High Times has established itself as the premier platform for business-to-consumer shows in the cannabis history. Over the last few years the Cannabis Cup events have increasingly leaked in more business-to-business type of features to ride along with the emergence of more legalized markets. The HTBS however was the first true business-to-business trade show in the company's long and successful history.
The first time I heard about the HTBS the ticket prices started at around $400 for a general admission ticket, however on Black Friday they sent out a promotion for $200. It seemed like a great deal, but I noticed days later the price remained at $200 which indicated to me that attendance was going to be very low for the event. I was right in my thinking. If I had to estimate, I'd say no more than 200-250 people attended the event and the exhibition floor was in a rather large room making the Summit seem empty as you walked it. I felt bad for the vendors, many of whom came from California, a long trip for such a paltry turnout. I'm guessing this explains why High Times events are typically focused in the West Coast and Colorado. The East Coast is quite simply still not ready for events of this scale unless major promotion is involved. It made me really appreciate the New York City trade shows by the International Cannabis Association which had strong attendance and the Washington D.C. show from ComfyTree which brought in a strong 900 people or more into a small Holiday Inn in the district.
For the small amount of attendees who reported the quality of the event itself was well done. High Times had strong seminar sessions which included panels with industry mainstays and a keynote speech from none other than Mr. Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center. Some of the other noteworthy speakers were Rhory Ghould, Danny Danko, Adam Dunn, Keith Stroup, Charlo Greene, Natalie and Ata Gonzalez, Nic Easley, and Charles Oster. The hero of our drug war Ethan Nadelmann was also a keynote speaker, polished and continued to drop the hammer on legalization.
This was the conference you wanted to be at if you wanted to make connections to some of the most influential in the industry because they were not being bombarded with fan boys, they were mostly all accessible. I am a big fan of shows where the attendance bombs, but the speakers are awesome, because you can actually get in a full conversation and perhaps even make a few deals happen. The CHA certainly did the most of that. I came to the conference with the intent on finding a chapter leader for the D.C. market, a venue, and some local speakers to get the branch kicked off. I wanted to meet potential sponsors for our NYC chapter and meet some really great thought leaders to speak at our NYC events. I interviewed a few companies and was excited by some of the things I was hearing in the market.
Steve DeAngelo kicked off the HTBS with a passionate battle cry of a speech. The type of speech you give an army tasting victory. His body language strong, his cadence fierce. He was happy to be in the Nation's capital, his home turf and knowing cannabis was legal. Here he was decades after he began as a cannabis activist with his work finally achieved. He spoke about so many important topics from recreational marijuana being a ridiculous concept due to the vital importance it plays in modulating the endocannabinoid system. He really wanted to hammer home the idea that cannabinoids are medical and that people need to act responsibly when using cannabis and specifically business people need to operate responsibly. He read a small passage from his new book "The Cannabis Manifesto" which I think is a silly title for such a small book of only about 150 pages. When I hear about a manifesto I was expecting a hardcover, with at least 400 pages, when it was a little guy, great for airplane trip. The passage he read was very impressive however and I am looking forward to getting my copy. I think he was wise to keep the book affordable in order to get his information into the hands of as many people as possible.
One of the most interesting conversations took place with Charlo Greene. She is a very engaging and intelligent businesswoman who has a story that all entrepreneurs should hear. She believes that the first thing a cannabis business entrepreneur should do is promote the fact that they partake in cannabis openly and regularly. She said the next step is get active. Her plans are to take her movement around the country and help other states get legalized just like she did in Alaska. She emphasized the lack of understanding from public officials on cannabis and in states without voter initiatives need to ask their elected representatives for meetings and help them get educated on cannabis. Not just how it works and does, but also to explain the needs of the industry. She really stressed that cannabis policy advocates need to emphasize that jail time should never be a concession in any legislation. I have long been a fan of hers, being a big believer in diversity myself and at present she is the first black woman I know that lead her state's legalization movement. She has courage that you rarely find, so I had to ask her why she believes minorities have not been more active in the industry. She said there is a lot of fear both real and subliminal of black men and women of being arrested or harassed by belief which limits their grassroots activism. Charlo has big plans for her activism and would like to have a major influence and national rally in four years that pushes for Federal legalization. She thinks BIG! She is very charismatic and I don't doubt her. To date she is still the only actively operating cannabis club in Alaska because she is the only one with the courage to operate, despite the law allowing it. She was charged with four misdemeanors and four felonies for her club and speaks confidently the charges will get dropped.
