This weekend, the MJBA is hosting its first ever Vendor Fair at the Magical Butter Headquarters, featuring 30 major cannabis brands, including Cannabis Now Magazine, ready to supply the newly legal market in Washington.
“This is kinda the coming out party for Washington’s cannabis industry,” says MJBA CEO David Rheins.
Within three months, Washington will see a retail opening similar to Colorado’s in January. The fair is a chance for buyers to sample goods and decide what products to carry in their soon-to-be-legal shops.
Vendors will showcase standard-setting technology and innovation; hardware, software (including BioTrack THC, the official software of the Washington State Liquor Control Board), indoor garden lighting, security, professionally made and packaged medibles and beverages, lotions and topical ointments.
The MJBA was founded shortly after the passage of I-502 in 2012 and aims to create a place for legitimate cannabis industry businesses to network, collaborate and access relevant industry news. The MJBA publishes MJ Headline News, where businesspeople can go to get reliable industry news.
“We provide the platform, both digital and physical for the industry to meet,” says Rheins. “We provide a community for industry workers.”
In addition to the Vendor Fair, which Rheins says he hopes to see in other cities soon, the MJBA hosts monthly meetups in Seattle, Los Angeles and New York so cannabis industry professionals have a place to get to know each other and share information about laws, compliance, lobbying, best business practices, marketing design, packaging and any other industry concern that a network of professionals can aid in.
“Now that these businesses are legal, it’s about branding and best practices. Through our seminars, vendor fairs, workshops and meetups we provide cannabis companies the opportunity to come in; we are building the industry together. It’s really exciting,” Rhiens says.
While projection-shattering recreational marijuana sales in Colorado have dominated headlines for the last three months, Washington is gearing up to make its own headlines.
“It’s a really cool scene, a really organic scene. It is different from Colorado in oh so many ways. This is the first unveiling to the world of what this is going to be,” says Rheins. “Seattle is a connoisseur’s paradise; foods, wines and now marijuana. [There are] fine wines in Northern California, we have that too here in Walla Walla. We treat our coffee like gourmet. We brand salmon… It’s a culture that really embraces that. You won’t see us doing the lowest common denominator weed out here, these products are gourmet products, and that’s really exciting. It’s much more craft brew than big alcohol.”
Rheins says the industry is likely to look much different in Washington than it does in Colorado because Colorado’s recreational industry has evolved from medical marijuana.
“By law you need to have a vertically integrated business, and those were businesses that were in existence. Those businesses grew up in a medical marijuana culture with a patient-centric focus… What we have in Washington state is exactly the opposite. No existing businesses were grandfathered in. It’s a brand new virgin marketplace for everyone, from growers, to processors to retailers. All have to start anew,” Rheins says. “In that context, it’s a marketplace much more open to newcomers.
“Think of all the people who are going to get employed in this industry! Not just through the growers and trimmers and packagers, but we are talking about lawyers, accountants, retailers, drivers, security guards, people who build technology, people who serve at restaurants in these communities. We are talking about a reinvigorating of an economy damn near moribund for the last decade.”
Rheins grew up in Indiana and went on to earn a degree in journalism before joining the Peace Corps and teaching English in central Africa. After returning back to the states Rheins “did every job” at Rolling Stone Magazine — everything from answering phones, ad sales, editing and writing. He went on to become the associate publisher and president of Spin Magazine before doing a stint at Cosmopolitan, working for Bill Gates and running the strategy and marketing at AOL.
“I grew up in that question authority rock and roll world, I grew up with Bob Dylan, John Lennon and marijuana-infused poets and philosophers,” he says. “In my mind, pop culture and pot culture are the same thing.”
Rolling Stone has a history of being outspokenly pro-marijuana. Rheins says marijuana and the media goes hand in hand.
“Technology has empowered this revolution… the reality is the publishing revolution, the notion that alternative media like MJ Headlines News and Cannabis Now are allowed to publish now because it is no longer cost prohibitive,” he says. “We have come a long way from citizen Hearst, who by the way, started the whole prohibition movement in 1912. It’s fitting that it has come down to us.”
He says the MJBA will continue to facilitate the maturation of the industry, to create a place for cannabis industry professionals to facilitate expansion.
“We are not political. We are not taking a side on A, B or C. We are not on a bully pulpit. We are here to talk about the business of marijuana, not just medical, we fully embrace industrial hemp, recreational marijuana and medical marijuana and we don’t think you should go to prison for recreationally consuming a plant. We think that is beyond the purview of the U.S. government.”