CANNABIS CULTURE – When I saw the speaker list that included Bruce Linton, Cam Battley, Vincente Fox, Steve DeAngelo and NBA super star John Salley, along with several of the top Jamaican Government officials, it was clear that this 4th Edition of the conference was one of the can’t miss events of the year.
I had actually lived in Montego Bay, close to the Montego Bay Convention Center where the event was being held, ten years ago, and this trip brought back waves of emotion. As anyone who has ever been there before, Jamaica as a destination along with the people truly get into your soul. This event lwas taking place right across from where I had lived, those few years ago so I truly felt I was going home.
I had enlisted my friend, Toronto Cannabis educator, and marketing / instagram master, (Weedstagram416) Johnathan Hirsh, who had attended the event the year prior, to give me the scoop on what to expect along with his favorite Hemp Houses he had discovered, and in return I would take him to the greatest jerk pork in the world. A perfect match.
With the event taking place in late September, the weather was at its worst for thick blooded white boys like me coming in from Amsterdam. The moment they opened the cabin door, the heat and humidity hit me like somebody threw a bucket of water on me. I didn’t stop sweating until my return to the aircraft on my return a week later, at least it seemed that way.
I made my way to the Riu Palace hotel, where the staff did an excellent job, quickly getting me into my air-conditioned room where I planned my attack for the next two days. I was the first person to arrive on day one and had the opportunity to see the steady stream of excited attendees consisting of small farmers, investors, entrepreneurs of all sorts, media, politicians and growers, and what seemed to be a lot of Canadians.
I asked Canex founder Douglas K. Gordon after the event if my perception was correct, that there seemed to be an abundance of Canadians attending.
“Okay, if truth be told, where does the bulk of the investment in the industry come from? It’s Canada, and so looking strategically at export markets and global growth, you’d expect them to be disproportionately represented. And I think you’d see this when you go to conferences, some of the bigger conferences in Columbia or Mexico and that sort of thing. They have the biggest footprint, so our thing is really we’re trying to track people who are interested in moving the global industry forward. And as a consequence of that we’re proud that we had 37 different countries, like I said, represented, I’m not particularly surprised that there were a lot of Canadians there.’”
The networking in the halls of the centre started long before the opening blessing from the Director of the Rastafari indigenous village, Edward Wray who made sure that everyone was properly aligned with each other and Mother Earth. A enlightening blessing, ensuring that all the attendees who were there helping to industrialize the plant, were also listening to the plant and Mother Earth in the process.
It became apparent in my discussions with many attendees that Jamaica was still in the baby stages of legalization, and they were many concerns about the “little man / legacy farmers” getting squeezed out or priced out of the game, and HEMP.
Hemp is a HUGE issue here.
As Mr. Gordon explains: “There’s a huge fear that the cross-pollination of hemp will threaten the cannabis industry. It’s as simple as that really and what you have is, you have hemp experts who are arguing that, with modern day science that can be prevented, right? And then you have traditional farmers who, they want no part of that. It’s a very emotional issue in Jamaica; Emotional not in a patronizing way, but a cultural significant type of way that suggests that you’re not being fully respectful of its legacy and its significance.“
I heard about this issue 3 times from attendees, before I heard the first speaker.
After getting jacked up on some killer Jamaican coffee and a pre-conference Doobie, we were off to the races, but with not without few false starts that Canex founder Douglas K. Gordon needed to address before the conference could hit stride.
We find out that three of the first day speakers, were forced to cancel their travel for different reasons, but in traditional Jamaican “no problem-soon come” style, Gordon just did a little switch around and put it all back on track.
The beginning of the conference focused on government officials reassuring all, that the oncoming cannabis wave was not going to leave out the little man.
This message was repeated many times over the duration of the event. The Government policy that all cannabis companies must have 51% ownership by a Jamaican citizenship along with their alternative development (ADP) which helps small farmers from the illegal trade to transition to the legal one, were lauded as strong steps towards protecting Jamaican Cannabis sovereignty. But the “little man”, small growers are obviously still having challenges.
