Earlier this year, David Hua, the co-founder and CEO of Meadow, a San Francisco-based software platform for cannabis businesses, realized he needed a break. Not just him, not just his company — but the entire California cannabis industry, all (or most) $7 billion of it.
As the world knows, retail sales of recreational cannabis started on Jan. 1. What followed next is common knowledge to the workers and entrepreneurs who make up the industry, but maybe not their customers: infighting, backbiting, consolidation, contraction and uncertainty, fueled by rising regulatory costs and real questions about whether or not vital steps along the supply chain will get a license.
It’s not hyperbole to say that, barely hidden behind the slick branding and constant talk in the media about billions of dollars, lurks real existential dread. And nobody but other industry people — more accurately, the small-and-medium players wondering how they’ll be able to compete against behemoths with enough runway to land a SpaceX craft — really get it.
“I was at a dinner party the other night, and everyone was like, ‘Legalization’s great, huh?’” Hua said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “I’m like, ‘Man, if you only knew.’ A year ago, people were more optimistic and hopeful and excited. From what we’re seeing now, people are just tired. They’re trying to figure out if they have the energy or not to continue. We went from an industry projected to have a multiplying effect to a year where we’re going to be flat, or even down.”
“We went from a robust medical market to something that looks like it’s on its deathbed,” Hua said.
Hence the idea behind Meadowlands, a combination weekend retreat and “gathering” for the people responsible for the largest and oldest marijuana marketplace in the world, held in the cannabis industry’s geographic center: the redwood forests in Mendocino County.
If not an antidote, Hua believes California’s marijuana producers, sellers and facilitators need at least a respite — a chance to breathe, pause, relax and recharge.
From the description, Meadowlands sounds like a combination of a destination conference and a weekend at Esalen — if Esalen offered cannabis-friendly archery practice in between morning yoga, a mercifully brief lineup of speakers, and a night-hike, all capped off with sharing “a joint around the campfire with your next lead.”
In this way, the conference becomes the centerpiece, the main event, instead of the ordeal to suffer through before the fun (and the real business) can begin. This “weekend retreat,” this “gathering” for the California cannabis industry, has the advantage of setting — Camp Navarro, a reputed festival and wedding destination in the Mendocino County redwoods — as well as curation.
Check out the speaker schedule. It’s short! And concentrated. On one day, you get California’s cannabis czar, as well as the chief regulators of San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles all in one place. There’s one keynote, one discussion, one regulatory update. Then an informal afternoon of “fireside chats” before a happy hour, a dinner and then a night-hike.
This is all on Saturday, which is to say it is your reward for showing up on Friday when there’s a… concert from a band that organized the first-ever all-women show at The Fillmore?! Woke! Then, on Sunday, the last day, aside from a wake-and-bake brunch — nothing! Nothing at all! Get on with your life.
And look! No commerce, of anything — at all. “There are no vendors, and nothing is for sale,” the organizers say, firmly. Meaning, you must bring enough for yourself, and enough to share, if that’s your bag.
If this sounds like a shameless plug, it is not. We are full of shame, for the other lesser conferences, where attendees will sit placidly through panel discussions, images of Meadowlands dancing in their heads.
Meadowlands is Friday, June 15, through the morning of Sunday, June 17. Inclusive tickets for all three days start at $520, with upgrades available for those of us who insist on “glamping” rather than spending two nights in a perfectly serviceable tent or RV.
TELL US, have you ever attended a cannabis networking event?