MJBizCon came roaring back with a vengeance for its 11th Las Vegas gathering in November 2022. As always, the event was a whirlwind of meetings, dinners, cocktail parties and hobnobbing with industry insiders, including influencers and media. As a cannabis PR professional who has been attending MJBizCon for the last five years and has personally witnessed the ups and downs of the industry, I left Vegas feeling empowered, renewed, and excited. Here are some of my topline observations:
MJBizCon is so much more than just an expo
MJBizCon has grown up in many ways and has become so much more than just another trade show or expo. It’s an experience that ostensibly centers around the Las Vegas Convention Center, but the real action happens on the strip in select bars (Chandelier Bar, anyone?), private company suites, fancy dinners and at late night parties. At least half of the people I met with didn’t even step foot on the expo floor during their entire stay in Vegas. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for the expo, it’s just not for everyone anymore. Most expo attendees that I met with were actively seeking specific services, including packaging, technology, security, and lighting.
Even if you don’t go to the expo or listen to a single panel, the reason you’re there is because that’s where the wider cannabis community is. No other cannabis events bring together so many facets of the industry and so many diverse players in one place - and that’s why MJBizCon remains a must attend annual event for everyone in the industry. I’m ready to buy my 2023 ticket already!
New Yorkers showed up in a major way
MJBizCon 2022 was sort of like a coming out party for the New York industry. After years of false hopes and timid starts, it was clear that New York has finally arrived and its nascent industry is being taken very seriously. A constant theme as I weaved my way through meetings, dinner, parties and the expo was that the Empire State had come to MJBizCon in droves. This point was hammered home when Happy Munkey, a longtime New York legacy institution, served as the title sponsor for the annual Farechild party, which was known as the Shangri-La party this year.
The presence of New York companies and industry leaders at MJBizCon highlights the state's commitment to the cannabis sector and its potential for growth. New York still is one of the most populous and influential states in the country and has a long history of cannabis culture and activism. The diverse population and large consumer market in New York provide unique opportunities for cannabis companies to reach a wide range of customers. Furthermore, the presence of New York investors, venture capitalists, and private equity firms at MJBizCon showcases the increasing mainstream acceptance of the cannabis industry and the growing interest of institutional investors in the sector. New York’s cannabis industry is still in its infancy, and the Empire State is well-positioned to be a major player in this rapidly growing market.
Non-Cannabis brands and more traditionally conservative companies entering the MJBiz party scene
The MJBizCon party scene is dope, but it’s definitely changing. The usual suspects threw parties including Farechild, FlowerHire, Fluence, High Times and the Cannabis Marketing Association. But this year more parties were thrown by non-traditional and non-cannabis groups, such as FTI Consulting, FoxRothschild, Hub International and Millennial Strategies. While these companies surely have a cannabis practice, I would predict it’s a sliver of their overall business. These events provide an opportunity for these companies to connect with industry leaders and potential business partners, as well as showcase their brand and services to a wider audience. They also serve as a reminder that the cannabis industry is not just about cultivation and sales, but also encompasses a wide range of business opportunities.
The presence of non-cannabis companies at MJBizCon is a clear indication of the growing mainstream acceptance of the cannabis sector. As the industry continues to expand and mature, it is attracting the attention of companies from a wide range of categories, including technology, finance, and consumer goods. These companies are recognizing the potential of the cannabis market and are eager to get in on the ground floor.
Cannabis Industry professionals are attracted to Psychedelics
At MJBizCon this year, I really started to notice an uptick in conversations about psychedelics. As the cannabis industry continues to mature, many industry professionals are looking for new opportunities and areas of growth. Psychedelics, which have recently been gaining attention for their potential therapeutic uses, have become an attractive option for many in the cannabis industry.
The similarity in the legal status and the stigma that surrounds cannabis and psychedelics makes industry professionals well-suited to navigate the regulatory and societal challenges of psychedelics. Additionally, many of the skills and technologies used in the cannabis industry, such as cultivation and extraction, can be applied to psychedelics. Furthermore, the increasing acceptance of cannabis as a medicine has led to more research on the medicinal benefits of psychedelics, which is creating more opportunities for companies and professionals in the cannabis industry to get involved in this field.
At MJBizCon, it was notable to see the number of cannabis industry professionals, companies, and investors showing interest and exploring opportunities in psychedelics. This trend is likely to continue as more research is conducted on the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, and as the legal landscape surrounding these substances continues to evolve. Overall, it's clear that cannabis industry professionals are attracted to psychedelics as a new area of growth and opportunity. As the psychedelics industry continues to develop, we can expect to see more collaboration and crossover between these two sectors in the future.
Don’t try to make fun of or co-opt the message of Buy Weed from Women
On the final day of MJBizCon, a photo started to go viral of a group of caucasian men wearing a black shirt saying “Buy Weed from Rich White Men.” This “joke” was intended to be a play on words associated with the “Buy Weed from Women” brand, but it could not have fallen more flat. Almost immediately the cannabis community, especially the badass women of cannabis, started to rally together to show how unwelcome and unsettling this poor attempt at humor was. Both at the MJBizCon expo and at parties, there was an undeniable and overwhelming presence of women and minority brands and it was clear that actions like this t-shirt were unwelcome and would not be tolerated.
Of course the shirt was also a stark reminder of a larger issue in the cannabis industry, which is the lack of diversity and representation among those who are profiting from the legal cannabis market. Historically, the War on Drugs has disproportionately affected communities of color, and many believe that these communities should have the clearest opportunity to benefit from the legalization of cannabis. The comment also touches on the issue of privilege in the cannabis industry, with some individuals and companies having an easier time navigating the legal and financial aspects of the industry due to their wealth and connections. Unfortunately to date, the legal cannabis industry has largely been the provenance of rich white men.
The joke fell flat because it was seen as tone-deaf and insensitive to the struggles that marginalized communities have faced in the cannabis industry. It is important for the industry to recognize and address these issues in order to create a more inclusive and equitable market for all.
Overall, the comment made at the conference is a reminder that the cannabis industry, like any other, is not immune to societal issues such as privilege, discrimination and lack of representation. It is important for the industry to actively work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable market for all, by recognizing and addressing these issues.