Day one keynote speaker was Cam Battley, the CEO of Aurora Cannabis, with other morning breakout topics such as: “Hemp and Cannabis: can they coexist?”, “Innovation, Compliance and Standards”, “Financing your Cannabis Business”, “Post Discrimination of Cannabis” plus several sessions on Medicinal Cannabis and CBD Therapy, including a one on one with Diane Scott of Jamaica Medical Cannabis Collective.
Additional sessions included “Emerging Markets: Columbian Opportunities”, “Cannabis Testing and Innovation”,and a session on the “Legal Pitfalls that Cannabis Businesses Face and How to Avoid Them.”
Mr. Battley came across as sincere and connected to the audience during his presentation on the “Global Perspective on Legalization”. This was tested a bit during the question and answer period, where he was very patient, and focused with a long winded, concerned Rastafarian and ultimately he seemed to understand the importance of respecting the role of ganja, as a sacrament in the Rastafarian community.
In addition to discussing the importance of CSR, corporate social responsibility and giving business advice to a wide array of small business owners, he concluded his session with an interesting statement about legacy sectors.
“One thing I will add, and this is important in some jurisdictions, they have allowed people who come from what’s called the legacy sectors before legalization and join and be part of the new opportunities, to be part of the new legal and regulated system. In other cases, they’ve said, no, not for you. You were law breakers and how stupid is that? You’re taking people with the greatest passion and knowledge who clearly have been into this for a long time. And, you tell them that they’re not welcome, what do you think they’re going to do, that actually perpetuates the black market. I say embrace them. Lift them up into the light of legitimacy, and make them part of the legit business. Let them make some money for Christ’s sake ….”
Jonathan and I met up with a small group of growers outside the event center and I had brought my Interpening loops and microscope with me, so I checked out some of the local buds while we waited for a shuttle to head back to the hotel.
I had also brought my pocket black light, and that turned out to be THE important “tool of the moment” as several of the first samples I saw were suffering from mold and mildew issues. But then, the NEXT two samples made me realize that this was a whole new bud country. BEAUTIFUL, fat buds, handled a bit too much, but with a robust trichome forest under the hood, strong aromatics, like I had never seen in Jamaica before. NOW I WAS EXCITED.
A quick shower and a smoke before taking Jonathan over to the promised pork heaven. One of the places I missed the most from my ex home. The Pork Pit. When I lived here I used to take a taxi cab that would cost me $30 roundtrip in order to get $10 worth of this pork. That’s how good this is. it’s Pork Crack. and I was seriously thinking and talking about about this two weeks before I got on the plane to come back to Jamaica.
Once we had our fill of pork and Festival bread, we made our way to one of the islands best locations… Islands Strains Herb House and enjoyed some more of that NEW LEVEL JAMAICAN Bud. These buds, the location, the vibes, the service… you can just plant me right here and leave me. THIS IS MY HEAVEN.
But not a lot of time to play, this was business and time to go hang with the other attendees. We were all treated to a Networking party event at the Kaya Falmouth Herb House.
It was a packed house, and packed bowls, as far as the eye could see in this beautiful location that was the winner of two Jack Herer Cup Awards awarded the very next day for “Best Non-Solvent Extract and Best Dispensary”. Overall, the Flowers that I saw that evening, were some of the very best that I have ever seen, in Jamaica. KAYA Herb House is on my MUST VISIT list next time I hit JAMAICA.
Day two, after an invigorating and enlightening session on Cannabis Economics in the Americas and the Caribbean, everyone’s focus turned to Steve DeAngelo.
Even though it was a Friday, I felt like I was in church. He was truly masterful. He covered the full spectrum of the industry, including the discoveries, innovations and history and the importance of the hippy culture in creating the freedoms we have today. He stuck flaming spears into the petroleum & pharmaceutical industries that were anti-cannabis Nay sayers and those who stood in the way of growth, for so long.
