CANNABIS CULTURE – When my editor here at Cannabis Culture Magazine sent me the ”thumbs up” to cover this years MJBiz Conference, I was right in the middle of a truly spectacular joint.
I had just returned home to California from Amsterdam, and between the excitement from the great news and the power of my first real premium Cali bud in a while… I jumped over to my laptop like an Olympic champion to google all the deets on this giant event.
- The conference is put on by Marijuana Business Daily and they are owned by a B2B media Colorado company, called Anne Holland Ventures. They started holding these events in 2012 and by 2015 they were featured in Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing privately held businesses. The event itself was certified as America’s fastest-growing trade show in Trade show magazine in three different categories: net square feet of exhibit space. Paid attendance and number of exhibiting companies.
I also learned that this main conference was complemented by another event called MJBizConNeXT in the spring and if you are feeling froggy or live outside the USA, their newest annual show is MJBizCon INT’L, which was first held in Toronto in 2018.
Once I realized the enormities of the conference I tried to give myself every advantage I could. I booked the Westgate Hotel (right next to the convention center), and I flew in early to get the lay of the land, plan my assault of the exhibits and get the first shots at all the premium Las Vegas buds before everyone else arrived. I also grabbed a new pair of Sketchers tennis shoes.
I was going to need them.
The unmistakable smell of Aqua Velva alongside the sweet stink only found from a freshly smoked joint, hit my nose and made me smile as I walked into the elevator at the Westgate Hotel. The packed elevator had a mix of about 80% cowboys and cowgirls, who were attending the “Super Bowl of Rodeo’s,” the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with 170,000 of their friends, and the other 20% were clearly a few buzzed early arrivals for the 8th edition of the Marijuana Business Conference 2019.
A sweet old lady in a cowboy hat, tasseled jacket, shiny belt buckle, and expensive boots asked me about my Jacket that has assorted Cannabis-related patches and pins on it when I entered the elevator. “Are you one of these mar-i-ja-wanna folks here for some big show?” “Yes, ma’am, I’m a writer covering the ‘show’ for Cannabis Culture Magazine in Canada.”
“A WRITER?” she said. “Well, bless your heart. Well, y’all have the best time here in Vegas, and stop by and say hello if you see us, my husband has been looking to learn more about that stuff” She flashed me a huge sincere smile as she bounced off the elevator, and so began my fantastic and exhausting journey into the Largest Marijuana Business Conference in the world. I would have many more cowboy/cannabis mellow mashups over the next few days, but bless her heart, she set the tone for the whole trip.
If the Wrangler rodeo event was like the Super Bowl, then the MJBIZCON is like climbing Mount Everest. It’s an event that rewards great planning, requires physical stamina to make it to the end, and draws in the most ambitious, determined and spirited (cannabis industry) climbers year after year.
Climbing this cannabis mountain doesn’t come cheap. This conference is packed top to bottom with events and add on events that targets every branch of the industry, and all the off-shoots in between. If you had decided that week that you wanted to jump into the cannabis business, there was a 9 hour add-on course, starting a day early on Tuesday morning at 8 AM called ”Marijuana Business Crash Course,” that could get you right up to speed. Now that would be an additional $399 bucks on top of the $899 initial ticket cost to attend the full conference and the expo. If you just wanted to attend just the expo, it was $499.
In addition to the crash course, there were also add on programs like a Science Symposium with topics ranging from research to final-product testing and on the Hemp side, they had the Hemp Industry Daily Forum. Promoted as the ”must-attend event for anyone looking to enter the hemp industry” this all-day program had you covered for everything from planting to processing to identifying new markets. Basically all the basics needed to get started in the Hemp Biz.
After unpacking and setting up my photo / interpening tools in my hotel room, I took care of priorities. I made my way out to scout and stock up on my bud supplies at the top three most popular dispensaries in Vegas. NUWU, THE REEF and PLANET 13. My first stop, on the first day, was NUWU. This is the dispensary that is located on Paiute Tribal land, which means it’s the only location in Vegas where you can buy it and smoke it in the same location. At this moment, it’s the only place to puff legally in the entire state. It features 200+ brands, 16,000 Square feet of space, and over 1100 different types of products. In addition, NUWU was the host location for the High Time Cannabis Cup activities this year. More on that later. I picked up some Starberry from Bohemian Brothers as my sativa dominant pick and some A1 Yola from Tyson Ranch for some Indica power. The bud tenders were young but well trained and enthusiastic.
When I came back to the hotel I ran into a group of four cowboys in the elevator who spun around on me in unison, when the door closed. At one time this could have meant trouble… but tonight is was, “DAMN SON, you smell Good!” and four new friendships were born on the spot. I like this new Vegas!
