Humanity Heroes’ Annual Backpack Drive Supports LA Homeless

“BigMike” Straumietis, most widely known as the founder and CEO of Advanced Nutrients, was back in Downtown Los Angeles on December 18 with his nonprofit Humanity Heroes, which takes a hands-on approach to help ease the suffering of the homeless. They were there for the organization’s seventh annual holiday donation drive, distributing 2,000 Humanity Packs directly to the residents of Skid Row—LA’s most impoverished neighborhood. From toothpaste and toothbrushes to sunscreen, gloves and tarps, each backpack is stuffed with 21 non-perishable items that the homeless community desperately needs. In addition to the backpacks, Humanity Heroes also handed out warm dinners, blankets, pet food and toys for the kids.

Humanity Heroes launched in December 2012 in Bulgaria as “Holiday Heroes,” before being rebranded in 2019. BigMike’s idea for the nonprofit was spurred by his own personal experiences, in addition to having a strong desire to help those in need. To date, BigMike’s charity efforts have resulted in non-perishable food donations to Skid Row totaling more than $600,000.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Humanity Heroes’ efforts to help the homeless are proving to be especially impactful. According to the 2020 Census, Skid Row’s population has risen to 9,9092 people—a 20% increase from 2019. And at least 4,000 people in Skid Row are homeless on a permanent basis. The recent Census figures also show that the greater city of Los Angeles saw a 16.1% rise in homelessness last year, bringing the total number of those needing shelter to 41,290. 

report co-authored by Randall Kuhn, associate professor of community health sciences at UCLA, highlights the vulnerability of homeless people during the pandemic. “Homeless people are twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and two to three times more likely to die than the general population,” the report concludes. 

For BigMike, it’s not enough to talk about making a difference. He is loud and proud in his message of direct-action philanthropy and believes all prosperous corporations are responsible for giving back.

“If a company is successful, they have an obligation to give back directly to the community in which they get their money and society as a whole,” said BigMike, whose company Advanced Nutrients has given close to one million dollars in cash and nutrients to stores devastated by wildfires.

“It’s important that we come together as a voice and that people understand that cannabis isn’t just a bunch of people running around and getting high,” BigMike said. “We’re a serious business, a serious community, and we must be taken seriously; it shows a different side of cannabis than what people think.”

Dedicated to Growing the Community

What started as a small group of people who wanted to make a difference has grown into a city-recognized non-profit that attracts celebrities like West Coast rapper Xzibit and the interest of mainstream media including KTLA Channel 5 News for its annual Humanity Pack campaign.

This year, BigMike and Humanity Heroes donated an extra 5,000 Humanity Packs to cities nationwide suffering from high rates of chronic homelessness, as well as two California-based nonprofits, My Friends House and Covenant House. 

Interested in getting involved? BigMike has some advice: “Go to our website, joinhumanityheroes.org. Whenever we have a campaign, we are out there posting on social media giving everybody a heads up. Get the details and volunteer or give back.”

The post Humanity Heroes’ Annual Backpack Drive Supports LA Homeless appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Lemonhaze’s Cannabis Executive Golf Classic in Las Vegas

Relationships, relationships, relationships. The world’s top business executives will tell you this is what success in any industry boils down to. Drawn to the networking opportunities, and some time on the greens, cannabis leaders teed up for some new and impressive connections at last month’s inaugural Lemonhaze Golf Invitational.

The invite-only event took place on Oct. 19 at the award-winning Cascata Golf Club, located in Boulder City, Nevada, just 30 miles outside Las Vegas. Lemonhaze CEO Brian Yauger is setting out to bring the cannabis industry the most coveted networking opportunities and exclusive experiences.

“This is where the executives and the most powerful decision-makers in the industry get together to hobnob every year,” Yaguer said. “The golf tournament is a tool for bringing the cannabis community together.”

Founders, VP’s, and C-suite executives traveled from around the country for a next-level networking experience that combined the outdoors, sports, entertainment—and of course lots of cannabis-related conversations. Guests included the likes of Curaleaf CEO, Joe Bayern; Heisman Trophy Winner, Ricky Williams; along with execs from KIVA, Med Men, Bhang, Wana Brands and more.

This year’s Lemonhaze Golf Invitational was a testament to the future of cannabis—classy, community-oriented, and active.

Upon arrival in Las Vegas, tournament players were transported to the golf course in party buses stacked with the who’s who of cannabis. Foursomes then took to the green for some healthy competition and handshakes, with industry mixers set-up before and after golf, undoubtedly as important as the game itself.

While Lemonhaze first became known for its budtender parties thrown around the country, Yauger has since leveled things up. He is now responsible for creating one of cannabis’ most high-profile events.

Those itching for an invite to next year’s Cannabis Industry Executive Golf Invitational will be delighted to know that Lemonhaze is expanding its reach across North America. Cannabis insiders in Arizona, Oklahoma, Michigan, California, Illinois, New Jersey and Florida should be on the lookout for upcoming golf outings in 2022.

The post Lemonhaze’s Cannabis Executive Golf Classic in Las Vegas appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Cannabis Industry Pros Flock to Much-Anticipated MJBizCon in Las Vegas

It’s been two weeks since cannabis professionals from around the world convened at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 10th annual MJBizCon, one of the industry’s largest events for making connections, building brand awareness and closing deals.

The whirlwind 3-day event undoubtedly takes some time to recover from. With approximately 27,000 people in attendance, and over 250,000 square feet of exhibit space, there was a lot of ground to cover (an average of 4.5 miles/day, according to my iPhone). And while consuming cannabis products inside the convention center is prohibited, it was easy to catch a buzz off all the positive energy at this year’s event.

“I believe there’s energy at any cannabis event,” said Darren Lampert, CEO of GrowGeneration. “You can see the passion. People are smiling, happy and learning.”

Many businesses, clients—and even remote team members—reconnected for the first time since the 2019 MJBizCon. Last year’s live event was put on hold after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March of 2020. 

“It’s exciting to see lots of brands we love still in business,” said Shelby Nelson, an Account Executive with Cannabis Now. “It almost has the same excitement of 3-4 years ago. Everyone seems rejuvenated.”

Break Out Brands

Taking the spread of COVID-19 into consideration, this year’s conference featured wider lanes with booths more spaced out. This made for a less congested, more enjoyable experience. It’s not possible to visit them all, but a few exhibitors stood out: Dutchie’s cleanly designed lounge space gave off feel-good retro vibes, inviting guests to sit down inside modern diner-style booths, complete with ceiling fans, wallpaper and comfy seating. Meanwhile, flat-screen TVs displayed facts about the company tech solutions. Who said software had to be boring?

Huber also beckoned us in with their neon signs, cannabis ice sculptures and free beer. Sitting down at their bar or taking a photo in front of the giant pot leaf carved from ice afforded patrons with a nice break after hours of talking business. Not to mention, it was a clever play on the “King of Temp’s” precise temperature control solutions.

After making the rounds, we checked in with several other leading brands to see what they’ve been up to since 2019, and how MJBizCon 2021 was going for them.

Fohse, Inc.

The first stop was under the bright lights of Fohse. In 2019, Fohse arrived at MJBizCon to unveil their flagship product, the A3i. Now, two years later, they utilized their time at the conference to share case studies that show off how that light is helping grows improve efficiencies while seeing bigger yields. “Last time we showed up to build a reputation, this time we showed up with a reputation,” James Bradley, Fohse’s CMO, said with a smile.

Beyond showcasing product, Bradley says the show is about connections.

“These shows are always a team bonding experience. Connections this time around are even more important,” he said, adding that there seemed to be a lot of pent-up energy at the conference. “People have been waiting for this live show. As far as differences, we can really only compare it back to 2019 because that’s the last time we were all in front of each other. I’d say this time around the excitement’s a little higher. People have been cooped up for two years.”