It was a powerful hour. His final words brought the audience to it’s feet…”Cannabis might not be the whole answer. It is after all, just one plant, but it is surely a part of the answer. The only thing, that’s standing in the way of it doing its work in the world is ignorance. As of this moment, all of you in this room, all of you are watching this remotely on mobile devices. Anybody, whose been in earshot of my voice for the last hour are all empowered to address that great ignorance to resolve and reduce that ignorance and I hope that we will do it with all the energy and passion you can possibly summon. Let’s start building the kind of world that we all really want.”
In addition to a standing ovation,
I overheard several “wow’s and “Amen’s”. Sermon over.
Afternoon sessions included breakouts on “Building a Cannabis Company”, “Healing with Cannabis”, “Skincare and Cannabis” and one called “Protecting Indigenous Strains” which caught the eye of the next major speaker, Bruce Linton, founder and former CEO and Chairman of Canopy Growth Corporation.
Mr. Linton’s presentation style, was a 180 degrees different from his former competitor, Cam Battley. Linton was kicked back and relaxed in his fireside chat with conference director Gordon, acting as interviewer.
Gordon started by asking “What prompted you to get into the Cannabis Space?” Linton replied by sharing his attendance at a previous session and asked who else had also attended that previous session, “Protecting indigenous Strains”.
He went on to share “Part of the problem with being an entrepreneur and why I went into the cannabis business… When I was next door and I was listening to it, what you will hear is… (one thing). What I hear is: How Should I Solve The Problem…”
“The original growers in the country and including the stream of originating growers, are suffering and not being served by the current regulatory environment. Meaning, they are not able to actively participate in the process of producing Cannabis because of the capital requirements. He went on to share he listened for 45 minutes and noted that if he was in charge, what he would do would be to make it not less than 25% of all cannabis sold thru Legal channels, would be produced by those partners.”
He then broke the whole process down, step by step, ultimately having all 14 parishes actively competing against each other to create their best buds, challenging them all to up their game, and then market each parish (and its bud specialties) as its own individual cannabis destinations. Creating quality cannabis tourism destinations all over Jamaica, while encouraging and rewarding the legacy growers in the process.
I asked Douglas Gordon after the event about Linton’s ideas:
“Well, it’s two things that made me particularly proud of around the Genesis of that whole comment, right. Number one was we had a panel discussion around the indigenous situation and the legacy farmers and so forth. And just in doing my rounds, I went into that room and it was jam packed and standing at the back, was Bruce Linton. And so, this is when he told me he was going to go grab a bite of lunch before a fireside and he ended up in there and he was completely engrossed in it. So he said to me when he came out of it that it was so enlightening and that was the Genesis of this idea. I mean, obviously he’s probably thought about many of these different issues over time, So, number one for me it was fantastic to see, you know, such a specific topic, getting that kind of attention and having that sort of an outcome being a very tangible suggestion in terms of how it could be moved forward.“
Linton went on to discuss his firing from Canopy Growth, and his decision not to resign or retire in the moment. “Fortunately I did have some experience at being fired. It wasn’t my first time being fired, and let me tell you each time you get fired it’s less traumatic.” He answered a wide range of questions and offered rapid fire suggestions to many small businesses looking to make their mark in the growing sector.
This was Linton’s second year in attendance and as a speaker at Canex, and when asked why he returns each year, he answered,
“You know. This guy is amazing, (pointing at Douglas Gordon) he’s persistent in getting you here, and the reason I come here is, I do not believe a single regulated player in the Jamaican market is competing with any other player. And I think what you’ve been trying to do is create a understanding that this is about good public policy and proper operations, and if everyone views it that way, it creates industry, if everybody tries to grab the other persons ankles as they get a little bit ahead, to trip them, it’s stupid. You are pressing to be smarter.”