The tone was set… Let’s GET ROLLING!
The next morning I was there bright and early and after a brief welcome from Board Director Member, Cassandra Farrington, the conference was officially kicked off with a “State of the Industry and trends to Watch” presentation by MJBIZ CEO Chris Walsh. For about the next hour he gave everyone a complete, up-to-date, low down on every location in the world where cannabis laws are on the books. It was an excellent update that really put everything in perspective just before our group assault on the exhibit floor. After Mr. Walsh wrapped, I just couldn’t stay to listen to Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and his presentation “A Legislator’s View on the Industry,” and neither could 1/2 the audience. I’m sure it was simply about being excited to see the exhibits. 😉
OFF TO THE BOOTHS!
Now, I was warned before I arrived that I “had better eat my Wheaties” going to this show. It’s HUGE. This year the conference had attendees arriving from 75 different countries all descending upon the Las Vegas Convention Center to find over 1300 exhibitors in 250,000 square feet of space, along with over 70 Educational Sessions and 180 speakers waiting for them.
The TOP 5 Exhibitor categories this year were:
1) Packaging and Supplies with 181 Booths
2) Extraction Equipment with 148 Booths
3) Facility Design and Components with 127 Booths
4) CBD & HEMP with 112 Booths
and 5) Software and Technology with 90 Booths
Overlooking the sea of booths is impressive and overwhelming all in one long gaze. You really can’t see it all at any one angle. In the three days, I trekked that exhibit floor, over and over. I racked up 19,000, 21,000 and 17,000 walking steps for each of those three days respectively. It was like going to Disneyland for three days in a row. On the final day, I offered a stranger $5,000 for his fresh set of walking legs.
Overall, It’s a cool setup where every row has a nice mix of products, services, and equipment. A clear numeric aisle system so you can find what you are looking for easily. To me, it seemed like CBD & HEMP were the heavy hustling players. There is so much competition in these markets, players here are having to really work hard to get noticed in this giant smorgasbord of smoke. It was like a giant wave of CBD. I think the only thing I didn’t see was CBD Toilet paper. That being said, I’m sure it’s on its way. People have to smoke outside, which is cool. It sets up a cool exterior pop up store environment where people could actually taste and try some of the offerings.
After a long day hitting the booths, I was ready for some new buds. I hit up The Reef Dispensary and was reminded of why this is one of my favorite spots in the desert. After a beautifully smooth check-in, I immediately zeroed in on some KK, being that this is the home of Kalifa Kush here in the desert and I had been waiting to try some for a while. For my next choice, I asked one of the very sharp and friendly bud tenders to suggest some options for me to check out and I ended up with some Head Cheese from Polaris MMJ.
After a Puff and a hangout to catch my breath, I reflected on my mission still ahead. As important as it was for me to visit all the booths, and seeing all the latest and greatest services, contraptions and goodies to my mission of properly covering this event for Cannabis Culture magazine, it was THE PARTIES where the real deals and real connections were supposed to take place. Let me just tell you now, this is all true.
Seriously, I feel like my experiences attending these major events over the last couple of years has brought me an artificial Mini-Masters Degree from my experiences and “on the side” tutorials in CBD and HEMP production and benefits. In fact I will remember 2019 as the YEAR OF THE CBD / HEMP-tre-preneur.
Over the course of the event, I was introduced to dozens and dozens of these new business men and business women with stars in their eyes and big dollars in their pocket to play with on every corner. I was honored by quite a few these kind folks, mostly with a midwestern or southern accent, offering up a wide range of invitations to parties in Suites at all the best Hotels, invites to attend big shows and VIP Private Parties in the best bars in Vegas, all on the first night. That is in addition to all the other huge legacy players in the market who have been here for years. Decisions, Decisions. These are the type of decisions you want… WHAT PARTY SHOULD I GO TO? SO MANY OPTIONS! I decided to go for a mix of both.
OFF TO THE PARTIES!
I had picked out two big parties to hit up on the first night. The first big one was the 2019 Hemp Holiday Social, hosted by Global Cannabinoids that featured 3 full bars, exotic cars, circus performers, special guest DJ, and even Santa and his friends… This place was packed and jumping jams with distractions. Red Carpet entrance and huge space. Multiple party / instagrammable spots and even a game room. Before I left I had the opportunity to give SANTA a mini interpening lesson so he would only bring PREMIUM buds to all the adult cannabis lovers on the NICE LIST.