GrowGeneration

America’s largest hydroponics supplier, GrowGeneration, is another company that has seen tremendous growth since their first appearance at MJBizCon in 2017, when they walked the floor, getting a lay of the land. The next year, in 2018, they arrived with a 10X10 booth. And this year, they boasted a 40X40 booth that offered guests a space to relax while they showed off some of their top products, including ion light fixtures and the nutrient-boosting Power SI formula.

CEO Darren Lampert echoed Bradley’s sentiment on the importance of team building at the conference. GrowGeneration employees are spread out between 63 stores in 13 states, so MJBizCon provides a way for everyone to get together.

“The show has been fabulous,” he said. “It’s about showing customers new products and the solutions that Grow Generation provides and getting the staff together. It’s also about giving back.”

Grow Generation sponsored the Oct. 21 Blues Brothers concert, hosted by MJ Unpacked, a new executive level cannabis conference connecting brands and retailers. The fundraiser raised approximately $70,000 for the Last Prisoner Project, a nonprofit dedicated to releasing those in incarcerated for nonviolent cannabis offenses. 

Looking ahead, Lampert says the future will bring tremendous product innovation, incorporating energy conservation and creating a product that is more consistent because, “that’s what people want.”

Boveda

Giving the people what they want is something Boveda’s Program Manager Claire Erickson also touched on, noting an overall shift in how companies are approaching their products more thoughtfully.

“The focus this year is all about making the cannabis experience better for the consumer,” explained Erickson. She also discussed how expanding legalization is impacting Boveda’s product development and continual push for innovation.

“Shelf life is huge heading toward legalization,” she said, explaining that as shipping cannabis between states becomes a reality, preserving product authenticity, from the time it’s packaged to the time it reaches the consumer, will become even more paramount.

Root Sciences

Roots Sciences is a one-stop shop for all end-to-end solutions for the cannabis industry’s processing labs. Formed in 2015, Root Sciences started with distillation equipment and has migrated into extraction and end-to-end equipment solutions for the industry, explained the company’s CEO Forrest Didier.

“We’ve been here since the early days,” Didier said, adding that this year’s show has been better for them than the 2019 MJBiz Conference.

“2019 was kind of unique. The cannabis stocks in Canada—the big guys, the aurora and canopy stocks— had already started crashing in 2019, so we had already started seeing some capital drying up in the industry before the show. But it’s been better this year, it’s good to be back live, face-to-face with our clients…You can only explain so much online and digital marketing. You can’t beat the in-person experience of a show like this.”

And we must agree with Didier. Whether we were learning about new products and services or just catching up and sharing stories with new and familiar faces, nothing compares to being together. 

After Hours Connections

Half of the networking at MJBizCon happens outside of the convention doors. Pre- and post-show get-togethers give companies creative ways to show off their brands while getting to know the people behind the business.

On Thursday morning, we visited Pacific Stone’s 70s style “Hangover” suite inside Caesar’s Palace, featuring a complimentary oxygen bar and an IV hydration lounge. Fast forward to 4:20 p.m., after a day of networking and expo floor interviews, and Bhang’s CEO Jamie Pearson was welcoming us inside their Cosmopolitan suite for an infused happy hour. Cannabis chef and educator Travis Peterson, perhaps better known as “The Nomad Cook,” was serving up bite-sized portions of gazpacho; sesame wonton cones filled with vegetables; cordon blue cheese balls; and special Bhang cannoli blunts for dessert, featuring matcha ricotta, crushed pistachios and an infused Bhang chocolate sauce. The food was all nonmedicated, but guests could opt for 2.5mg infused garnishes if desired. 

DJ Muggs from Cypress Hill even made an appearance, showing his support for the Bhang brand, which he has helped give a sense of “street culture,” he said, adding that “you have to live it and breathe it—you can’t buy it.”

Looking at the Past, Present & Future

Whether in line for a taxi, riding up the elevator, sitting at the hotel bar or any one of Sin City’s restaurants, odds are you were in the company of a fellow cannabis industry professional.

Both inside and outside the expo, excitement and optimism for the growing industry permeated Las Vegas.

Themes of opportunity and responsibility were also evident over the course of the conference. While people were clearly optimistic about the future of cannabis, we were also reminded how we got here and how the history of the plant should not be lost in the pursuit of profit.

Hawthorne is one company taking corporate responsibility and setting the stage for other brands through their partnerships with social justice nonprofits in the cannabis space. Apart from their regular booth where they showed off product and met with current and potential clients, Hawthorne also hosted a social equity panel inside of a separate convention center room they called “Hawthorne House.” Fab 5 Freddy and Steve DeAngelo, along with other key advocates, discussed the importance of repairing the harms of the War on Drugs. They talked about what companies can do to take meaningful action and ensure that resources are spent on this important industry pillar.

“What Hawthorne’s doing needs to be replicated—giving back on the local and national level,” DeAngelo said.

Looking ahead to 2022, we are excited to see what comes out of this year’s conference and what kind of change these important conversations bring about. MJBizCon 2022 is slated for Nov. 15-18 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. We hope to see you there.  

The post Cannabis Industry Pros Flock to Much-Anticipated MJBizCon in Las Vegas appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Blues Brothers Benefit Concert Reals in Over $70,000

“These are not criminals, but heroes,” said cannabis activist Steve DeAngelo as he welcomed Richard DeLisi and Michael Thompson on stage before the Blues Brothers show in Las Vegas last Thursday night.

The concert was a special event organized by MJ Unpacked, a new cannabis conference connecting industry brands and retailers on the executive level.

Over 1,000 people were in attendance, spread throughout the juke-joint inspired House of Blues, sitting at high-top tables, on the red velvet seats in the second story mezzanine, and gathered on the hardwood paneled dance floor—all ready to share some laughs and good music in the name of cannabis reform. And it was a big night for the cannabis freedom movement. Approximately $70,000 were raised for DeAngelo’s nonprofit, the Last Prisoner Project, which was founded in 2019 with the mission of releasing prisoners serving time for nonviolent cannabis offenses.  

“There are 40,000 people in jail for trying to help people by touching a plant,” DeAngelo cried out to the audience. “Don’t forget our sisters and brothers as wealth is created.” 

DeLisi and Thompson were both released through the support of the Last Prisoner Project (LPP). Before last Thursday’s show commenced, they briefly shared their moving stories with the crowd. Prior to DeLisi’s release in December 2020, he was the longest active cannabis prisoner in the U.S., serving more than three decades of a lifetime sentence. Thompson, released in January 2021, served more than a quarter century of a 60-year sentence in a Michigan prison.

Michael Thompson, Steve DeAngelo and Richard DeLisi on stage before the Blues Brothers show in Las Vegas.

“It’s broken, and it needs to be fixed,” Thompson said, referring to the justice system that failed him. “Those in prison for marijuana need to be free!”

With tears in his eyes, Thompson struggled to get his final words out. A supportive DeAngelo with an arm around his shoulder stood next to him, rubbing his back, encouraging him to go on. Audience members cheered and applauded as Thompson thanked LPP for their support—for reuniting him with his family, for keeping him alive.  

Throughout the concert, slides were projected onto the stage’s backdrop, reminding and educating attendees of the problems that exist, what LPP is working towards, and how people can help. One slide read, “Despite widespread legal marijuana reform, cannabis arrests are actually increasing in several states,” and another offered people a way to take action: “Text freedom to 24365 to donate to Last Prisoner Project.”

Mary Bailey, the Last Prisoner Project’s managing director, firmly echoes the importance of education and sharing the powerful stories of those who are trapped behind bars for something that is now legal.

