MJBizCon puts industry crossroads in the spotlight
Every year, swarms of cannabis professionals descend upon Las Vegas for the annual MJBizCon. The four-day conference and trade show is jam-packed with panels, meetings, after-parties, and seshes meant to unite the industry and generate deal flow.
After a year that saw two more states legalize adult-use cannabis and the federal government hint at rescheduling the plant altogether, attendees of MJBizCon were filled with cautious optimism. While the expo floor was a bit lighter than in previous years due to market compression, the vibes were focused on synergy and faith in the future.
“I think the last half of 2023, things have looked up, and people are hopeful,” said Diane Downey, co-founder and CEO of Rebel Spirit. “It’s cool to be part of a network of people helping each other out.”
The theme for 2023 was “Dare to grow,” a nod to both the industry’s continued expansion and underground past. That very juxtaposition between the past and present was on everyone’s minds as attendees asked themselves, “Where is the cannabis space heading next?”
The decision to reschedule cannabis could have a major impact on the community, culture, and legacy of the space. The unspoken questions of whether Schedule III would help or hurt the market were on everyone’s minds, and how do we honor the past while embracing the future?
Keep the “plant” in plant medicine
The recognition that industry operators are stronger together was a running theme throughout the week, as the scarcity mindset previously permeated the space. It was clear at this year’s MJBizCon that in order for the industry to thrive, alliances need to be made.
“I wouldn’t even call our colleagues ‘frenemies;’ they’re actually friends, and we want to see each other succeed,” Downey added.
Guy Rocourt, the founder of GR Consulting and co-founder of Papa & Barkley, called for the space to take things one step further by bringing focus back to cannabis itself.
“I just want to keep the plant in plant medicine,” Rocourt told GreenState after giving a talk titled “Keep it Green” that urged attendees to rethink how products are formulated and why.
“I know it sounds simple, but the gift of legalization was to bring the plant forward,” Rocourt continued. “All those advocates that came before, from Dennis Peron to Jack Herer to Richard Lee, were advocating for plant medicine. Before this great legalization experiment started, we had a thriving underground market that sold plant medicine—there is no plant medicine in Schedule III.”
Rocourt has a point. Aside from a hidden speakeasy busy at the Blazy Susan booth and a few jars in the cultivation section, cannabis was rarely found at the sprawling conference. Over at the first annual Emjay Awards, cannabis was strictly prohibited, and every trophy went to an ancillary operator or creator, something Rocourt and others hope to change next year.
“I appreciated the Emjays and the pageantry; it was awesome to see a cannabis event at that level,” Rocourt said. “But it was particularly pointed that not one plant-touching company was honored. I would just hope that in their hearts and minds, they’re thinking about those things for the future.”
The after-parties and networking events were a hazier story. The plant was everywhere, whether it was allowed or not, offering a relaxed and inviting atmosphere. Across town from the trade show at the women-focused Blunt Brunch, a cloud of smoke filled the grounds outside as VIP swag bags were filled with pre-rolls and vaporizers.
Some events, like Activated at the cannabis-friendly Lexi Hotel, were solely focused on consumption. At The Grasslands Party, it was the best of both worlds as industry executives mingled with the press over joints and glasses of bubbly. The networking-meets-sesh vibe was precisely what Grasslands founder Ricardo Baca was hoping to create.
“I had clients, colleagues, and partners coming up to me all night long saying how impactful and valuable it was to be in a room full of other people who are doing what they’re doing,” Baca said via email. “The nascent cannabis market was built on relationships, and because relationships are created and cemented via face-to-face interactions, these kinds of high-level networking opportunities are essential to the future of the global cannabis and psychedelics industries.”
As 2023 comes to a close, and another MJBizCon is in the books, it’s clear the industry is at a crossroads. While rescheduling and strategic partnerships could help the market immensely, it may be a double-edged sword, erasing the culture that shaped the space. One thing’s certain: something’s gotta give if any type of progress can be made. Looking around at MJBizCon, it was clear times are tough, but we have nowhere to go but up.
*Feature image courtesy of Jeff Hooten