A significant portion of the cannabis industry is nomadic. Business conferences and trade shows fill vast convention halls with booths plugging brands. Eager pilgrims, fresh from cross-country flights or energy-drink fueled drives, wander from table to table, pockets bulging with business cards. Everyone is hoping to strike a deal at a hotel suite afterparty.
After the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the trade-show circuit, the rhythm of these show-and-hopefully-sell events appeared to be returning to normal last week with the CHAMPS Trade Show’s visit to Las Vegas.
With its busy airport, abundant accommodations and myriad of other distractions, Vegas is the mecca for these gatherings, no matter what industry you’re in. And CHAMPS is a big one. While CHAMPS is considered a counterculture expo, it also appeals to the masses since products — primarily lifestyle accessories and ancillary goods — can be sold anywhere. Think pipes and vapes; think whatever you can find at a smoke shop, truck stop or novelty shop; think CBD supplements and smokable hemp.
Tommy Chong was there, and so was Mike Tyson. Even Joe Exotic showed up — well, his brand did, since he’s in prison. According to TMZ, the brand was launching a cannabis seltzer called “Tiger Piss.” All extremely normal stuff for a cannabis tradeshow. But then this happened:
Starting Wednesday, July 28, breathless reports of a law-enforcement raid at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where CHAMPS had opened on July 27, started to fly around the internet, with the fires fanned by credulous Instagram accounts and unsourced blog posts.
“EXCLUSIVE,” blared Cannatechtoday.com, “Cannabis Trade Show Raided by the Feds.” A common source for this was @TheBlacklistxyz, a popular Instagram aggregator — which went even further, reporting that in addition to the DEA, the FBI was there too — a wild, nonsensical twist picked up in turn by TheWeedBlog.
It’s been a long time since federal cops staged a major raid on the legal cannabis industry. A DEA raid would be huge news. But for some reason, no major media outlet had picked it up — and in an era saturated with smartphones, nobody had managed to snap even a blurry photo of the “raid.”
Meanwhile, elsewhere on social media, there was a grinning Tommy Chong and a steely-eyed Iron Mike, carrying on as normal. If this was a raid, it was the chillest raid in history. What was going on?
New Rules Arriving Fast and Furious
As it quickly turned out, not a single one of the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies was present — not the FBI, DEA, FCC or the FAA. Most of the accounts that posted otherwise quietly removed or edited their posts.
But this isn’t to say there wasn’t lawbreaking afoot at CHAMPS.
On June 4, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law Senate Bill 49, which outlaws “synthetic cannabinoids from being produced, sold or offered for sale” in the state. This includes Delta-8 THC, a less powerful cousin to the Delta-9 THC found in cannabis.
Over the past year, Delta-8 has exploded in popularity, since it can be easily procured from hemp-derived CBD, and with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it was deemed legal under federal law since it’s a hemp product. (This would be why reports of a DEA or FBI raid, at a show that did not welcome Delta-9 THC products, made no sense.) However, state law is not federal law — and anyone following SB49 would know that Nevada now bans Delta-8 THC. That meant the legal landscape for CHAMPS — and any other cannabis trade show in Las Vegas — had shifted, creating potential for significant disruption for any would-be vendors in the Delta-8 space.
But it wasn’t until July 17, about ten days before CHAMPS’s doors opened, that show vendors — some of whom paid around $3,200 each for one of the show’s 1,500 tables — received an URGENT email from organizers.
The night before, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) informed CHAMPS that SB49 was indeed in effect. No vendor at CHAMPS would be allowed to sell or even advertise anything Delta-8-related — not so much as a brochure saying Delta-8 would be available somewhere else. Even mentioning Delta-8 was problematic.
“While we know this may be disappointing to you, we are required to abide by the decision made from the state and the LVCVA,” the email stated. “We hereby ask that you make absolutely sure that all displays you have, including logos, merchandise or any other visual imagery does not promote Delta-7, Delta-8 or Delta-10 products, as you will be fined and then removed from the show by the authorities.”
But that wasn’t the only federally legal product banned at CHAMPS.
CBD Edibles Banned
On July 23, attendees received another email with more rules. Anything edible with CBD in it was also banned. You could hand out all the CBD lotion, vaping oil or flower you wanted, but “No food and beverage containing any CBD will be permitted to be distributed anywhere on the convention grounds” due to rules set by Centerplate, the company contracted by LVCVA to provide concessions at the convention center. The email invited vendors with any outstanding questions to a Zoom meeting later that day. Additionally, upon check-in, all vendors were notified both verbally and in writing about the updated rules.
Despite at least four email notifications, as well as a personal phone call to everyone that CHAMPS believed to have Delta-8 products, not everyone heeded the memo.
On the morning of July 28, the show’s second day, vendors received yet another message — this time instructing vendors that they “MUST be at the Convention Center today, no later than 10 a.m. to discuss issues.”
The day prior, someone from the LVCVA had been offered “both a D8 product and a CBD food product,” CHAMPS President Jeff Hirschfield told Cannabis Now. CHAMPS was not informed of which vendor gave out the samples, but CHAMPS staffers did ask two vendors to leave that failed to follow numerous requests to clean up and adhere to all guidelines, Hirschfield said. This delayed the show’s opening until 12 p.m., one hour later than scheduled.
That 10 a.m. meeting “to discuss issues” had somehow morphed into a “DEA and FBI raid” by the time weed Instagram was done playing a game of telephone.
Representatives from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did not return several telephone and email messages seeking comment.
Hirschfield had nothing but kind words to say about LVCVA — after all, the Delta-8 ban wasn’t their idea. Some vendors, however, were less than impressed — and figure they’ll be dropping Las Vegas from their trade-show tour itinerary.
What’s the Point?
“CHAMPS was extremely transparent — you could not have any kind of Delta-8 products at the show,” said Shawn Honaker, the owner of Yeti Farms, a Colorado-based manufacturer of Delta-8 gummies.
Honaker was in Las Vegas to find new distributors — whom he had to woo, somehow, without being able to offer any product or even any brochures saying he had a product. He’d made 70,000 non-medicated gummies to put into 7,000 packages, he said. By the time LVCVA passed on the bad news to CHAMPS, it was too late for Delta-8 vendors to find a plan B.
“Part of my gig is handing stuff out,” he said. “I called CHAMPS, and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do, just have my business cards and lanyards there?’”
“This is a gummy I can buy at a gas station. And they’re treating it like it’s a kilo of cocaine,” he said, adding that the new Nevada ban on Delta-8 made the legal landscape… a little weird, and not at all conducive to a successful big-tent cannabis industry” trade show.
“I can sell all the kratom and all the nitrous whip-its I want. And I cannot give away a single, unmedicated, sugar gummy,” he added. With that law, “What’s the point of the show?” he asked. “At the end of the day, it’s a black eye on the Las Vegas cannabis scene. I won’t be investing any more money on Nevada cannabis and hemp shows.”
Hirschfield disputed that analysis, pointing out that Las Vegas’s only shortcoming (aside from the ban on CBD food and beverage) is with Delta-8 THC. All Delta-8 vendors were offered half price booths in Atlantic City or any other state CHAMPS is in, providing Delta-8 is legal in that state, he added.
The next CHAMPS show is later this summer in Atlantic City, New Jersey where, for now, Delta-8 THC is legal. As it stands, cannabis trade shows will have to stick to the familiar when visiting Las Vegas: Tommy Chong products and autographs, Joe Exotic’s Tiger Piss, and Mike Tyson’s latest blunt wrap collab.