Afternoon breakouts included sessions on “How Traditional Players Migrate to the New Landscape”, “The Cost of Concentrates”, “Women in Cannabis”, “Raising Money and Financing your Cannabis Business”, “Modern Marketing Strategies”, “CBD and THC understanding the Global landscape”, “Large Scale Cultivation in Different Climates”, “Ganja Entertainment and Creativity” and “Sports, Cannabis and CBD”.
It was at this last session that I had the opportunity to meet one of my sports heros, 4 time NBA champion, John Salley and his business partner/daughter Tyla.
They were there representing their company Deuces 22 deuces22.com
(based on his player number and age of his daughter when they opened). John was speaking on a panel about the benefits of CBD in sports. They were there all weekend – networking, marketing and developing content for their new reality series that will document their adventure in creating this cannabis business / life style brand together.
After the days last session, Mr. Hirsh and I found a large group of growers waiting for us outside. Apparently word of my interpening other growers buds, and Jonathan’s great growing advice had spread around and we come out to calls of “Captain, Captain! show me the truth!” We spent a good amount of time examining and respectfully offering suggestions and tips for the buds that needed extra love. It seems very apparent that training and education is going to be one of the largest growth markets in this new industry in Jamaica. That’s what this conference was all about right? (This was the most rewarding and coolest experience of the entire trip)
BTW Mr. ChampChampChampChamp, Salley showed up, in style in a beautiful white suite for the theme party of the evening, called the “Eyes Wide Shut, All White party”, held at the historic and beautiful Rose Hall Great House. OK now seriously as far as cannabis events are concerned this was pretty freaking cool. But not literally, as it was still 10,000,000° as far as I was concerned, so I made a short night of it then headed back to air-conditioning.
On Saturday morning, it was a great time to go over and visit the Expo, and do some more networking in preparation for the Jack Herer Cup presentation that afternoon. The Cup started off with a special award, and a cool moment during the presentation from Dan Herer, son of the Legendary Jack Herer, when he announced that the first award was a LEGACY award that went to Peter Tosh, accepted by his daughter Niambe.
She said “It’s definitely a Honor. I actually didn’t realize until recently that this book (Jack Herer’s “The Emperor wears no clothes”) was found in my fathers house the day that he passed away, and is actually now in the Peter Tosh museum in Kingston Jamaica. So the legacies really run deep with this honor and so this is true destiny really manifesting, when two legends and their offspring reconnects spiritually, so this is Amazing.”
The 2019 Jack Herer Cup Jamaica Award Winners:
Best Sativa Flower won by Lemon Kush by Wabba,
Best Indica Flower won for Afghan #1 by Terpene Plus/Ital Seeds,
Best Non-Solvent Extract won by Sting-A-Ling by Kaya Farms/Kaya Herb House,
Best Dispensary won by Kaya Herb House Drax Hall/Kaya Herb House Falmouth,
Best CBD Product, won by CBD Nano Mist Inhaler by Wellbeings,
Best International Extract won by Papaya Crumble by Cali Kosher (California)
Best International Product won by Special pre-roll By Greenhouse Secret Gardeners ( Den Haag, the Netherlands) and
Best International Product/ Best International Flower won by Zkittlez By Prix D’Ami, Amsterdam
Dan Herer finished off the ceremony nicely, “The addiction of cannabis is not the flower. The addiction of cannabis is the community that produces it. It’s the love that they bring with them. It is the properties in the healing that is sown with the seed that becomes the flower that enriches all of our lives in ways that even today, we still don’t know it’s full understanding, but we know the truth and the light of Cannabis is also the same light that will power and illuminate our futures.”
I was taken by the fact that all the growers who accepted the awards, almost universally stated that they were not there for the money, it is for something that is special, they were there for the love of the plant. There were stories of the struggles to get to where they are today, that had been carried on the backs of their forefathers before them. They and their families had traveled down roads with lots of pain and suffering to get to that moment of success. It was very touching to see. The PASSION.
