5 Takeaways from MJBizCon 2021

MJBizCon 2021 entrance Mike Roasati photo mg Magazine
Photo: Mike Rosati for mg Magazine

LAS VEGAS – Following hot on the heels of September’s Hall of Flowers in Santa Rosa, California, the cannabis industry’s other big trade show, MJBizCon 2021, descended upon the Las Vegas Convention Center for four days of business-to-business schmoozing, engaging, and reconnecting. The event took place October 19-22 after being sidelined since 2019 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The expo, which launched in 2012, is the largest of its kind and has become the de facto meeting place for the North American and international cannabis business communities. The event takes over the 4.6-million-square-foot convention center, and the expo floor is an impressive (if a little chaotic) jumble of more than 1,110 businesses (most of which are non-plant touching), panels and forums.

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mg Magazine was at the expo and pounding the Las Vegas Strip for the week, and these are our primary takeaways.

MJBizCon isn’t a place for consumer brands

MJBizCon is primarily a “picks-and-shovels” expo, connecting plant-touching businesses with those that provide the tools to improve their operations. Consumer-facing brands aren’t heavily represented on the show floor, which makes sense given that it’s them, cultivators, manufacturers, and retailers that are the “consumers” in this situation.

Consumer brand- and buyer-focused trade show Hall of Flowers built a microcosmic brand oasis in the middle of the conference room, showcasing primarily California brands (Kiva, Leune, Canndescent, Country) with a little East Coast representation from Bud’s Goods & Provisions in Massachusetts. This may be an indication the event is keen to expand its value to brand presenters in the future.

But as it stands, brands that plan to attend MJBizCon should do so to engage suppliers or meet investors. They’re unlikely to make many sales in a booth on the expo floor.

Photo: Mike Rosati for mg Magazine

Beverages are taking off

Multistate operators and their backers are on the cusp of (finally) convincing Americans they should drink their weed. After a year that saw beverage brands including Cann break through, the ancillary sector is devoted more focus to packaging, machinery, and equipment for developing water-soluble emulsions. Beverages weren’t at the last show in 2019 in any significant way, so this represents a big category shift and hints that a lot more products may be coming.

Social equity conversations continue 

Like most other cannabis conferences and events, MJBizCon is doing its part to further the conversation about equity and representation for people of color. Thursday’s panel titled “Increasing Minority Participation In The Cannabis Industry’s New and Emerging Markets” spotlighted voices like Tahir Johnson (director of social equity and inclusion at the Marijuana Policy Project) and Ernest Toney (founder of BIPOCann). Cultivation supply giant Hawthorne underlined its recent commitment to supporting nonprofits engaged in cannabis-related social justice work with an excellent panel in a snug engagement room.

People “attend” without attending

There is an entire subset of movers and shakers who go to Las Vegas during MJBizCon but don’t actually attend the expo. They told mg they opted not to purchase a pass for the event because they’re in town to meet people, not buy equipment.

This year, many spent their days at MJ Unpacked, a brand- and investor-focused side event organized by MJBizCon’s former organizers; they spent their nights flitting between the many lavish after-parties in hotels along the Strip. Could this indicate the beginning of something like a Las Vegas Cannabis Week? 

Pack your blazer and 501s

As mentioned earlier, MJBizCon is an event largely for the Green Rush crowd, and they have a distinct uniform: suit jacket, plaid shirt, and Levi’s 501s. The look represents an unironic tribute to the most famous pick-and-shovel provider of the American West’s last great rush.

MJBizCon 2021 did little to assuage concern that cannabis’s future is being charted by those who have little to no connection to the traditional culture. There was the odd green-clad legacy eccentric wandering around, but they are an increasingly rare sight.

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