My next stop was over to “highly” anticipated Grasslands Party, “Powered by Boveda” that was held in a private home off the strip. Billed as “The year’s best cannabis networking party,” it totally worked.It had just the right amount of distractions and debaucheries. The event was designed as a networking gathering for 1,000-plus cannabis and hemp executives featuring tattoos, tarot readings and a $2,500 Custom Gold Joint rolled by Toronto Cannabis Educator & Boveda Brand Ambassador, Jonathan Hirsh (@weedstagram416 on IG).
Grasslands Founder & CEO Ricardo Baca told me, “I cut my event-planning teeth hosting parties at SXSW, and so I recognize the power of creating a memorable hang amid a larger event.” His experience really paid off here. The guest list was filled with interesting and motivated peeps. I met a ton of fascinating new friends at this event as It really was perfect to just network, learn and chill. I still tapped out fairly early to prepare for my slightly screaming legs for the next attack on the exhibit floor.
Day 2 was another full day pounding the turf inside the convention center and a chance to dig deeper for products that looked cool to me. About 1/2 way through the day there was a rumble on the exhibit floor, and you could feel people starting to gravitate to a specific section of the center. Then you started hearing it… “Tyson’s here…”
I have to say Mr. Tyson looked great. He was so comfortable, even when being surrounded by adoring fans taking selfies. These were different fans. These were fans who loved Mike for MIKE. Bud-brothers and Bud-sisters who loved him not for what he was doing to hurt his opponents, but for what he’s doing to make them happy with his knock out buds. He looked so happy, so PROUD as he held up one of his pre-rolls for adoring fans. It was heartwarming to see honestly.
As soon as I felt like I had covered the second 1/3 of the exhibits properly, it was time to hit up the Las Vegas dispensary that has been getting most of the press lately, PLANET 13 https://www.planet13lasvegas.com/ I was honestly impressed from the second I pulled up out front.
The whole place super cool and has an easy check-in and then once inside there is a led interactive floor where you can walk through a fish pond. It sets the tone. Then there is a beautiful, open and airy restaurant with high ceilings with a bar and assortment of nibbles. Next to that is a huge glass area that houses the equipment they use for making all their edible and drinkable infused brands. WHAT A PLACE! It’s like DISNEYLAND for buds. A HUGE dispensary with 3D wall projections, interactive laser art, flying Drone ORBS that flew around the place in trippy displays, soon to be joined by beautiful drone butterflies that were just getting first their launch the next day. This gorgeous shop has over 50 vendors, 70+ cannabis strains, and over 5000 five-star reviews, I see why. OMG.
They format their flower offerings on levels. Gold, Diamond and then the “Best in Vegas”. Needless to say, that was my level of choice so I scored a 1/8 of the Indica Dominant strain IRENE by MEDIZIN and a 1/8 of DIAMOND DUST by Virtue. BOTH of these were tasty lifesavers for me going into the evening events. The Bud tenders here were the best I have ever seen… I literally walked around and just watched and listened. The language, the suggestions, the caring and patience I witnessed was perfect. This place has a TON of space sitting ready to develop to for future event space and hopefully one day soon a legal smoking lounge.
OFF TO THE AWARDS!
For this evening there were three big awards events at three different spots.
1) The MJ BIZ Awards were held at the Cosmopolitan Resort.
The big WINNERS included:
Cultivation Category: East Fork Cultivars https://www.eastforkcultivars.com/
Infused Products Category: Wana Brands https://wanabrands.com/
Retail Category: Planet 13 https://www.planet13lasvegas.com/
The Inaugural 2019 Hall of Fame inductees:
Wanda James – Founder and CEO of Simply Pure Dispensary
and Steve DeAngelo – Cannabis Entrepreneur, Activist, Author, and Co-Founder of Harborside
The High Times Cannabis Cup held at the NUWU Dispensary Dec 11-14th
The big WINNERS included:
INDICA Flower 1st Place: Lava Cake by Greenway Medical
HYBRID Flower 1st Place: Super Glue by Fiore Cannabis
SATIVA Flower 1st Place: Melonade by Pheno Exotic
Outside NUWU they had an outdoor cafe hosted by Lowell Cafe (same brand featured at the Original Cannabis Cafe in West Hollywood) and a mini tented exhibit hall with a dab station and a small group of cool vendors of different cannabis providers and related products as well as a few excellent cannabis artists.
My favorite of the group was Vincent Gordon (www.vincentgordon.com) Super talented man that paints amazing psychedelic animated characters. He has one called “Cartoon Gumbo” that has them all in one spot, burn one and check that out. https://www.vincentgordon.com/prints/cartoon-gumbo. I bought a t-shirt version of this that everyone keeps stopping me to look at closer.
