Benzinga Chicago Cannabis Capital Conference Highlights Women, Minorities

Social equity, preferably known as equity empowerment, was the name of the game at the 15th iteration of the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference (BCCC), which took place at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago on September 13 and 14.  Adult-use cannabis consumption, possession and sales of cannabis products are legal in the State of Illinois.

Through the BCCC series, Benzinga “strives to put a spotlight on the conversation surrounding social equity via panel discussions with organizations that are combating inequality in the cannabis industry, individuals who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, and policymakers who are leading the charge on writing legislation to undo the impacts of prohibition,” according to the company event’s website.

​Keeping in line with that mission, Benzinga offer​ed​ discounted conference tickets to owners of marijuana businesses​ that​ have received state certification for their social equity initiatives.

Women + Minorities

Additionally, Benzinga offers scholarships for women and minority-owned businesses. To that end, the company partnered with organizations, including WomenGrow, and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, to showcase their associates on Benzinga’s conference stages and in the exhibit hall.

One of those presenters included Amber Senter of Supernova Women. Despite suffering from Lupus, Senter leads the charge via her 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to empower BIWOC to become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space through education, advocacy, and network building.

In the expo hall, female-represented brands were out in full force, including Chicago Norml’s Edi Moore, My Bud Vase’s Doreen Sullivan, MtoM’s Christine Wilson, Illinois Equity Staffing’s Shawnee Williams, HerHighness’ Allison Krongard and Laura Eisman, Budwell’s Sara Hussain, and CannaBellaLux’s Tiffany Woodman, among others.

Women-led brands who pitched from the stage included House of Puff’s Kristina Lopez Adduci, Black Buddah’s Roz McCarthy and 40Tons’s Loriel Alegrete.

In The Ring

Apart from the strong representation of female brands, Benzinga also welcomed more than 150 speakers from top-performing cannabis companies. Three executives of Tyson 2.0, including the legendary heavyweight boxing champion himself, landed on the roster. While retired from the sport, Mike Tyson is now a regular on the cannabis conference tour. During his press conference in the expo hall with former iconic WWE superstar Rick Flair, the latter said, “I love being relevant; and being in marijuana keeps you relevant.”

Mike Tyson, Rick Flair at Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference

Benzinga’s VP of Events, Elliot Lane, is pleased with the level of participation from all avenues.

“Chicago was our 15th iteration of the Cannabis Capital Conference and second this year,” he said. “The turnout of industry executives, investors and media was overwhelmingly positive, and the response from our attendees has been glowing.”

The Envelope Please…

Of special note were the first annual Benzinga Awards. “Finding the best of the best in cannabis is no easy feat, but someone has to do it. So, we assembled a panel of high-level judges to help us determine who are the people and organizations driving the cannabis industry forward,” said Chief Zinger Jason Raznick.

According to Benzinga, the awards celebrate new, creative, innovative and outstanding people, solutions and companies in the cannabis industry.

Benzinga Cannabis Awards

The winners of this year’s Benzinga Awards are as follows:

