I was lucky enough to attend the 2015 Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas this week, hosted by Marijuana Business Daily. There has literally never been an industry gathering of this magnitude ever, and I was happy to be able to go to it. I don't get out to events that often, especially industry events, but this was one that I couldn't pass up. I attended the first one of these events in 2012, and it's mind blowing to see how much it has grown over the years.
There were so many industry leaders at this event that it's nearly impossible to list them all. It seemed like every time I turned around there was someone that I have wanted to meet and shake hands with for a long time. I don't think that official numbers have been released yet, but I heard from many people that there were between 4,000-6,000 people in attendance. The event was held at The Rio in Las Vegas, which is an amazing venue. To say that the mood was electric at the event would be a huge understatement.
I only had tickets to the expo part of the event, so unfortunately I didn't get to see a lot of the other features of the conference, but I heard they were very good. There were many speakers, networking sessions, and panels that I would have loved to participate in. Topics included funding, compliance, what to watch for in marijuana politics, and many other things. I talked to many people that participated/attended those add-ons to the event, and they all said that they learned a lot and that the speakers were extremely credible and knowledgeable. I would have liked to see a panel dedicated to online/social media strategies for cannabis companies, considering how important that is these days since that's how most people get their information now, but I put in a recommendation, so hopefully it happens at the next one. To be fair, it's very, very rare to see a panel on that topic at an industry event (which always makes me scratch my head!).
Before we even hit the expo floor on the first day, I knew this event was going to be special. Just on our initial walk from the front door of the venue to the area where the conference and expo was taking place we bumped into so many high profile people in the cannabis industry and beyond. I walked past my best friend, former NBA Player Cliff Robinson (Portland Trailblazers, my favorite team in sports). And of course, by best friend, I really mean that I shamelessly yelled 'There's Cliff Robinson!' when he walked past, and he smiled at me and waved. All joking aside, I think that his presence at the event is symbolic of just how mainstream the marijuana industry is becoming. I obviously don't know what his intent was by attending the event, but I think it's safe to assume that he is exploring entering the marijuana industry, like so many other people from high profile backgrounds. Who knows how many other former athletes, musicians, and celebrities were at the event exploring a possible entry into the cannabis space.
Walking back and forth from the front of the hotel to the conference/expo was one of my favorite things to do at the event. Every single time my buddy Kaliko and I did the walk, we ran into someone fantastic. People were always coming and going, and all of them were talking cannabis business. Most people that were industry veterans talked about how the event has grown, how exciting it is to be a part of it, and how timely the event was considering the current state of the marijuana world.
I absolutely loved seeing activists at the event like Robert 'Bobby Tuna' Platshorn, the Mizanskey's and Missouri crew, and all of the people on 'activism row.' For those that aren't familiar with 'activism row,' there is a row on the expo floor at quality events dedicated to reform organizations. I have been to a couple of events that did not provide free tables to activist organizations, and I can assure you that when I discovered that fact, I immediately left the event and will refuse to ever go to those types of events again. Not only did this event have activism row, the event also had a sub-event fundraiser for activist organizations. Former prohibition P.O.W. Jeff Mizanskey was honored at the event, all proceeds of which were donated to several activist organizations, including my favorite reform organization - Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
We ran into some campaign staffers from 2016 efforts at the event, and offered our help. Some of the campaign staffers were ecstatic for the offer, while others took one look at my hooded sweater and I think stopped listening to what I was saying, which I can understand considering most people were 'dressed to the nines' as they say. It's not the first time it has happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. However, TWB will help whether they like it or not, but hopefully they like it! This blog gets significant traffic from every state that is pursuing recreational/medical marijuana legalization, and we intend to urge every visitor to help reform efforts in their state, just like we always do. 2016 has the potential to be a huge year for marijuana reform, but it will only happen if efforts get significant help, so all hands on deck!
I made a lot of new friends at the event, and was able to meet people in person that I have been e-mail/social media pen pals with for a long time. There was lots of high fives, handshakes, and even some hugs given out. I have always been weirded out by the social norm of hugging, but I made many exceptions this week. All in all, the event was a tremendous success, and the networking and deals struck will no doubt accelerate the growth of this industry, which will in turn help reform efforts. The industry and reform movement go hand-in-hand, and cannot be separated. If a business disagrees with that in the cannabis industry, they are doomed for failure, so if you were a company at the event, support activism or you will fizzle.
This trip to Vegas was very good to me, and I think I laid the ground work for some (hopefully) serious reform stuff. I guess only time will tell. I sure hope so, because that was the main reason that I traveled to the event. I do not like traveling away from my son and wife, and this was actually the first time in my son's life that I have been away from him for more than half a day, let alone two full days. I have no idea how people that travel regularly make it work! To anyone that was not able to link up with at the event, I apologize. It was a whirlwind from start to finish for me, and there were only so many hours in a day. Send me an e-mail and hopefully we can find another way to link up soon.
I tip my hat to the people at Marijuana Business Daily for putting on such a world class event, and I'm excited to see what they have planned in the future. They are putting on another national conference in May, this time in Florida. The marijuana industry is spreading all over the country, and all over the world for that matter, so seeing this event being held on the East Coast sounds like a great idea. Oddly enough, I will be in that area on a rare family vacation at that time, so maybe I'll see you there!