On a surprisingly cool evening this August, a crowd of well-dressed New Yorkers mulled about in front of Galvanize, a tech and entrepreneurial incubator in Greenwich Village. Inside, under bright lights, a single-file line stretched from the door, past a whitewashed cafe, to a table where guests were handed nametags and ushered up the stairs. The mood, equally awkward and anticipatory, wasn’t dissimilar to the first day of high school.
The crowd was assembled for a monthly event thrown by CannaGather, an educational and networking hub for New York’s nascent cannabis industry. Although the main attraction was a talk by Danny Danko, High Times’ veteran Senior Cultivation Editor, the opportunity to schmooze seemed to be the real draw. When cannabis goes legal in the Empire State, as Governor Cuomo recently signaled it likely will, these will surely be among the people holding the reins.
CannaGather is the brainchild of Josh Weinstein, a bespectacled and boyish former high school chess champion and current tech investor who senses the opportunity that cannabis presents to his hometown. He started CannaGather four years ago, inspired by both tech meetup culture and “the triple-bottom-line opportunity that cannabis offers,” as he explained recently. “There’s financial upside, medical opportunity and social justice reform that is all baked into the cannabis industry’s progression.” Since then, CannaGather has grown dramatically; hundreds of people show up for the monthly events, and Weinstein has been able to nab guests like Puffco founder and CEO Roger Volodarsky, as well as Aaron Smith, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.
At Galvanize, a cacophony of laughter and industry-chatter greeted guests as they ascended the staircase to the main event, where a bartender poured watery cocktails and sponsors hawked CBD tinctures, vape cartridges and joints, including one $35 pre-roll that was additionally coated in both CBD oil and powder (currently, hemp-derived CBD is the only recreationally-available cannabis in New York State). Compared to similar events in California, the attendees were relatively diverse, both in terms of ethnicity and age; yet anyone looking for a classic stoner in their midst would be sorely disappointed. Near a bar loaded with platters of chicken wings and pasta, I ran into Joe Barnes, president of the Washington state-based GrowLife Hydroponics; with a shaved head, easy smile and sporting a blazer over his company’s T-shirt, Barnes looked the part of an “Entourage” supporting actor. “We see the attendees of CannaGather as some of our future customers,” he told me. “Networking around legitimate cannabis businesses is one of our top priorities as one of the ‘picks and shovels’ companies of the green rush.”
Around 8 p.m., the lights flashed and the entire group wandered down the hall to a makeshift auditorium, where the talk began. After a few words from the event’s sponsors, including Barnes, and an energized MC who bravely exclaimed “CBDizzle” without a shred of irony, Danko hopped onstage, radiating impish charm. His talk, a sort of beginner’s guide to growing (what he asserted was exclusively “medical”) cannabis, elicited equal amounts of rapt attention and shameless yawning, even from a guy who was filming the whole thing on his phone. Danko’s advice on the particulars of Home Depot buckets, for instance, wasn’t terribly inspiring, but it was a good reminder that in New York, it’s best to make no assumptions about the canna-knowledge of the canna-curious. Delvi Peralta, a first-time attendee in his 20s sitting next to me, pointed out that “you may hear things from other people [about cannabis] via word of mouth, but unless you come here… it’s gonna be harder for you to see what’s actually happening [in the industry].”
Yet Danko’s 30-minute talk was not without intrigue: at one point, he utilized the rallying cry that “corporate interests need us more than we need them.” It was a particularly bizarre remark considering the corporate bent of those present: this was by no means the “counterculture” that the industry once promised (and the event’s MC dubbed the crowd); earlier in the evening, for instance, a representative of Enlighten TV suggested building relationships with the fast food industry. Yet even if simply couched in a hunger for the Almighty Buck, the evening at GannaGather made clear that in New York, interest in cannabis is skyrocketing, and investors are thirsty for change. After the talk ended, the group moved slowly to an upscale pizza restaurant across the street for an afterparty. For better or for worse, it seemed like the whole point.
TELL US, would you ever want to work in the cannabis industry?