Another great interview I had was with Vote Hemp Government Relations Professional Ben Droz. Mr. Droz is a fun and engaging personality in the hemp movement. He works on Capital Hill to help pass legislation. Ben gave some tips on lobbying to me and really made it sound simple. He emphasized the importance of sharing knowledge of hemp with parties that are highly conservative and doing as best a job as possible to separate hemp from marijuana. His reasoning actually made good sense. He said that when you are talking to highly conservative groups they need to be educated on certain things as simple as what differentiates hemp from marijuana and that these conservative groups won't put their money behind any psychoactive substances. He said that we don't need to win the votes and funds from marijuana groups, we already have their support, but it's the support like agriculture in the Midwest who stand to benefit most from hemp that we need to win over. Ben was the first hemp lobbyist on the Hill, but more are cropping up as this becomes accepted. He emphasized that he started flying solo, just getting to know the public officials involved and the key to lobbying is having relationships with their constituents so you can contact them based on their behalf. Trying to get meetings with public officials without that leverage could be challenging, especially when they may have constituents with conflicting issues. He didn't make lobbying sound complicated, just tenacious and strategic.
Shanita Perry is an IT and software professional from the District who has leveraged into the industry since May and represented four clients in the Maryland dispensary licensing process to the tune of sixteen total applications. She had some great information on Maryland's medical cannabis program which included that while reciprocity will not be available, Maryland has a potential for medical cannabis tourism. The program works fluid enough that chronic pain exists and that recommendations will be available to out-of-staters by Doctors within the state. There will be no in-home cultivation unfortunately, at least in the beginning, but at least the Mid-Atlantic will have an program that is within a day's drive from New York or some of the southern states that can be a haven for travelers to get their medical marijuana. It would appear that Maryland is poised to be a strong destination for emergency access and could do very well if managed and promoted correctly. Shanita is still waiting on the results of her clients' applications and interesting one of them is a Police lieutenant approaching retirement in Baltimore. Shanita claims that the lieutenant is making cannabis industry her next life phase and has not been busting people for possession of cannabis for the last 5 years.
I think that High Times Business Summit has great potential, but they need to spend more time promoting it and make it a bigger deal. The production was well done and interesting. I hope that next year they hold this again and it would be nice to see more attendees come out. More than a few booths had been assigned to vendors who no-showed and attendance had to be low. That said, when I talked to the vendors that were there, they like me, came across with the same feeling, that the networking was excellent. HTBS put a lot of heavy hitters in the same place and I feel that those who couldn't make it, missed an opportunity to have some very engaging conversations with the movers and shakers in the cannabis business. Then again, I drove a have 3.5 hours from New York to get here. There were people who travelled across country. If I were them, I'm not sure if I'd have felt the same.
As far legalization in D.C. and how that is going, it's clear no one has yet figured out how to leverage the laws to build a thriving enterprise. People are overjoyed at the right to cultivate, but the pop-up events, such as $75 edible parties for example have been a disappointment. Last year when I came to ComfyTree, Corey Jack spoke, a consultant from Colorado and taught people how to set up collectives in a packed seminar. It seems the collectives have started, but have not taken off the way they have in California. It seems people are still figuring out what to do here. Perhaps they should ask Charlo Greene. She did a heck of a job exploiting the loop holes in Alaska to launch her cannabis club. It takes courage and balls to be a maverick in cannabis, something that seems to be sorely lacking in the Nation's capital at this point.