Marijuana Business Expo Lights Up Las Vegas

The first day of the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada, saw around 10,300 attendees. A recent vote that legalized marijuana for recreational use in Nevada joins several other states that have moved to decriminalize cannabis.

Explosive growth in legal cannabis sees attendance more than double from last year to over 10,000, with attendees paying $899 for tickets that sold out by 6am.

Cannabis industry members, media, and those just interested in the ever-expanding business opportunities surrounding cannabis pack the Rio Casino to the gills on Wednesday, November 16, the first day of the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, hosted by Marijuana Business Daily, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 Cassandra Farrington, CEO and co-founder of the host publication, acknowledges registration lines were long and challenging for most, but added that she sees this is a sign of the industry’s rapid growth and social acceptance.

Her face lights up when she announces that the 2017 expo has been moved to the Las Vegas Convention Center because this year’s event was so successful.

“That’s kind of the mark that you’ve made it,” she said of the burgeoning marijuana business community.

With more and more states opening up to adult-use — including a vote that legalized marijuana in Nevada just last week — there is no shortage of cannabis business events springing up across the nation. But the success of this particular conference is undeniable when reflected by sheer size alone. 

Walking the floor along the convention halls, people are packed in shoulder to shoulder. The majority of attendees are wearing suits and business attire, but there are also quite a few in the mix who outwardly represent the classic “funk” of cannabis culture.

Covering corporate cannabis

Marijuana Business Daily was named #302 on Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing privately-held companies in 2015. The publication, which started publishing in 2011, is the third launch for Farrington and her business partner, Anne Holland.

Farrington and Holland’s professional background is rooted in business-to-business publishing on subjects spanning from wireless technology to aviation defense. So what’s Farrington’s connection to cannabis?

“This is a legal thing,” she says matter-of-factly, adding she saw a real need for news and information. “It’s an awesome conversation-starter, much less giggle worthy than it used to be.”

Farrington explains that she was raised in the deep south as part of the “Just Say No” generation. The blond, curly-haired mother describes herself as a “do-be” — laughing off the “doobie” reference one might expect, considering her line of work.

But the people who make up the cannabis industry are often not who you might imagine based on stoner stereotypes, and that will become even more true as this long-demonized plant gains social traction across the planet.

Wendy, a woman in her 60s attending the conference with a friend from Wisconsin, stops by to chat up vendors at the Cannabis Now booth. She doesn’t smoke herself, but confesses she once tried “pot-corn.”

Wendy got involved in marijuana after her son, Luke, found himself facing 34 years for possession of seven grams of cannabis in North Dakota. He eventually beat the charges, but the experience showed her the errors in the system, and now she wants more information about marijuana to share with others.

She laughs as she recalls how she and her son always joked North Dakota would be one of the last states to embrace marijuana. North Dakota actually adopted medical marijuana Nov. 8, but she’s pretty certain recreational legalization is still a long way off in her conservative home state.

“It shouldn’t be a crime,” she says.

Keeping the magic in marijuana 

Keynote speaker of the day, magician, television personality and activist, Penn Jillette, was in full agreement with Wendy. Best known as the noisier half of legendary magic duo, Penn & Teller, Jillette is also a longtime marijuana advocate.

The 61-year-old Libertarian said he has supported marijuana since high school, although he has never tried it for himself.

“I’ve never had so much as a taste or a puff,” he said, but added that, as a Libertarian, he believes if people don’t have the right to put whatever they want in their own body, “you’re not living in a free country.”

His Libertarian political bearing means Jillette doesn’t support marijuana taxes (or any other taxes for that matter), but speaking to the afternoon crowd, he says the most important part of legalization is getting cannabis money out the black market an into other industries. 

“I guess the joke would be Doritos, ” he said.

Jillette compared the evolution of the cannabis industry to the evolution of Vegas itself, explaining that in the late 1970s and ’80s, the city was dangerous but also beautiful. But in the ’80s and ’90s, when Vegas was taken over by corporations, it made things safer, but dulled the city’s unique color.

“All the grooviness went away,” he said, warning those in attendance to learn from that experience as the cannabis industry moves in a simliar direction — from a place of funk, craziness and outlaw individually to a more sanitary, corporate space. “Please keep your hippiedom.”

Uncertainty still abounds

On a panel earlier in the day, Nevada Senator, Tick Segerblom (D), was asked how business owners can feel confident getting into an industry as volatile as marijuana.

He couldn’t really say, adding that cannabis parties, in his estimation, are probably the craziest endeavor because everyone knows they could soon be in jail for breaking federal law.

“Enjoy it,” he said. “But also realize that you could be in jail tomorrow.”

Farrington said, while her magazine is designed to offer impartial analysis of the industry, she isn’t able to offer blanket evaluations for individuals questioning whether they want to be involved. She said those that do enter should have a high risk tolerance and be flexible enough to roll with the punches.

Marijuana Business Daily updated and revised its business plan four to five times in the last few years just to make payroll. With attendees at the convention purchasing tickets for hundreds of dollars each, the business now seems to be in a much better place so what’s next?

“I’m going to keep growing with this industry,” she said.

Ellen Holland started working at Cannabis Now Magazine on April 21st because she was busy on 420. Holland is the senior editor at Cannabis Now and has also been featured on AlterNet, Reset.me and The San Francisco Chronicle. She served as the chief editor of the Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits as well as This Bud's for You with the legendary guru of ganja, Ed Rosenthal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @hollandbuds

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