I attend trade shows, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, symposiums, and other large and small events throughout the year in every sector. Outside of the cannabis industry, I’ve seen E3 (annual video game expo in Los Angeles), Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Market (semiannual outdoor industry trade show in Salt Lake City), Super Mobility Week (annual mobile and wireless convention in Las Vegas), and more.
The cannabis industry itself has its own world of business gatherings, and it can be difficult to tell which is what and run by whom. Attendance, exhibition, and sponsorship in these shows has large costs associated with it, and it’s important to understand the possible ROI’s to look for.
To help you navigate the murky waters of marijuana conventions, here’s a breakdown of the top 5 B2B and B2C marijuana gatherings, along with associated costs and who would benefit from participating.
Business to Business Conferences
1. Marijuana Business Conference & Expo
Where: Las Vegas, NV (Nov)/Orlando, FL (May)
Who: Marijuana Business Daily
Why: To Seek Investment/Partnerships
Cost: Attendance = $599 Full Conference + $125 Benefit Event, or $399 Expo & Meals only, $299 Business Crash Course
Founded in 2011 by Cassandra Farrington through Anne Holland Ventures, Marijuana Business Daily is a cannabis publishing company that offers a website, quarterly trade journal, and variety of books for cannabis professionals. With a focus on B2B, financial, and legal news and data, the company has become a go-to resource for cannabis professionals.
This semi-annual conference attracts a lot of big-name investors and successful entrepreneurs in all aspects of marijuana. The event has become one of the premier cannabis events, with last week’s Las Vegas conference at the Rio drawing 5,500 paid attendees (though the entire strip was occupied by the cannabis business, and true attendance was much larger) and 230+ exhibitors.
Along with an exhibit hall filled with booths, there are conferences and round table discussions happening throughout the event. Breakfast and lunch is provided, and there tons of smaller, more private events to network and seek investors in a more private environment. After-hours events are often held throughout the strip by the many sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees.
2. High Times Business Conference
Where: Washington, D.C.
Who: High Times
Why: To Seek Investment/Partnerships in the Nation’s Capital
Cost: $Coming Soon
I’ll discuss the Cannabis Cup in more detail in the B2C section, but there are a few reasons this conference is important. The Cannabis Cup is the premiere B2C event, and, although High Times is a counter-culture publication, the brand is still old media that survived the transition to new media better than Newsweek and many others.
That being said, the Cannabis Cup in DC is being branded as the High Times Business Cup, and its location in the our nation’s capital is a sign that editor Dan Skye (the pen name of Malcom McDowell) is watching the industry around these marijuana-themed events very closely.
Participating in the High Times Business Cup is a good bet for anyone interested in the industry, as it’s already drawn over 100 exhibitors, has access to book the top industry thought leaders, and has capacity for at least 2,000 entrepreneurs.
3. BIG Industry Show
Where: Las Vegas, NV (Feb)/Denver, CO (Apr)/Miami, FL (Sep)
Who: Formula 420
Why: To Wholesale to Retailers
Cost: $99 Buyers, Sponsorship and Exhibition Costs Vary
Formula 420 is a glass cleaner specifically marketed for the cleaning of bongs and pipes. This company has been in the industry for a few years and has made a lot of money. Sponsoring the BIG Industry Show in conjunction with the Galleria of Glass, the event precedes the April 20 Cannabis Cup in Denver and vape and tobacco expos in Miami and Las Vegas.
The BIG Show is where wholesalers of glass, smoking accessories, art, grinders, vape pens, and other auxiliary products can be sold wholesale to retailers, such as smoke shop, c-store, and other major retail business owners.
In addition to over $2.5 million in glass on display at any given moment in the Galleria of Glass (a museum-style exhibit filled with some of the best glass artists in the world), this is the show where you learn about how the cannabis industry interacts with every other auxiliary business on the planet, from mom & pops to large organizations.
4. International Drug Policy Reform Conference
Where: Washington, D.C.
Who: The Drug Policy Alliance
Why: For the Politics and Activism
Cost: DPA Member – $295 Early-Bird, $395 General, $425 Onsite
General Attendance – $350, $450, $485
Student ID – $175, $200, $250
One Day – $150, $175, $200
The Drug Policy Alliance has been lobbying for drug reform laws throughout the world for a long time now. This conference also brings together attendance from the broader political and activist crowds. If you’re interested in the laws and community surrounding cannabis and other drugs, this is the educational conference to attend and get involved.
Although DPA, NORML, MPP, and other cannabis activist groups routinely sponsor other B2B events, this conference is almost entirely supported by them and focuses on more ethical, moral, and geopolitical topics and conversations than others, setting it apart from the crowd. This is where laws change.
Be prepared to meet with delegates from all aspects of black-, white-, and grey-market economies from all corners of the world. While the legitimization of cannabis in the U.S. is a huge step forward, there will always be work to do on local, federal, and global levels.
