a massive paradigm shift happening in our culture? We shall see, but the future does certainly look very very green indeed.