“We know that the injustice that is cannabis-related incarceration can only be counteracted by public attention paid to—and subsequent advocacy around—the issue,” Bailey said. “Leveraging the power of events like the Blues Brothers Benefit Concert is a critically important tool when helping to grow this desperately-needed public awareness, and we’re immensely grateful to those whose hard work and dedication made the concert a resounding success.”

Sitting down with DeAngelo in the venue’s “James Brown Room,” he provided a rundown of what these funds are used for: covering expenses for the families of prisoners; release grants; legal assistance; job placement.

“It really depends on what that particular prisoner needs, and then we attempt to provide that,” he said.

Cannabis & The Blues

Following DeAngelo’s on-stage introduction, the mood lightened. The Blues Brothers themselves—Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi—swaggered on stage donning black suits, shades and matching hats for an entertaining revue in which they reenacted the characters of Elwood and Zee Blues from the popular 1980 comedy release of the Blues Brothers. Backed by the talented Sacred Hearts band, the famous duo got in full character with chest slams, bare belly rolls, and some hilariously bad moves.

Jim Belushi performs at the House of Blues at a fundraiser for the Last Prisoner Project.

“It tickles me to dance with this 6’4” Canadian and sing alongside him,” Belushi said. “It just brings joy to my soul in every show. Of course, performing at the House of Blues, which we opened as The Blues Brothers, is a highlight, as well. All House of Blues venues are just so sexy and exotic and filled with the resonance of all the Blues legends and spirits.” 

At the close of the concert, Aykroyd auctioned off the opportunity to come on stage and sing the hit song “Soul Man.” Grow Generation’s president Michael Salaman and board member Paul Ciasullo both pledged $12,000.

George Jage, founder and CEO of Jage Media, which organized MJ Unpacked, says booking the Blues Brothers made sense for a number of reasons.

“When we were developing the show, we wanted to make sure we had a strong mission-based philosophy. We are here to serve the industry, but we also need to help support the industry and advocacy groups,” Jage said. “I’ve always been impressed with Mary Bailey and Steve DeAngelo. I think it’s one of the most important causes for our industry.”

Belushi has also served as an official advisor to the Last Prisoner Project since May 2020. He first got involved with the nonprofit after a venue fell through for another LPP fundraising event DeAngelo was organizing in Los Angeles.

“He called me in the morning, and we had the first fundraiser at my house that night,” Belushi recounts. “I was so deeply moved. I said, ‘How do I get in on this? I want to help.’”

In his LPP advisory role, Belushi says he helps spread awareness for the cause. And as a longtime entertainer turned cannabis farmer, he’s in an ideal position to help.

“My job is to get the word out,” he says. “Let’s free these men and women—now!; Write letters, donate money. Also, I call and speak with the survivors of the failed war on drugs when they’re released. I participate in fundraisers.”

Belushi is intimately connected with both music and marijuana. For him, it’s about more than operating a profitable business. It’s about bringing people together. It’s about healing.

“I’m hoping to create confidence in cannabis with the curious, the new consumer. I believe in the medicine,” he said. “Everybody knows somebody who’s suffering. Everybody. And the pathway to healing and the medicine of cannabis can really aid those who are suffering, including their families who witness the suffering.”

Needless to say, cannabis matters to Belushi, as it does to countless other Americans. And in the words of Steve DeAngelo, “If you’re not a Black or Brown person and you love cannabis, and you live in North America, you’ve got a debt to pay.”

The Short and Long Plays

As cannabis legalization picks up steam and continues to spread across the U.S., the Last Prisoner Project is making it known that pardons granted for cannabis offenses aren’t occurring at the same rate. Not a single cannabis law has passed that provides for the release of cannabis prisoners.

It seems logical that when laws are passed legalizing cannabis, those incarcerated for the thing that is no longer illegal (cannabis, in this case), should be automatically released. It should be written into the laws.

DeAngelo explains why this isn’t the case.

“I’ll tell you why it hasn’t been automatic. It’s because there hasn’t been an organization like LPP at the table,” he says. “There are a huge number of problems. The default position of the justice system is that once a prisoner is sentenced, they have to serve their sentence unless there’s some other judicial procedure that intervenes and releases them.”

He goes on to discuss the structural impediments in the way, the main one being that there are too many people in power opposed to releasing prisoners.

“One of the things the prohibitionists like to do is talk about how you can’t reward people who broke the rules, and you can’t let criminals go free. They have this point of principle about it,” he said. “Because there hasn’t been a voice that’s strongly advocated for the release of cannabis prisoners, it’s been an overlooked issue for many years in the cannabis freedom movement.”

With no amnesty laws currently in place, LPP is focusing on other ways to release prisoners.

“When you’re doing work to get prisoners out, you have to fight on multiple levels simultaneously,” DeAngelo said, explaining that they’re also looking ahead, working to ensure that new cannabis laws passed in the future include the release of prisoners.

“We’re lobbying to make sure that happens, but it hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “We have people in prison, so we have to use other ways to get them out. One is with the clemency process.”

In every state that’s legalized cannabis, the governor has the ability to release all cannabis prisoners with the stroke of a pen. However, it’s not so easy. Clemency, as DeAngelo explains it, is a difficult process that comes down to a lack of resources. To grant clemency, a legal document must be filed for each prisoner, and each document must be individually reviewed by someone in the governor’s office. With hundreds of clemency petitions and maybe one person reviewing them on a part-time basis, the road to freedom is slow.

“So, what we’ve been doing is working with governors’ offices to try and get them to agree to a mass release of cannabis prisoners instead of considering these petitions one by one,” DeAngelo said.

The work of LPP is limited, however, to states where adult-use cannabis is legal.

“It’s basically impossible to argue for the release of prisoners for something that’s still a crime. It’s only been since we’ve had those victories that we really have the ability to go to the governors and say, ‘Hey it’s not illegal anymore, you should really release everybody who’s in prison for the thing that’s not illegal anymore.’ If it’s still illegal, you don’t have an argument to make. It’s really only in the last few years that it’s been possible to make this argument in an effective way.”

Life After Bars

While releasing cannabis prisoners is the Last Prisoner Project’s main objective, it doesn’t stop there. Much of the group’s work is dedicated to ensuring that prisoners are given opportunities after they get out.  

Craig Cesal and Evelyn LaChapelle, both in attendance at the Blues Brothers show, were locked up for never even touching the plant. In 2001, Cesal was charged with conspiring to distribute marijuana because his Chicago-area truck repair company was working on a Florida company’s feet of trucks used to haul marijuana. He had no prior convictions and was sentenced with life without the possibility of parole.

“It’s too typical, unfortunately,” Cesal says. Twenty years later, on January 20, 2021, Cesal received clemency. The Last Prisoner Project hired him as a Program Associate the day he walked out of prison.

“They were instrumental in convincing President Trump to grant clemency to me and 11 other marijuana lifers,” he said. “I had no faith in it. I didn’t believe it until I walked out of the front gate of the prison.”

Meanwhile, LaChapelle, a former high-end hospitality professional, was charged for depositing profits from unregulated cannabis sales into her bank account. She was tried in North Carolina—a state she had never even been to—and sentenced to 87 months in jail, all of which she served. An attractive young woman with a solid résumé, she landed a position as a sales and catering coordinator at the Omni, which was in line with her career path before going to prison. Because she was working in California, she wasn’t required to include any past criminal charges on her application. However, with a quick Google search, a co-worker found her case online and reported her to Human Resources. She was fired immediately.

“It reminded me that I have a résumé, I have a degree. I have experience, and I still got fired,” LaChapelle said. “So, for the men who come out of prison, for the people who look the part of a felon—because I don’t look like a felon, even with all that going for me, I was fired—what does that say about our second chances?”

