It takes a lot to impress me but I must say the NCIA Cannabis Business Summit and Expo last week in San Jose, California blew my mind. Honestly, I fluctuated between terror and awe.
I’ve been to lots of smaller events such as The State of Cannabis and New West Summit, which are wonderful, but this full-fledged convention-style event was a whole new world to me. Even The Emerald Cup, which attracts four times as many people, has a “grower vibe” and family feeling to it. The NCIA Summit was more like how I imagined the conservative conventions my father went to back in the 60s, with a millennial tech twist. I felt a little out of place, even though I’ve been in the cannabis business for decades.
I doubt I was the only one who felt awkward, as we are all trying to find our niche in this new society. Nestled between multi-level booths with enough square footage to rent for $4,000 a month in the Bay Area, were simple unpretentious havens where a few of the old guard brands offered useful information about their products. But they were rare. Many booths featured flashy gear such as cultivation cubes and advanced extraction and trimming machinery. Others were completely generic lawyers and accountants set up to share their knowledge and get your business. I’m sure they are all very nice and well-meaning people, but as I strolled along the endless aisles packed with impressive displays, I found myself searching for the soul.
Just as I was seriously sinking into a gloom about “what have we done to ourselves?” I heard a voice call out my name.
Usually at cannabis functions I can’t move an inch without seeing someone from our tribe, yet at this 7,500 people event I felt like a stranger. Hearing a friendly voice snapped me out of my stupor.
“Hey, it’s me, David from Front Range BioSciences.”
He must have seen my numb expression as I could tell he was truly concerned about my well-being.
“As Swami would say, it’s all Shiva,” he advised and I remembered the temporary existence of all nature.
Thank you, David, for bringing me back to ground zero, ready to continue on to the next booth.
As I wandered, I came to the realization that there are so many ways we all experience cannabis — and whom am I to judge? My personal cannabis tribe has always garnered inspiration primarily for the creative arts and higher consciousness. Yet clearly I was seeing the results of other realities — equally important to each individual whether their passion is gaming, geeking or pure business.
“I can’t get enough of this, I admit I am a nerd,” said a young man with a ponytail wearing headphones at the Certaint booth. He was transfixed by the digital numbers flashing before him and the accompanying 8’ glass cube with a fake cannabis branch dangling upside down inside. Blasts of grey, green and then hot pink smoky lights and gasses filled the cube which looked to me like it was choking the plant, but to this young man it was magic.
“What is it?” I inquired.
“It’s imprinting a DNA stamp on the plant. It’s tagging the cannabis.”
“Why would anyone want to do that?” I asked curiously.
At this point, the salesman in the suit and tie stepped in to explain the benefits of knowing just where every single part of your plant is at any time, whether that part ends up in a joint, a pre-roll, a vape pen or an edible. Origin certainty. It sounded very convincing, yet the old radical in me is suspicious of “big brother” constantly watching over us. Is it our right to follow such a free and psychic plant? Is it my right to judge it as being necessary or not? Of course not, so I kept my mouth shut and moved on.
Sort of like in a casino, where you have to pass all the playing tables and slot machines to get to the restaurant and your hotel room, it seemed like it took an eternity to plod through the display maze to the lecture halls. Once settled in the large rooms with comfy seats, there were some impressive panels and speeches. The “Cultivation and Processing Track,” with three separate panels throughout the day, featured subjects ranging from tissue culture (a hot topic right now) to avoiding pathogens and employing microbes in living soil.
Of course I checked in on the “Running Your Cannabusiness” track, as every cannabis brand now needs to be a professional business. During one panel entitled: “How to Protect Your Business and Your Reputation Through a Crisis,” I sat in the back row and chuckled to myself. Only a few years ago we all hid in the shadows and here we were discussing “Crisis Communication.” Back in the old days of outlaw growing, crisis communication meant you were calling to tell people the cops were coming!
By 5 p.m. it felt like time to clock out of the job, it had been a long day. All this talk about cannabis but nowhere to indulge. Swami and I were lucky to run into two of our favorite women: Maya Elisabeth of Om Edibles and her friend Ayla so we joined forces and found a suitable place outside to light up. Before long we were joined by some of the Cannabis Now clan, Senior Editor Ellen Holland and Publisher Eugenio Garcia. Then along came Dani Geen, wholesale buyer for Harborside Salinas, and so the cannabis clan grew exponentially until quite a crew had gathered out there, laughing in the evening glow.
And so the story ends on a truly high note. The lesson is that the heart and soul do still exist, balanced by the new corporate side of cannabis which is still in the process of inventing itself. The heart is ancient, the business still an infant. One can learn from another. Cannabis is the most accepting of plants and welcomes all to honor her in your own unique style.
TELL US, have you ever attended a cannabis conference?