  • MOST IMPACTFUL CANNABIS EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Ben Kovler, CEO, founder and chairman of Green Thumb Industries 
  • “BRETT ROPER AWARD” FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Nancy Whiteman, founder and CEO of Wana Brands
  • FRIEND OF THE INDUSTRY AWARD: Rep. David Joyce (R) of Ohio told the audience: “God bless you all for taking on this fight. I am going to keep doing my best to help you.”
  • CANNABIS ADVOCATE OF THE YEAR: Mary Bailey of the Last Prisoner Project
  • SOCIAL EQUITY AWARD: Desiree Perez of the The Parent Company
  • BEST CANNABIS LEADER UNDER 40: Luke Anderson, co-founder of Cann
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN BUILDING TRUST: Emily Paxhia, co-founder of Poseidon Investment
  • MOST EFFECTIVE CELEBRITY CANNABIS BRAND: Cookies, founded by Berner
  • CANNABIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF THE YEAR: US Cannabis Council
  • CANNABIS LIFESTYLE REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Jon Cappetta, High Times Magazine
  • CANNABIS POLICY REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Kyle Jaeger, Marijuana Moment
  • CANNABIS FINANCE REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Tim Seymour, CNBC
  • CANNABIS BUSINESS REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Berke, Insider
  • BEST EUROPEAN CANNABIS COMPANY: TILRAY Brands
  • BEST LATIN AMERICAN CANNABIS COMPANY: Khiron Life Sciences
  • BEST CANADIAN CANNABIS COMPANY: Village Farms
  • HOTTEST CANNABIS TECHNOLOGY: Weedmaps
  • BEST CANNABIS LAW FIRM: Foley Hoag, LLP
  • BEST CANNABIS ACCOUNTING FIRM: Crowe LLP
  • BEST INVESTMENT RESEARCH: Scott Greiper, Viridian Capital
  • BEST CANNABIS INDUSTRY ANALYST: Matt Bottomley, Cannacord
  • BEST USE OF CAPITAL: Jushi Holdings
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS LENDER: Pelorus Equity Group
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS ETF: YOLO – AdvisorShares
  • CANNABIS INVESTORS AWARD – INSTITUTIONAL: Ricky Sandler, Eminence Capital
  • CANNABIS INVESTORS AWARD – PRIVATE EQUITY / VC: Mitch Baruchowitz, Merida Capital
  • BEST CANNABIS RETAIL EXPANSION STRATEGY: Trulieve
  • BEST CANNABIS PARTNERSHIP: TILT, which brought a true social equity partnership to the Shinnecock Indian Nation
  • BEST USE OF CAPITAL: Jushi Holdings
  • BEST M&A DEAL: Flora Growth
  • MOST ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY OPERATOR: Geomat Patented Water Recovery Systems
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS BRAND: Miss Grass
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS SMALL BUSINESS: House of Saka – Cannabis-infused wines from Napa Valley

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Benzinga Chicago Cannabis Capital Conference Wows Participants

Social equity, preferably known as equity empowerment, was the name of the game at the 15th iteration of the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference (BCCC), which took place at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago on September 13 and 14.  Adult-use cannabis consumption, possession and sales of cannabis products are legal in the State of Illinois.

Through the BCCC series, Benzinga “strives to put a spotlight on the conversation surrounding social equity via panel discussions with organizations that are combating inequality in the cannabis industry, individuals who have been adversely affected by the War on Drugs, and policymakers who are leading the charge on writing legislation to undo the impacts of prohibition,” according to the company event’s website.

​Keeping in line with that mission, Benzinga offer​ed​ discounted conference tickets to owners of marijuana businesses​ that​ have received state certification for their social equity initiatives.

Women, Minorities, More

Additionally, Benzinga offers scholarships for women and minority-owned businesses. To that end, the company partnered with organizations, including WomenGrow, and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, to showcase their associates on Benzinga’s conference stages and in the exhibit hall.

One of those presenters included Amber Senter of Supernova Women. Despite suffering from Lupus, Senter leads the charge via her 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to empower BIWOC to become self-sufficient shareholders in the cannabis and natural plant medicine space through education, advocacy, and network building.

In the expo hall, female-represented brands were out in full force, including Chicago Norml’s Edi Moore, My Bud Vase’s Doreen Sullivan, MtoM’s Christine Wilson, Illinois Equity Staffing’s Shawnee Williams, HerHighness’ Allison Krongard and Laura Eisman, Budwell’s Sara Hussain, and CannaBellaLux’s Tiffany Woodman, among others.

Women-led brands who pitched from the stage included House of Puff’s Kristina Lopez Adduci, Black Buddah’s Roz McCarthy and 40Tons’s Loriel Alegrete.

Another Tyson KO

Apart from the strong representation of female brands, Benzinga also welcomed more than 150 speakers from top-performing cannabis companies. Three executives of Tyson 2.0, including the legendary heavyweight boxing champion himself, landed on the roster. While retired from the sport, Tyson is now a regular on the cannabis conference tour. During his press conference in the expo hall with former iconic WWE superstar Rick Flair, the latter said, “I love being relevant; and being in marijuana keeps you relevant.”

Benzinga’s VP of Events, Elliot Lane, is pleased with the level of participation from all avenues.