With the conference finished, it was off to the final evening party “High Vibes at the Farm” set up over at Global CannaLabs Farms – http://globalcannalabs.com/
Here we all had the opportunity to see the full scaled operation, while jamming to reggae beats under the stars…
This is the first tier 3 license grower in Jamaica and the Caribbean’s largest medical cannabis producer with 270,000 sq. ft. of Canopy with an additional 1,000,000 sq.ft of expansion and approximate 7,000 plants in propagation along with a 31,000 sq ft, of greenhouse space. They be JAMMIN’!
When all was said and done, I asked Jonathan about his takeaways from this years conference…
“CANEX is a gathering of like minded people, the RIGHT people. They have cultivated a environment where relationships foster. The Jamaican cannabis industry is at a cross roads. It must make a decision between growing for bag appeal or trusting that the future price of cannabis oil and demand will remain high. I worry they will forgo bag appeal and creating retail friendly cannabis for the later and that will be a downfall. I hope the local growers focus on improving their products and set them self up to compete on the world stage.”
Another aspiring entrepreneur, Tracy R. from the States told me, “My purpose for attending CANEX was to get a feel for the emerging cannabis events industry & see if there are any opportunities to utilize my experience to help grow awareness of the benefits of this plant and change the “stoner” perception of it’s users through events. What I found was an amazing community of people, from all sectors of the industry, who were sharing their knowledge and passion for cannabis. I am excited to see how the community evolves and grows.”
Michael Miller, the Cannabis Editor and Associate Publisher of the LA Weekly was grateful and encouraged by the proceedings. “Kudos to Douglas Gordon and CANEX for pushing the legalization and education momentum forward. Jamaica is poised to play a leadership role in the Caribbean basin upon the creation and execution of a thoughtful legalization strategy which Aligns the interests of all stakeholders.”
I thought Mr. Gordon wrapped it up well… “Well, what we’ve always tried to do is demonstrate that this is a global phenomenon, a global industry and that we are providing as a conference, a platform for the best of the best and everyone from all ends of the entire cannabis continuum, an ability for us to hear them and what they’re doing. Because it’s the only way to learn, the things that you would have heard from Bruce Linton that I think, can help an upcoming cannabis practitioner figure out how to scale their business and not just in scaling their business, but what is their ultimate business perception. I had an interesting, conversation with someone who organizes a co-op. And one of the things he said to me that he was so excited about, was the fact that so many of the small farmers would have had an opportunity to see, the quality of the booths and the finished products and how people are branding their materials because they would have really gotten a chance to understand what a professional cannabis industry looks like.”
As far as next years event, Mr. Gordon added,
“The Next show we want to grow our numbers a bit more. What we aspire to have this year was to build out a template of a really top class, a really world-class cannabis conference experience. We wanted to ensure we delivered world-class content, world-class networking and an environment within which people could really say, my God, I had a great time in Jamaica. It facilitated me to achieve all my business objectives while I was there, and that’s what we really wanted to ensure.
We came out of this year with a template that afforded us the opportunity to refine it and build it and sort of improve it for next year. And I feel like our team has delivered that and then some.”
I felt like it ended up being a much more intimate experience then I had originally imagined coming into the event. That was a good thing. Having the opportunity to have one-on-one discussions with all of these industry leaders and entrepreneurs and to see the partnerships already working so well together, as well as the hunger of the locals to learn and evolve into this new frontier for them, was exciting to see and participate in.
I hope with all the great ideas and partnerships made at these events, that Jamaica is on its way to finding the the right way to transition from the illegal to legal markets in a manner that is successful and fair for everyone. There is no doubt in my mind that Jamaica is about to expand its role as a premium destination in the cannabis travel market for many years to come.
BTW I just started planing my trip back to Jamaica for 2020 and I’ve already got that Pork Pit / Island Strains / Lounge 2727 combo on my mind…
Peace, Love and Respect.