Raising Awareness

As businesses are built and cannabis becomes more deeply woven into our daily culture, Steve DeAngelo and the Last Prisoner Project team are working hard to ensure that the very people who introduced the plant to our culture are not forgotten. 

“For me this is a global issue. We take it everywhere. The Last Prisoner Project is part of an overall approach that I have,” DeAngelo said. “I want the cannabis industry to be more of an engine of change and justice than an engine of wealth creation and concentration of money and power. That’s what I really want.”

As made evident by last week’s turnout at MJ Unpacked and MJBizCon in Las Vegas, there is a huge amount of opportunity in this burgeoning industry. But the onus is on the consumer to engage and stay informed rather than simply having your product of choice delivered to your door, sitting back and indulging. 

“We have this amazing opportunity with cannabis to really do something different and build an industry that spreads wealth widely and empowers people who are usually disadvantaged. We can do that,” DeAngelo says. “If we cannabis consumers insist on that and vote with our dollars and educate ourselves, then that can happen. If we don’t do that, if consumers don’t do that, if we don’t engage, it’s just going to be another fucking industry that makes money for some rich people who have more money than they need already.”

The post Blues Brothers Benefit Concert Reals in Over $70,000 appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Blues Brothers Benefit Concert Reels in Over $70,000

“These are not criminals, but heroes,” said cannabis activist Steve DeAngelo as he welcomed Richard DeLisi and Michael Thompson on stage before the Blues Brothers show in Las Vegas last Thursday night.

The concert was a special event organized by MJ Unpacked, a new cannabis conference connecting industry brands and retailers on the executive level.

Over 1,000 people were in attendance, spread throughout the juke-joint inspired House of Blues, sitting at high-top tables, on the red velvet seats in the second story mezzanine, and gathered on the hardwood paneled dance floor—all ready to share some laughs and good music in the name of cannabis reform. And it was a big night for the cannabis freedom movement. Approximately $70,000 were raised for DeAngelo’s nonprofit, the Last Prisoner Project, which was founded in 2019 with the mission of releasing prisoners serving time for nonviolent cannabis offenses.  

“There are 40,000 people in jail for trying to help people by touching a plant,” DeAngelo cried out to the audience. “Don’t forget our sisters and brothers as wealth is created.” 

DeLisi and Thompson were both released through the support of the Last Prisoner Project (LPP). Before last Thursday’s show commenced, they briefly shared their moving stories with the crowd. Prior to DeLisi’s release in December 2020, he was the longest active cannabis prisoner in the U.S., serving more than three decades of a lifetime sentence. Thompson, released in January 2021, served more than a quarter century of a 60-year sentence in a Michigan prison.

Michael Thompson, Steve DeAngelo and Richard DeLisi on stage before the Blues Brothers show in Las Vegas.

“It’s broken, and it needs to be fixed,” Thompson said, referring to the justice system that failed him. “Those in prison for marijuana need to be free!”

With tears in his eyes, Thompson struggled to get his final words out. A supportive DeAngelo with an arm around his shoulder stood next to him, rubbing his back, encouraging him to go on. Audience members cheered and applauded as Thompson thanked LPP for their support—for reuniting him with his family, for keeping him alive.  

Throughout the concert, slides were projected onto the stage’s backdrop, reminding and educating attendees of the problems that exist, what LPP is working towards, and how people can help. One slide read, “Despite widespread legal marijuana reform, cannabis arrests are actually increasing in several states,” and another offered people a way to take action: “Text freedom to 24365 to donate to Last Prisoner Project.”

Mary Bailey, the Last Prisoner Project’s managing director, firmly echoes the importance of education and sharing the powerful stories of those who are trapped behind bars for something that is now legal.

“We know that the injustice that is cannabis-related incarceration can only be counteracted by public attention paid to—and subsequent advocacy around—the issue,” Bailey said. “Leveraging the power of events like the Blues Brothers Benefit Concert is a critically important tool when helping to grow this desperately-needed public awareness, and we’re immensely grateful to those whose hard work and dedication made the concert a resounding success.”

Sitting down with DeAngelo in the venue’s “James Brown Room,” he provided a rundown of what these funds are used for: covering expenses for the families of prisoners; release grants; legal assistance; job placement.

“It really depends on what that particular prisoner needs, and then we attempt to provide that,” he said.

Cannabis & The Blues

Following DeAngelo’s on-stage introduction, the mood lightened. The Blues Brothers themselves—Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi—swaggered on stage donning black suits, shades and matching hats for an entertaining revue in which they reenacted the characters of Elwood and Zee Blues from the popular 1980 comedy release of the Blues Brothers. Backed by the talented Sacred Hearts band, the famous duo got in full character with chest slams, bare belly rolls, and some hilariously bad moves.

Jim Belushi performs at the House of Blues at a fundraiser for the Last Prisoner Project.

“It tickles me to dance with this 6’4” Canadian and sing alongside him,” Belushi said. “It just brings joy to my soul in every show. Of course, performing at the House of Blues, which we opened as The Blues Brothers, is a highlight, as well. All House of Blues venues are just so sexy and exotic and filled with the resonance of all the Blues legends and spirits.” 

At the close of the concert, Aykroyd auctioned off the opportunity to come on stage and sing the hit song “Soul Man.” Grow Generation’s president Michael Salaman and board member Paul Ciasullo both pledged $12,000.

George Jage, founder and CEO of Jage Media, which organized MJ Unpacked, says booking the Blues Brothers made sense for a number of reasons.

“When we were developing the show, we wanted to make sure we had a strong mission-based philosophy. We are here to serve the industry, but we also need to help support the industry and advocacy groups,” Jage said. “I’ve always been impressed with Mary Bailey and Steve DeAngelo. I think it’s one of the most important causes for our industry.”

Belushi has also served as an official advisor to the Last Prisoner Project since May 2020. He first got involved with the nonprofit after a venue fell through for another LPP fundraising event DeAngelo was organizing in Los Angeles.

“He called me in the morning, and we had the first fundraiser at my house that night,” Belushi recounts. “I was so deeply moved. I said, ‘How do I get in on this? I want to help.’”

In his LPP advisory role, Belushi says he helps spread awareness for the cause. And as a longtime entertainer turned cannabis farmer, he’s in an ideal position to help.

“My job is to get the word out,” he says. “Let’s free these men and women—now!; Write letters, donate money. Also, I call and speak with the survivors of the failed war on drugs when they’re released. I participate in fundraisers.”

Belushi is intimately connected with both music and marijuana. For him, it’s about more than operating a profitable business. It’s about bringing people together. It’s about healing.

“I’m hoping to create confidence in cannabis with the curious, the new consumer. I believe in the medicine,” he said. “Everybody knows somebody who’s suffering. Everybody. And the pathway to healing and the medicine of cannabis can really aid those who are suffering, including their families who witness the suffering.”

Needless to say, cannabis matters to Belushi, as it does to countless other Americans. And in the words of Steve DeAngelo, “If you’re not a Black or Brown person and you love cannabis, and you live in North America, you’ve got a debt to pay.”

The Short and Long Plays

As cannabis legalization picks up steam and continues to spread across the U.S., the Last Prisoner Project is making it known that pardons granted for cannabis offenses aren’t occurring at the same rate. Not a single cannabis law has passed that provides for the release of cannabis prisoners.

It seems logical that when laws are passed legalizing cannabis, those incarcerated for the thing that is no longer illegal (cannabis, in this case), should be automatically released. It should be written into the laws.

DeAngelo explains why this isn’t the case.

“I’ll tell you why it hasn’t been automatic. It’s because there hasn’t been an organization like LPP at the table,” he says. “There are a huge number of problems. The default position of the justice system is that once a prisoner is sentenced, they have to serve their sentence unless there’s some other judicial procedure that intervenes and releases them.”