I was unable to attend ALL of the ceremonies, so I decided to check out The Jack Herer Cup held at the Hard Rock Cafe in person. The place had a Big beautiful indoor-outdoor space packed full of top growers and industry heavy hitters.
There were two, big, multi-category winners that evening:
SOL Cannabis http://solisbetter.com kicked all that ass with the Best Flower Category sweep for INDICA (Grand Daddy Purple), SATIVA (Super Sour Diesel) and HYBRID (Blue Dream) This is their 3rd year in a row sweeping these categories.
Another big winner was FUSE EXTRACTS http://www.fuseextracts.com that hit a Triple win with Best Vape Pen Hybrid (Purple Gelato), Best Concentrate Hybrid with Purple Gelato and Best Concentrate Sativa for Blue Cookies.
Other big WINNERS included:
Best Dispensary went to Reef Dispensaries – https://reefdispensaries.com/
Legacy Award to Berner – http://www.bernermusic.com/
Industry Leader Award to Brother David – https://www.brotherdavids.com/
This afterparty was a wonderful mashup of new and old, local and international cannabis legends after the awards outside on the patio. Heavy-duty discussions in every direction and new winners becoming superstars right before my eyes..
At one point I saw one of my favorite Netherlands coffeeshop owners chatting up a pair of the new winners from earlier in the evening. Right there I was thinking… THIS is what this is all about. This experienced, legend from the Netherlands who has been in the cannabis industry for decades sitting across from these new young cannabis artists from Las Vegas at the top of their game. All together sharing, learning, evolving with each other. This is great for everyone.
After the awards, it was off to another party. This was the biggest and best of the week for me. It was the DREAM WOW Party. Another good karma spot that donated a percentage of ticket sales to veteran non-profits. This party was designed to tell a story about the cannabis industry and the 5 elements – Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and Spirit. The entire location was spaced out perfectly with some very cool and HOT spaces, including a 40 foot “Nature Dome” designed to bring you into the Gala’s Elemental Oasis. The host wanted guests to “explore, discover and network”. I remember at one point I walked into a cool bus with some new friends and came out 1/2 an hour later with a whole new set of new friends along with some tasty dabs on my breath. I think B-Real would have loved that Bus. I spoke with event creator Dan Schmink, who is an OEF/OIF combat veteran who served as a Cavalry Scout in Baghdad, Iraq. He suffered a debilitating back injury in the line of duty and came back with a case of PTSD. He creates these events each year to provide help to Veteran’s and support Women. Dan said about 2000 people attended this year and was delighted with the results and feedback from the amazed attendees.
The next morning, I dragged my broken ass down the corridors that seemed to go on for 20 miles to find I was just at the elevator. I think I had smoked about 20 joints in different configurations the night prior. 10 or so, way above average dabs and 2 Corona’s to wash them down, yet I felt like I had been riding in one of the rodeo events. I hobbled in the elevator and an older cowboy gentleman said: “Have you been out riding?” And I said, “No, but I DO feel like I have been run over by a monster truck.” He pulled out a live Rosen disposable vape pen and said: “Take a pull off this, my friend Bobby gave it to me yesterday and I’ll tell ya, It will ease whatever pain that ails ya”. I love this new Vegas.
I made it down and knocked off the last of the exhibits I had missed by 1PM and said my goodbyes to all my new friends. It was time to drive back to Cali and reflect.
Over the three days, I had received a fresh master’s class in every form of concentrate extraction process known to man. I saw a ridiculous number of packaging and display possibilities for buds and a zillion ways to bottle it, pill it, cream it, infuse it or vaporize it. I saw services for the cannabis industry I had no idea even existed. I was also given a sweet education on HEMP and all the massive moves that are being made in the heartland of the USA since the 2018 farm bill was passed that legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity while removing it from the list of controlled substances.
There is no lack of people willing to share information here at MJBIZCON, and that might be its greatest benefit. ANYONE can come in, see, learn and meet with market leaders across the entire Marijuana industry spectrum.
As I drove back to Cali with my suitcase was full of t-shirts, grinders, papers, bags, pipes, vape pens, 50 different CBD products, 500+ brochures and1000 business cards, my legs were throbbing harder than the beat at a Calvin Harris EDM party at Caesars Palace. I took a last look back at Vegas and saw the sun setting on this NEW WILD WEST, I took a huge drag on my new Live Rosin Vape pen and wondered what the impact of this industry will have on the Las Vegas Experience in the next decade.
You can see all the buds I tried in Vegas on the Captain’s YouTube Channel @ http://www.youtube.com/CaptainHooter