CHICAGO—For the first time in its short history, the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo was held in a grand hotel whose opulence provided an elegant backdrop for an event that, since it debuted a mere three years ago, has become one of the industry’s premiere events, an accolade that was oft-repeated by speakers at its semi-annual event this spring, which attracted 2000 attendees and 200+ vendors to the gorgeous and obliging Hilton Chicago.
A high-end affair that clearly distinguishes itself from most other industry events, the focus of the Chicago gathering was investing, investing and more investing. To that end and beyond, its schedule featured a multi-track program of seminars, workshops and interactive live events that addressed subjects of direct interest to people looking to get into the biz without ignoring the needs of those already plowing its fields, so to speak.
Taking up an entire wing of the public area of the hotel, including a huge ballroom and several other large spaces upstairs for meetings and downstairs for vendor exhibits, the Marijuana Business Conference’s capable event and editorial staff kept tight rein on a show that featured exceptional production value and a roster of speakers that included industry leaders from every sector of the business, many of whom also made themselves conspicuously available to attendees looking for information or networking opportunities.
Despite its professionalism, however, and perhaps because of it, the Marijuana Business Conference still feels like a work in progress, much like the industry it serves. Similarly, the people and businesses in attendance also reflected the various strata of cannabis involvement, from established players (with five or so whole years under their belts!) to newer businesses in and seeking more market share, to the teeming masses of people paying very good money to come and check out the scene, some voyeuristically and others taking serious first, second or third looks at the intriguing, fulfilling and dangerous business of cannabis.
Eager to meet its attendees’ palpable enthusiasm with an equally optimistic view of the opportunities allegedly still available in the cannabis industry, event organizers put together a slide show of stats for the Opening Session showing inexorable upward trends throughout the food chain, combined with eye-popping revenue projections for those willing to invest in the “green rush.” The enthusiasm is somewhat tempered in the more grounded and granular seminars, however, and that’s a good thing. In putting speakers on the stages who gave great account of the nitty-gritty reality that is part and parcel of most cannabis businesses—courtesy of onerous regulations or uncertainty as to future proscriptions, or both—combined with steel-eyed observations by some of the more experienced speakers that margins are thinner and opportunities fewer for the average investor than they may be led to believe—the show provided attendees with a range of perspectives and opinions to mull as they make difficult decision that may have very real world consequences.
Indeed, at this stage in the cannabis game every potential investor needs to be doubly cautious when considering jumping in. Due diligence and unemotional decision making are the order of the day, and while that cold reality may remove some of the romance from the equation, it’s is necessary in an industry where competitors abound and enemies still lurk. The great news is that most of the information one would need in order to make informed decisions could be found at this event, which aptly fulfilled the two main requirements of a good trade event: Create an environment in which people can network and do business, and accurately reflect the state of the industry as it currently is and where it is headed.
The next Marijuana Business Conference & Expo expects to attract even more people to its winter gathering, slated for Nov. 11-13, 2015 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. According to the company, “We’re expecting 4,000 dispensary owners, cultivation pros, edibles and infused product makers, major investors and executives from all types of ancillaries.”
Needless to say, attendees should bring along their medical marijuana doctor’s recommendations if they’ve got one. Nevada dispensaries accept recommendations from out-of-state doctors.