He goes on to discuss the structural impediments in the way, the main one being that there are too many people in power opposed to releasing prisoners.

“One of the things the prohibitionists like to do is talk about how you can’t reward people who broke the rules, and you can’t let criminals go free. They have this point of principle about it,” he said. “Because there hasn’t been a voice that’s strongly advocated for the release of cannabis prisoners, it’s been an overlooked issue for many years in the cannabis freedom movement.”

With no amnesty laws currently in place, LPP is focusing on other ways to release prisoners.

“When you’re doing work to get prisoners out, you have to fight on multiple levels simultaneously,” DeAngelo said, explaining that they’re also looking ahead, working to ensure that new cannabis laws passed in the future include the release of prisoners.

“We’re lobbying to make sure that happens, but it hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “We have people in prison, so we have to use other ways to get them out. One is with the clemency process.”

In every state that’s legalized cannabis, the governor has the ability to release all cannabis prisoners with the stroke of a pen. However, it’s not so easy. Clemency, as DeAngelo explains it, is a difficult process that comes down to a lack of resources. To grant clemency, a legal document must be filed for each prisoner, and each document must be individually reviewed by someone in the governor’s office. With hundreds of clemency petitions and maybe one person reviewing them on a part-time basis, the road to freedom is slow.

“So, what we’ve been doing is working with governors’ offices to try and get them to agree to a mass release of cannabis prisoners instead of considering these petitions one by one,” DeAngelo said.

The work of LPP is limited, however, to states where adult-use cannabis is legal.

“It’s basically impossible to argue for the release of prisoners for something that’s still a crime. It’s only been since we’ve had those victories that we really have the ability to go to the governors and say, ‘Hey it’s not illegal anymore, you should really release everybody who’s in prison for the thing that’s not illegal anymore.’ If it’s still illegal, you don’t have an argument to make. It’s really only in the last few years that it’s been possible to make this argument in an effective way.”

Life After Bars

While releasing cannabis prisoners is the Last Prisoner Project’s main objective, it doesn’t stop there. Much of the group’s work is dedicated to ensuring that prisoners are given opportunities after they get out.  

Craig Cesal and Evelyn LaChapelle, both in attendance at the Blues Brothers show, were locked up for never even touching the plant. In 2001, Cesal was charged with conspiring to distribute marijuana because his Chicago-area truck repair company was working on a Florida company’s feet of trucks used to haul marijuana. He had no prior convictions and was sentenced with life without the possibility of parole.

“It’s too typical, unfortunately,” Cesal says. Twenty years later, on January 20, 2021, Cesal received clemency. The Last Prisoner Project hired him as a Program Associate the day he walked out of prison.

“They were instrumental in convincing President Trump to grant clemency to me and 11 other marijuana lifers,” he said. “I had no faith in it. I didn’t believe it until I walked out of the front gate of the prison.”

Meanwhile, LaChapelle, a former high-end hospitality professional, was charged for depositing profits from unregulated cannabis sales into her bank account. She was tried in North Carolina—a state she had never even been to—and sentenced to 87 months in jail, all of which she served. An attractive young woman with a solid résumé, she landed a position as a sales and catering coordinator at the Omni, which was in line with her career path before going to prison. Because she was working in California, she wasn’t required to include any past criminal charges on her application. However, with a quick Google search, a co-worker found her case online and reported her to Human Resources. She was fired immediately.

“It reminded me that I have a résumé, I have a degree. I have experience, and I still got fired,” LaChapelle said. “So, for the men who come out of prison, for the people who look the part of a felon—because I don’t look like a felon, even with all that going for me, I was fired—what does that say about our second chances?”

Raising Awareness

As businesses are built and cannabis becomes more deeply woven into our daily culture, Steve DeAngelo and the Last Prisoner Project team are working hard to ensure that the very people who introduced the plant to our culture are not forgotten. 

“For me this is a global issue. We take it everywhere. The Last Prisoner Project is part of an overall approach that I have,” DeAngelo said. “I want the cannabis industry to be more of an engine of change and justice than an engine of wealth creation and concentration of money and power. That’s what I really want.”

As made evident by last week’s turnout at MJ Unpacked and MJBizCon in Las Vegas, there is a huge amount of opportunity in this burgeoning industry. But the onus is on the consumer to engage and stay informed rather than simply having your product of choice delivered to your door, sitting back and indulging. 

“We have this amazing opportunity with cannabis to really do something different and build an industry that spreads wealth widely and empowers people who are usually disadvantaged. We can do that,” DeAngelo says. “If we cannabis consumers insist on that and vote with our dollars and educate ourselves, then that can happen. If we don’t do that, if consumers don’t do that, if we don’t engage, it’s just going to be another fucking industry that makes money for some rich people who have more money than they need already.”

The post Blues Brothers Benefit Concert Reels in Over $70,000 appeared first on Cannabis Now.

MJBizCon CEO Chris Walsh Talks Success After Pandemic

As CEO of MJBizCon, the largest cannabis industry trade show in the world, Chris Walsh sure looks like a happy man past the halfway mark of this year’s iteration of the must-attend expo.

“I’m excited,” he said, looking around at the more than 1,000 exhibitors spread out over the cavernous 250,000 square-foot Las Vegas Convention Center. Just as he says this, boxing icon and cannabis super entrepreneur Mike Tyson walks by with a small army of security guards and handlers en route to the Futurola booth (the former heavyweight champ signed the first international cannabis co-branding deal for Tyson Farms with the Dutch company in 2019).

In 2021, for the first time in its history, the city of Las Vegas designated “MJBizCon Week” as the conference continues to earn its reputation as a best-in-class expo. In fact, many continue to refer to MJBizCon as the “Comic Con of weed” for its scope and importance to the cannabis industry.

As for this year’s conference, the first in two years due to the global pandemic, Walsh is clearly pleased.

“The enthusiasm at this year’s event is off the charts,” he said. “Not only is excitement a couple of levels higher than ever before, but so many of the attendees this year are the true decision makers in the industry. More than ever, the leaders of these companies are here in person.”

When asked about any lingering misconceptions about MJBizCon out there, Walsh shrugs his shoulders and said, “Some people believe that MJBizCon is a stereotypical stoner event or festival — and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

As evidenced by Tyson’s entrance moments earlier, Walsh says that a few years ago when rock legend Gene Simmons attended the award-winning conference that, too, created quite the stir. “He was something else,” Walsh said.

Walsh, who’s also the founding editor of the conference’s publication, “MJ Biz Daily,” says he’s very happy the conference is Las Vegas-based, but there may be a chance of expansion outside the U.S. “Right before the pandemic, we were having conversations about possibly holding events in Bogotá, Copenhagen and Canada. We’ll see what happens.”

When asked for something he hasn’t told anyone yet about this year’s conference, the executive laughs and says, “Well, let me think about that for a moment. I’ve had 17 Red Bulls since the event started, and I should hit 19 by the end making it approximately a 27% increase from the number I had in 2019.”

As Walsh concludes the conversation, the glint in the executive’s eye can’t be denied: MJBizCon is back—and how.

The post MJBizCon CEO Chris Walsh Talks Success After Pandemic appeared first on Cannabis Now.

The Return of The Hall of Flowers

The past two years have affected us all in the cannabis business in unusual ways, from being on lockdown, to being declared an “essential business.” And now we’re fighting for survival in a difficult market.

Those who have survived were out in full force for the Hall of Flowers cannabis B2B show at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, Sept. 22-23. Perhaps the most overheard comment during both the days of the event was, “What a joy it is to be together again.” At last, after such a long break, dedicated cannabis business entrepreneurs were given a chance to gather, laugh, hug and share stories.

