Reflections on MJBizCon 2017

Recently, I traveled to Las Vegas with colleague and fellow Cannabis Advisory Group co-chair, Frank Segall, to attend the Marijuana Business Conference & Expo, also known as “MJBizCon,” which bills itself as “the largest cannabis conference in the world.” Launched in 2012 by the editors of Marijuana Business Daily, MJBizCon hosts bi-annual events in the fall and spring, bringing together thousand professional cannabis operators and investors every year.

This was my fourth MJBizCon (one spring, three fall), and it was, by far, the largest. The official attendance was announced at 18,120, and the number of exhibitors was over 650. Anticipating this volume, the conference was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, having overgrown its previous host venue, the Rio Las Vegas, and it will undoubtedly continue to scale in terms of scope and intensity.

This year, for the first time, adult-use cannabis is legal in Nevada. And while usage of any cannabis products was forbidden inside the Convention Center, it was evident that the majority of the attendees enjoyed the recent change in the law. For me, one of the clearest differences between this conference and ones from years past was the types of exhibitors that were present. I put this down to there simply being more professionals in the space. Whereas in the past, I would note maybe one or two insurance brokers, this time, I saw at least five times that many. Accountants? Check. Compliance officers? Check. Real estate brokers? Check. Consultants? Check. Really, every part of the industry was represented, and represented well.

During last year’s conference, then President-Elect Trump announced his selection of Senator Jeff Sessions, known for his extreme anti-cannabis stance (even for medicinal use), as Attorney General. Once that happened, there was a somber undercurrent to the remainder of the event. Attendees were gravely concerned about whether Sessions would seek to undermine the industry (despite the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment). However, after a year of little activity by Sessions, the Justice Department, or the anti-cannabis political action groups, the crowd was much more buoyant and optimistic regarding the overall future of the industry.

Walking through the exhibition hall, I saw that extraction machines, of all shapes, varieties, and prices, were omnipresent – much more than in past years – reflecting the importance of alternative dosage products and edibles. I was also struck by the rise of the private equity fund for cannabis-type investments, both plant- and non-plant-touching. With the opening of major new markets, more investment funds are needed, and, as a result, groups are forming funds to hold dedicated capital to invest in a multitude of projects. And banking is now, finally, entering the industry. While credit card-processing remains a closed door, a number of alternative solutions are coming online. In fact, one of our clients is set to launch a game-changing platform in the coming months that could potentially revolutionize the way cannabis operators do business (so stay tuned for news on that front!).

Some of the other major themes of the conference were: Excitement! Optimism! New Markets! Canada! Although prohibition has not officially ended, we are seeing its continued erosion, with West Virginia recently joining the ranks of those states that will have a medical marijuana program.  While many operations remain “mom and pop,” the industry, as a whole, seems to be waiting for consolidation. And the first wave is beginning to swell.

Every year, this conference reinforces my, and my colleagues’, belief that the cannabis industry will continue to expand and flourish, with plenty of opportunities for all to participate. I’m already looking forward to next year.


Image: Cooljarz Cannabis Oil Extractor