Tech & Cannabis Collide at the New West Summit
The third annual conference brought together industry titans to look toward the tenuous future.
The smoke of a dozen fires choked the sky from Sonoma County to the San Francisco East Bay last weekend, but the air inside the Marriott’s conference center in downtown Oakland, California was almost clear — tinted only with the slight, sweet hint of cannabis vapor masking the crisp smell of hotel lobby perfume.
Throughout the weekend, the smoke stemmed from both sneaky blunts rolled on conference tables and out-in-the-open dab bars in the exhibition room, as hundreds of industry leaders, celebrities, businesses and consumers gathered in the Marriott’s carpeted halls and high-ceilinged conference rooms for the New West Summit from Oct 13-15.
For three days, the New West Summit included panels on everything from innovative apps to cannabis banking solutions, hosted speeches from celebrities such as Sir Richard Branson and the legendary George Clinton, connected citizens and companies at a job fair and exhibited booths from dozens of companies.
The many attendees who went to all three days of the conference witnessed their fair share of exciting moments. On Friday, High Times CEO Adam Levin was slated to make a large announcement about the magazine’s upcoming public listing on NASDAQ, but took to the stage to tell the crowd only that there “wasn’t much he could say.” The magazine recently merged with Oreva Capital to position the company “to better capitalize on its robust future growth.”
On Saturday, the cannabis business incubator Gateway hosted a “pitch slam,” which cultivation start-up Meristematic won — along with the $10,000 dollar prize. Sunday’s “Consumer Day” was a highlight, as free samples were abound inside the large exhibition hall and the eau de cannabis was particularly pungent.
Unlike many of the other professional events inundating the cannabis industry, the New West Summit is unique in how firmly it is centered where the realms of technology and cannabis intersect. Of course, “technology” is nearly inescapable at any event nowadays, but given that the Bay Area has both an entrenched tech sector and renowned cannabis industry, the New West Summit felt particularly positioned between two industries perhaps seeing the most rapid change today — especially with the Jan. 1 deadline of recreational cannabis sales in California looming overhead.
For the most part, the two industries played nicely with each other, with many presenters talking about how both spaces can work creatively together to innovate in the face of adversity and a crowded marketplace.
“The cannabis industry is one built around workarounds,” said Dr. Jessica Knox, a co-founder of TheCannaMDs, a group behind the medical cannabis chat bot ABBI, who talked about the necessity of promoting the “revolutionary perspective” of cannabis as medicine in a Friday panel on cannabis technology innovations.
Later, the founder of Slow Ventures, Dave Morin, talked in an investor panel about how both tech investors and cannabis entrepreneurs have to be “both contrarian and right” to be successful.
But in that same panel, other speakers had a more somber message — revealing an undercurrent of tension between the freewheeling, community-focused cannabis industry and the profit-seeking, established business mainstream.
“Pardon my French, but the a-hole coefficient is going to up when the suits arrive,” said Roger McNamee, the founder of Elevation Partners. (McNamee was wearing a suit jacket.)
Another speaker warned of “East Coast money,” and multiple panelists from the tech industry throughout the weekend spoke not of current problems with outside investment, but of the frightening future when Goldman Sachs enters the space.
“If you’re going to succeed, you have to love the machine, and the machine has to love you back,” said Jimi Devine, a reporter for Cannabis Now who hosted two panels on Friday morning.
But at the end of the day, the message that many cannabis speakers carried forth was one of inclusion and a reminder to focus on the communities that support the cannabis industry and those that have been most impacted by the War on Drugs.
In a panel about small businesses surviving in the maturing cannabis industry, Ean Seeb — the founder and manager of Denver Relief Consulting — implored all cannabis businesses to include a social justice philosophy in their business plan.
“We all came out of activism in some way,” said Seeb. “I’m eager to grow my business, I’m eager for all of us to grow our businesses, but my intention and my hope — for us to keep having a good time here in California — is that we carry that culture along with us and we remember where we came from.”
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