5. Every Other Cannabis Business Conference
Southwest Cannabis Conference (Phoenix, AZ) http://swccexpo.com/
International Cannabis Business Conference (San Francisco, CA/Portland, OR) http://internationalcbc.com/
Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (Los Angeles, CA) http://www.cwcbexpo.com/
Now that the conferences above have made such a huge splash, everyone is trying to get a piece of the pie. It’s nearly as difficult to host a cannabis event as it is to run a cannabis dispensary, and the experience will differ widely by local community.
It’s difficult to tell who’s behind many of these conference, and their track records aren’t proven like the conferences mentioned above. These newbies are simply pulling together the ingredients to replicate the experience.
Think of them as being the Salt Lake City ComicCon in comparison to San Diego’s ComicCon International. One has Hollywood’s hottest stars dishing on the latest comic-book-based summer blockbuster, and the other is Galaxy Quest in the flesh.
Business to Consumer Conventions
1. Cannabis Cup
Where: So-Cal (Jan/Feb)/Denver (Apr)/Nor-Cal (Jun)/Oregon-Washington (Jul)/Michigan (Aug)/Central Cali (Oct)/Negril, Jamaica (Nov)
Who: High Times
Why: To Understand the Culture
Cost: One Day: $45 Early Bird/$60 at Door, Two Day: $122.65/$150, Three Day: $171.55/$200, Five Day: $288.91/$300, Super VIP: $486.05/$500, Gold Leaf VIP: $827.05/$850
As stated before, the Cannabis Cup is the premiere cannabis event in the world. Dan Skye and his crew have been putting on these events in Amsterdam, Jamaica, and everywhere else they could for decades. Any cannabis grower, dispensary, producer, extractor, and brander wants to be able to display those “Cannabis Cup Winner” stickers and trophies.
The cup itself is essentially a state fair atmosphere, with outdoor smoking areas available for those who legally qualify to consume, and for those who don’t, there’s plenty of speeches, exhibits, art, products, and more to enjoy.
Whereas a booth at a B2B conference is reserved, Cannabis Cup booths often feature models, platform stages with rappers like Supernatural, and, of course, a taste of all the cannabis products available. Sponsoring or exhibiting at these events is necessary to be a part of the conversation from the general public.
Despite only being legally around for less than a decade, cannabis has legacy brands: Snoop, Willie Nelson, Cheech, Chong, and High Times are legends in this industry. If you’re not at the Cannabis Cup, it doesn’t matter what else you attend – you don’t exist in cannabis.
2. Emerald Cup
Where: Humbolt County, CA
Who: The Emerald Triangle
Why: To Taste the Best
Cost: One Day: $53 Early Bird/$59, Two Day $96/$107, VIP $212
For those unaware, Humbolt County in Northern California has been the U.S. cannabis hub for decades. An area known as the Emerald Triangle encompasses the biggest concentrations of black, white, and gray cannabis in the entire country. This is the Hong Kong of marijuana distribution.
At the end of harvest season, cannabis crops pass through the Emerald Triangle from all over California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Canada, Mexico, and more. The best of the best is judged, bought, and sold, and you’ll find strains here that aren’t available anywhere else.
If the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo is akin to trade shows like CES and the Cannabis Cup is like a State Fair, the Emerald Cup is a harvest festival like the apple, peach, cherry, and strawberry festivals held all over the country. If you’re in any way involved in growing, producing, and distributing cannabis, the Emerald Cup is the mecca.
The grass-roots generic version of the Cannabis Cup is HempCon/Hempfest, which do their best to put on a good show. Though not as in-depth as a Cannabis Cup in the full representation of cannabis culture, business, and politics, HempCon does attract larger musical performances, making it more of a cannabis-themed musical festival than anything else.
Like Hemp and CBD are allowed in states THC isn’t, HempCon/Hempfest is the Cannabis Cup for your mom. Industrial hemp is it’s own industry both coinciding and coexisting with cannabis, but there are still separate laws involved in each.
Where: British Columbia, Canada (Aug)/Prague, Czechoslovakia (November)
Who: Lucas Behal
Why: To Travel the World
Cost: One Day – $150 Early Bird/$200 At Door, Three Day – $250/$350
To bring your brand internationally, Cannafest has a growing presence in Canada and Europe, representing the global cannabis community at large. Attending, exhibiting, or sponsoring the event puts your cannabis brand in the eyes of marijuana enthusiasts from all over the world.
If you’re looking for an excuse to travel outside the U.S., Cannafest is as good as any.
5. Boston Freedom Rally
Where: Boston, MS
Why: To Continue the Fight
Despite all these conferences and events surrounding cannabis, we’re not out of the woods yet. Marijuana is still federally illegal, despite the huge economies popping up all over the country. Many communities have embraced it, while others have shunned it. There’s no better place to remind you of how important it is to continue the fight to end the drug war than Boston.
Boston, Massachusetts was part of the original American Revolution, and they haven’t forgotten. People from all over the east coast (and country) gather in Boston Commons at high noon to hit the streets, sign the petitions, and encourage the community at large to make their voices heard on cannabis decriminalization, democracy, and freedom.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in Thought for Your Penny, High Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company, The Street, Quicken’s Small Business Resource, Cannabis Now, Small Business Daily, and Hardcore Droid.