Of course, the players are the same. The last Hall of Flowers event took place in 2019, where many of the original companies, distributors, retailers and farms were clearly not present at this week’s gathering. Instead, there were several new interesting (and sometimes flashy) businesses. For the old-timers it was a bittersweet reunion, recognizing the loss of compatriots who have recently quit while also feeling thrilled to see dear old friends who have shared the pathway to legality all these years.

Outdoor Activations Go All Out

Three large halls were filled with various booths. Outdoors, there were sprinklings of large, elaborate installations – some were two levels high, offering fantastic views over the open chill spaces on the lawn below. Ispire, one of the world’s largest vape manufacturers, built a fantastic area with a second-floor lounge space, complete with fan and mister to keep you truly chilled while smoking through one of their outrageous new dabbing device designs.

Meanwhile, CannaCraft blasted non-stop music from their 2nd story outdoor area, punctuated every half hour or so by reminders to keep your mask on at all times while inside the main halls. In light of the coronavirus, many precautions were taken: All guests were required to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 diagnostic test within 48 hours of entry. Testing kits were available on site for anyone who did not meet these requirements. While some participants complained, the extra security did afford everyone there the comfort to share careful hugs, fist-bumps and even some joints.

Finding Success Together

The Hall of Flowers is a unique B2B cannabis event. Participating brands paid well for their booth spaces, and curious guests (who were allowed entry on the second day only) also had a hefty entrance fee. Retailers and distributors, who wandered about making new connections, did not have a cover charge.

At each booth, vouchers were passed to interested visitors who wanted samples. Vouchers could then then be turned in at the “Dispensary Hall” where several salespeople efficiently redeemed them for their chosen samples. The customers paid only $3 for each sample, plus taxes, which was actually a good deal. Samples included pre-rolls, hash, topicals, edibles, carts and more. Guests mostly left the show with large bags bursting with $3 goodies.

Almost everyone agreed this was a very successful gathering, as many deals were made, which is the main objective. Wendy Baker, owner and founder of Space Gems edibles since 2013, is one of the old-timers in the biz at this point. In her opinion, Hall of Flowers is one of the very best cannabis events, affording her the opportunity to close deals and meet buyers from all parts of the U.S.

Baker shared her large booth space with Craig Nejerdley of Talking Trees, a regular winner at The Emerald Cup. Nejerdley does it all: He grows beautiful flowers and owns a distribution company and retail shop in Humboldt County. He is a community-oriented man who wants the best for his fellow cannabis companies. As he explained, “We will all only survive if we do this together.”

And isn’t that the core of cannabis philosophy? During the past few months, while the glut of mediocre cannabis grown in giant greenhouses hits the market, prices for legacy growers and brands is dropping, and the message is clear: We must join forces.

Cannabis Enterprises, Big and Small

Hall of Flowers in person B2B cannabis event September 2021.

Collaborations are the way to go for many – Radiant Distribution has a co-op brand for legacy farmers under the name Cosmic. Several of their farmers choose to donate 10 percent of each sale to the Last Prisoner’s Project, which is also a wonderful trend to see in the world of cannabis. As Peter Pietrangeli, VP of Sales at Cosmic said, “everyone on our supply chain has contributed.”

A few visitors did say the influence of “Big Business” was annoyingly evident. “You can smell more corporate cologne than weed in there,” commented one attendee upon leaving one of the large exhibit halls. But there was plenty of smoking was going on outside: At the Puffco booth, decked out with cozy white chairs and fake palm trees, Jessica Hwang from Feeling Frosty filled pipes for passersby and clearly loved seeing their contented smiles.

But there actually was perfume inside one of the halls, at the Drew Martin x Heretic booth. Martin himself offered whiffs of what he calls, “the world’s first THC-infused fragrance.” It was divine! Innovative products like this make our industry extra exciting. Some companies clearly catered to the Y and Z generations, some to an urban-slick style, and some to sophisticated elegance.

A big surprise was the guy from Talking Terps, Hope Lord, who is creatively making bank from cannabis, while never getting near the plant. Lord designs cannabis toys and clothing, and his quirky and colorful style has taken off. “I sold 300 of these Terp Crawford toys at $200 each in one hour today,” he said. Whoa. That is a good businessman who knows his demographic.

All kinds of cannabis enterprises, both big and small, were represented. Not to be missed was the Italian booth with 3 separate companies filling the space with cannabis delights: biscotti hashish and pre-rolls, authentic Italian edibles from Mammamia, and affordable concentrates from Tutti.

Even after a long day in the hot sun and warm halls, people were still ready to party. Several events took place all over Sonoma County, catering to the many facets of cannabis fans. For a group of people who have been so separate over the past 24 months, this was the perfect chance to re-learn how to socialize in public again.

Thanks, as always, to cannabis for bringing us together.

The post The Return of The Hall of Flowers appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Lume’s Kevin Kuethe Awarded for Leadership

Kevin Kuethe went through childhood thinking he’d be a fitness trainer or a professional athlete. He landed in cannabis instead, but his upbeat personality and cheek-to-cheek smile suggests he found his true calling.

Kuethe, 36, is part of an executive team that oversees 870 employees across 22 retail stores, 50 acres of outdoor grows and 250,000 square feet of indoor grows at Lume. He joined the Evart, Michigan-based company in 2017, and worked his way up to his current position as the company’s chief cultivation officer. 

At this year’s annual Cannabis Conference, held Aug. 24-26 in Las Vegas, the Montana native was honored with one of six leadership awards given to the some of the industry’s most influential and successful people.

“I’m really grateful, honored and motivated,” Kuethe said of receiving the award. “I appreciate that I’m being recognized for the things I’m doing in my community and to my employees.”

PHOTO Keene.Media

From Fitness Trainer to Cannabis Grower

Many leaders in legal cannabis have taken unique paths to the industry, and Kuethe is no exception.

He admitted that growing marijuana was never in his plans when he majored in exercise science at the University of Montana. He was more interested in body-building and personal training. Within months of graduating, he’d built up a clientele of 40 people who he worked with one-on-one, helping them lift heavier and live healthier.

Kuethe liked the job, but he wanted more. He didn’t know what that next step was, though, until a childhood friend invited him down to Arizona.

Matt Morgan was the CEO of Bloom Dispensaries and wanted Kuethe, just 28-years-old at the time, to be the company’s chief operating officer. Kuethe says his first time laying eyes on a cannabis grow was inside Bloom’s 30,000 square-foot cultivation center — one of the country’s largest legal marijuana operations back in 2012.

The job, if he took it, would entail figuring out ways to spend less money, grow more weed and improve the quality of Bloom’s flower. 

Whether he realized it or not, the stars had aligned for Kuethe to join the cannabis industry.

“Back then I couldn’t fully comprehend the value of what I was walking into,” Kuethe recalled, “but I knew it was a big deal. Now, I look back and realize I was incredibly lucky to get in at a place of that size at that point, and to get the experience I did.”

The biggest challenge was diving into an industry he hardly knew anything thing about. But his lifelong mentality of being “an optimization person” took command. Kuethe didn’t need a master’s degree to have success in marijuana. His passion and self-described obsession with detail proved sufficient.

“I just love to make things better,” he said. “Even when I was a kid, I was trying to find the best way to do things. I used to love root beer floats, and I made it my mission to try and pair the best root beer with the best ice cream.”

When Kuethe joined Bloom, he was one of just three company employees. Six months later, the company had 120 people on staff.

Leaving Las Vegas to Roll the Dice in Michigan

PHOTO Courtesy of Lume

Kuethe left Bloom after just two years, when Morgan sold the company in 2014. He found his next pair of jobs in nearby Las Vegas, Nevada, where cannabis was on the verge of becoming recreational and the industry was scaling up to prepare for a surge in demand. He started at Blossom, a boutique cultivator near the Las Vegas Strip, then after just 12 months, took an offer to be the chief cultivation officer at GB Sciences — a larger cultivator in south Vegas that was publicly traded on over-the-counter markets.

He didn’t last long in Sin City, though. 

Lume founder Dave Morrow toured GB Sciences’ cultivation and was blown away with the Vegas company’s young COO, according to Noelle Skodzinski, Cannabis Business Times editorial director who presented Kuethe with his leadership award last month. Above all, Morrow was drawn to Kuethe’s positive attitude and motivational effect on his employees.

Morrow waited just a few days to offer Kuethe a job, which was quickly accepted. It wasn’t long before Kuethe had worked his way up to an executive role.

“He’s unique in the sense that he really pays it forward,” Skodzinski said. “He’s making changes within his company but also within society. That’s what makes him special.”

Joy wouldn’t be the first word that comes to mind for most people considering a move to the tiny town of Evart, population 1,500, in the rural center of the Mitten State. Located 80 miles north of the closest major city, it lacks basic amenities like fresh food. Its average high temperature in the winter is below 32 degrees.

But Kuethe saw potential. He viewed his new company and city as opportunities to make his mark — both as a business leader and a member of the local community. 

His mother, Kimberly Lugthart, raised him to believe true leaders give back to the neighborhoods they work and live in. Lugthart brought young Kevin and his sister to volunteer with her every summer in his hometown of Missoula when he was growing up. Together, the three cleaned up state parks and handed out food and medical kits to people affected by natural disasters. They also served at local soup kitchens and planted trees.

When Kuethe graduated high school, he spent eight months in AmeriCorps and donated 2,000 hours of community service. He continues to volunteer each year, and is now encouraging his employees to do the same.

Lume staffers get paid for up to eight hours community service each year on the company’s dime. Kuethe has shown the residents of Evart, most of whom stringently opposed a cannabis company putting its headquarters in the city, that he’s serious about giving back.

“I’m so proud of him, because he’s sincerely and legitimately a good-hearted person,” Lugthart said of her son. “He’s a positive force in the world, and this award is just one more expression of that.”

Finding the Right Lights

Fohse Grow Lights
PHOTO Courtesy of Fohse and Keene.Media

Kuethe credits much of his success to the lighting he uses across Lume’s 250,000 square-feet of indoor cultivation. Just like the root beer floats he made as a kid, Kuethe experimented with hundreds of different light combinations at varying frequencies, powers and positions before choosing high-powered LED lights from Las Vegas-based Fohse

While Lume also harvests on 50 acres of outdoor grows, Kuethe said he relies exclusively on the Fohse lights for several months of the year when Michigan’s snowy winter season makes growing outside impossible.

Choosing Fohse wasn’t an overnight decision. Kuethe tested well over a dozen different LED products from different companies, placing them side-by-side in his grow rooms under the same conditions. He claims the conditions were carefully controlled to the point that he could produce “scientific studies with legit data.” The Fohse lights were the first to exceed the setup already in place when he arrived at Lume.

Kuethe said the other LEDs he tried produced great results from the top of the plant, but the results weren’t as strong in the middle and bottom portions. The ‘popcorn’ buds produced by the non-Fohse lights were only good enough to grind up and sell in prerolls.

“There’s more bud and it’s higher quality,” Kuethe said of his plants with the Fohse lighting. “And it’s denser and lower in the canopy, so there’s real light penetration all the way through.”

His tinkering over the past three years has resulted in Lume producing almost four times the yields Kuethe was putting out when he first started. As he demonstrates for his employees, his company and the tiny town of Evart, Kuethe says he works tirelessly to help his plants reach their full potential.

The post Lume’s Kevin Kuethe Awarded for Leadership appeared first on Cannabis Now.

CHAMPS Las Vegas 2021: Delta-8 and the DEA Raid Rumor

A significant portion of the cannabis industry is nomadic. Business conferences and trade shows fill vast convention halls with booths plugging brands. Eager pilgrims, fresh from cross-country flights or energy-drink fueled drives, wander from table to table, pockets bulging with business cards. Everyone is hoping to strike a deal at a hotel suite afterparty.

After the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the trade-show circuit, the rhythm of these show-and-hopefully-sell events appeared to be returning to normal last week with the CHAMPS Trade Show’s visit to Las Vegas. 

With its busy airport, abundant accommodations and myriad of other distractions, Vegas is the mecca for these gatherings, no matter what industry you’re in. And CHAMPS is a big one. While CHAMPS is considered a counterculture expo, it also appeals to the masses since products — primarily lifestyle accessories and ancillary goods — can be sold anywhere. Think pipes and vapes; think whatever you can find at a smoke shop, truck stop or novelty shop; think CBD supplements and smokable hemp. 

Tommy Chong was there, and so was Mike Tyson. Even Joe Exotic showed up — well, his brand did, since he’s in prison. According to TMZ, the brand was launching a cannabis seltzer called “Tiger Piss.” All extremely normal stuff for a cannabis tradeshow. But then this happened:

Starting Wednesday, July 28, breathless reports of a law-enforcement raid at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where CHAMPS had opened on July 27, started to fly around the internet, with the fires fanned by credulous Instagram accounts and unsourced blog posts.

“EXCLUSIVE,” blared Cannatechtoday.com, “Cannabis Trade Show Raided by the Feds.” A common source for this was @TheBlacklistxyz, a popular Instagram aggregator — which went even further, reporting that  in addition to the DEA, the FBI was there too — a wild, nonsensical twist picked up in turn by TheWeedBlog.

It’s been a long time since federal cops staged a major raid on the legal cannabis industry. A DEA raid would be huge news. But for some reason, no major media outlet had picked it up — and in an era saturated with smartphones, nobody had managed to snap even a blurry photo of the “raid.” 

Meanwhile, elsewhere on social media, there was a grinning Tommy Chong and a steely-eyed Iron Mike, carrying on as normal. If this was a raid, it was the chillest raid in history. What was going on?

Artist booths at the CHAMPS trade show in Las Vegas.

New Rules Arriving Fast and Furious

As it quickly turned out, not a single one of the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies was present — not the FBI, DEA, FCC or the FAA. Most of the accounts that posted otherwise quietly removed or edited their posts. 

But this isn’t to say there wasn’t lawbreaking afoot at CHAMPS. 

On June 4, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed into law Senate Bill 49, which outlaws “synthetic cannabinoids from being produced, sold or offered for sale” in the state. This includes Delta-8 THC, a less powerful cousin to the Delta-9 THC found in cannabis. 

Over the past year, Delta-8 has exploded in popularity, since it can be easily procured from hemp-derived CBD, and with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, it was deemed legal under federal law since it’s a hemp product. (This would be why reports of a DEA or FBI raid, at a show that did not welcome Delta-9 THC products, made no sense.) However, state law is not federal law — and anyone following SB49 would know that Nevada now bans Delta-8 THC. That meant the legal landscape for CHAMPS — and any other cannabis trade show in Las Vegas — had shifted, creating potential for significant disruption for any would-be vendors in the Delta-8 space.

But it wasn’t until July 17, about ten days before CHAMPS’s doors opened, that show vendors — some of whom paid around $3,200 each for one of the show’s 1,500 tables — received an URGENT email from organizers. 

The night before, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) informed CHAMPS that SB49 was indeed in effect. No vendor at CHAMPS would be allowed to sell or even advertise anything Delta-8-related — not so much as a brochure saying Delta-8 would be available somewhere else. Even mentioning Delta-8 was problematic.

“While we know this may be disappointing to you, we are required to abide by the decision made from the state and the LVCVA,” the email stated. “We hereby ask that you make absolutely sure that all displays you have, including logos, merchandise or any other visual imagery does not promote Delta-7, Delta-8 or Delta-10 products, as you will be fined and then removed from the show by the authorities.”

But that wasn’t the only federally legal product banned at CHAMPS.

CBD Edibles Banned

On July 23, attendees received another email with more rules. Anything edible with CBD in it was also banned. You could hand out all the CBD lotion, vaping oil or flower you wanted, but “No food and beverage containing any CBD will be permitted to be distributed anywhere on the convention grounds” due to rules set by Centerplate, the company contracted by LVCVA to provide concessions at the convention center. The email invited vendors with any outstanding questions to a Zoom meeting later that day. Additionally, upon check-in, all vendors were notified both verbally and in writing about the updated rules.

Despite at least four email notifications, as well as a personal phone call to everyone that CHAMPS believed to have Delta-8 products, not everyone heeded the memo. 

On the morning of July 28, the show’s second day, vendors received yet another message — this time instructing vendors that they “MUST be at the Convention Center today, no later than 10 a.m. to discuss issues.”

The day prior, someone from the LVCVA had been offered “both a D8 product and a CBD food product,” CHAMPS President Jeff Hirschfield told Cannabis Now. CHAMPS was not informed of which vendor gave out the samples, but CHAMPS staffers did ask two vendors to leave that failed to follow numerous requests to clean up and adhere to all guidelines, Hirschfield said. This delayed the show’s opening until 12 p.m., one hour later than scheduled.  

That 10 a.m. meeting “to discuss issues” had somehow morphed into a “DEA and FBI raid” by the time weed Instagram was done playing a game of telephone. 

Representatives from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority did not return several telephone and email messages seeking comment. 

Hirschfield had nothing but kind words to say about LVCVA — after all, the Delta-8 ban wasn’t their idea. Some vendors, however, were less than impressed — and figure they’ll be dropping Las Vegas from their trade-show tour itinerary.

What’s the Point?

“CHAMPS was extremely transparent — you could not have any kind of Delta-8 products at the show,” said Shawn Honaker, the owner of Yeti Farms, a Colorado-based manufacturer of Delta-8 gummies

Honaker was in Las Vegas to find new distributors — whom he had to woo, somehow, without being able to offer any product or even any brochures saying he had a product. He’d made 70,000 non-medicated gummies to put into 7,000 packages, he said. By the time LVCVA passed on the bad news to CHAMPS, it was too late for Delta-8 vendors to find a plan B. 

“Part of my gig is handing stuff out,” he said. “I called CHAMPS, and I said, ‘What am I supposed to do, just have my business cards and lanyards there?’”

“This is a gummy I can buy at a gas station. And they’re treating it like it’s a kilo of cocaine,” he said, adding that the new Nevada ban on Delta-8 made the legal landscape… a little weird, and not at all conducive to a successful big-tent cannabis industry” trade show.

“I can sell all the kratom and all the nitrous whip-its I want. And I cannot give away a single, unmedicated, sugar gummy,” he added. With that law, “What’s the point of the show?” he asked. “At the end of the day, it’s a black eye on the Las Vegas cannabis scene. I won’t be investing any more money on Nevada cannabis and hemp shows.”

Hirschfield disputed that analysis, pointing out that Las Vegas’s only shortcoming (aside from the ban on CBD food and beverage) is with Delta-8 THC. All Delta-8 vendors were offered half price booths in Atlantic City or any other state CHAMPS is in, providing Delta-8 is legal in that state, he added.  

The next CHAMPS show is later this summer in Atlantic City, New Jersey where, for now, Delta-8 THC is legal. As it stands, cannabis trade shows will have to stick to the familiar when visiting Las Vegas: Tommy Chong products and autographs, Joe Exotic’s Tiger Piss, and Mike Tyson’s latest blunt wrap collab.  

The post CHAMPS Las Vegas 2021: Delta-8 and the DEA Raid Rumor appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Europe’s Growing Cannabis Industry

The European continent is home to a massive economy. It’s so large that four of the world’s top ten economies are located on the European continent (as measured by GDP). If a company in any major industry can gain a strong foothold in Europe, then it should be set up to reap potentially enormous financial rewards. This is particularly true for cannabis companies as reform continues to spread across the European continent.

Europe has long been home to some of the best cannabis communities on Earth. For several decades, Amsterdam, Netherlands’ capital, was considered the undisputed cannabis capital of the world. Tourists from around the globe traveled there to visit cannabis cafes and purchase world-class products.

Barcelona is another example of a European city that is home to a robust cannabis community. Hundreds of cannabis clubs operate in a legal grey area in the city, and cannabis is easy for travelers and locals to find. Many other cannabis-friendly cities are sprinkled throughout the European continent and remain popular destinations for cannabis enthusiasts.

A New Era Begins

As of this writing, no European country has fully legalized cannabis for adult use. Even in Amsterdam, where cannabis has historically been easy to find and purchase, cannabis is not technically 100 percent legal. Rather than permitting and embracing a completely legal industry, Europe’s cannabis-friendly jurisdictions have historically operated under policies that tolerate an unregulated cannabis industry.

However, In recent years, that has changed. Thanks to cannabis reforms, the legal cannabis industry has ramped up considerably in many countries in Europe – most notably in Germany. Since 2017, every doctor in Germany has been allowed to prescribe medical cannabis. That policy change initiated a tectonic shift in Europe’s cannabis industry landscape.

Initially, Germany did not have the infrastructure in place to supply its medical cannabis program. Consequently, Germany became the top destination for cannabis imports from other countries. Not every country allows medical cannabis imports, and even fewer have the market base to necessitate a large amount of imported medical cannabis products. Due to Germany’s unique position in the international cannabis scene, it has since become the legal cannabis industry capital of Europe and has ushered in a new era in Europe’s cannabis industry.

Getting in Early Makes a Big Difference

In recent years, the cannabis industry has matured for many European countries. Even so, the continent’s legal industry as a whole is still largely in its infancy. Once Europe’s policies fully embrace the cannabis industry across the continent, we will surely witness the arrival of some of the world’s largest cannabis companies that can be expected to stand strong for decades to come. Entrepreneurs and investors should get in as early as possible to ride the growing wave.

It’s not every day that a new, lucrative industry is created virtually overnight. 

Europe’s cannabis industry is currently governed by a patchwork of laws – but that will change. The future of Europe’s cannabis industry will be far more homogenized than it is now on the policy side, which will make it easier for entrepreneurs to navigate the industry on a continental scale.

Entrepreneurs joining the European industry later down the road will be at a distinct disadvantage compared to those who do the hard work of jumping in early and navigating the turbulent waters while building their brands. By the time uniform rules and regulations are in place, many consumers and patients will have already gravitated towards brands and services that they like and know.

How to Get an Edge in the Industry

Successfully diving into an industry full of ups and downs is not easy. It requires a certain kind of entrepreneurial mindset, hard work and a lot of learning and getting to know others working in the cannabis space. Education and networking are largely a matter of being at the right place at the right time.

With that in mind, the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in Berlin is an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the latest policies and business opportunities in Europe. ICBC’s conference in Berlin, taking place Aug. 25-27, 2021, is the largest cannabis B2B event in Europe and will feature leading policy and industry experts from around the globe. 

It will also serve as the top industry networking opportunity on the continent, with industry representatives from as many as 60 countries expected to be in attendance. This year will also feature an ICBC Global Investment Forum event the day before the B2B conference, making it an even better opportunity to learn and network.

The next five to ten years will largely determine who dominates Europe’s cannabis industry for the next century and beyond. It’s very likely that we will never see as much of an opportunity to gain a lucrative footprint in Europe’s legal cannabis industry as we do right now. Timing is everything. 

The post Europe’s Growing Cannabis Industry appeared first on Cannabis Now.