“Chicago was our 15th iteration of the Cannabis Capital Conference and second this year,” he said. “The turnout of industry executives, investors and media was overwhelmingly positive, and the response from our attendees has been glowing.”

The Envelope Please…

Of special note were the first annual Benzinga Awards. “Finding the best of the best in cannabis is no easy feat, but someone has to do it. So, we assembled a panel of high-level judges to help us determine who are the people and organizations driving the cannabis industry forward,” said Chief Zinger Jason Raznick.

According to Benzinga, the awards celebrate new, creative, innovative and outstanding people, solutions and companies in the cannabis industry.

The winners of this year’s Benzinga Awards are as follows:

  • MOST IMPACTFUL CANNABIS EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: Ben Kovler, CEO, founder and chairman of Green Thumb Industries 
  • “BRETT ROPER AWARD” FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Nancy Whiteman, founder and CEO of Wana Brands
  • FRIEND OF THE INDUSTRY AWARD: Rep. David Joyce (R) of Ohio told the audience: “God bless you all for taking on this fight. I am going to keep doing my best to help you.”
  • CANNABIS ADVOCATE OF THE YEAR: Mary Bailey of the Last Prisoner Project
  • SOCIAL EQUITY AWARD: Desiree Perez of the The Parent Company
  • BEST CANNABIS LEADER UNDER 40: Luke Anderson, co-founder of Cann
  • ACHIEVEMENT IN BUILDING TRUST: Emily Paxhia, co-founder of Poseidon Investment
  • MOST EFFECTIVE CELEBRITY CANNABIS BRAND: Cookies, founded by Berner
  • CANNABIS INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF THE YEAR: US Cannabis Council
  • CANNABIS LIFESTYLE REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Jon Cappetta, High Times Magazine
  • CANNABIS POLICY REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Kyle Jaeger, Marijuana Moment
  • CANNABIS FINANCE REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Tim Seymour, CNBC
  • CANNABIS BUSINESS REPORTER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Berke, Insider
  • BEST EUROPEAN CANNABIS COMPANY: TILRAY Brands
  • BEST LATIN AMERICAN CANNABIS COMPANY: Khiron Life Sciences
  • BEST CANADIAN CANNABIS COMPANY: Village Farms
  • HOTTEST CANNABIS TECHNOLOGY: Weedmaps
  • BEST CANNABIS LAW FIRM: Foley Hoag, LLP
  • BEST CANNABIS ACCOUNTING FIRM: Crowe LLP
  • BEST INVESTMENT RESEARCH: Scott Greiper, Viridian Capital
  • BEST CANNABIS INDUSTRY ANALYST: Matt Bottomley, Cannacord
  • BEST USE OF CAPITAL: Jushi Holdings
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS LENDER: Pelorus Equity Group
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS ETF: YOLO – AdvisorShares
  • CANNABIS INVESTORS AWARD – INSTITUTIONAL: Ricky Sandler, Eminence Capital
  • CANNABIS INVESTORS AWARD – PRIVATE EQUITY / VC: Mitch Baruchowitz, Merida Capital
  • BEST CANNABIS RETAIL EXPANSION STRATEGY: Trulieve
  • BEST CANNABIS PARTNERSHIP: TILT, which brought a true social equity partnership to the Shinnecock Indian Nation
  • MOST INNOVATIVE CANNABIS SMALL BUSINESS: House of Saka – Cannabis-infused wines from Napa Valley

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Tommy Chong Electrifies Vegas at Cannabis Conference

Legendary comedic actor and musician Tommy Chong is no stranger to the big stage, whether it be the silver screen, a packed music hall or a podium before thousands of people. He’s earned more accolades than he can even pretend to remember, yet something felt different in Las Vegas on Aug. 24. There was a cannabis award to win.

On hand to receive the Cannabis Conference’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, the 84-year-old marijuana advocate cracked a smile in front of a packed ballroom at the Paris Las Vegas, then looked over at a table where his wife, son and two-year-old granddaughter sat taking in the moment.

“The reason I’ve been very successful is because I know there’s a higher power,” said Chong, one half of the renowned Hollywood comedy duo, Cheech & Chong. “It’s a dream for me to be here.”

Chong was one of six industry leaders honored with a cannabis award at the packed show, part of the three-day annual business-to-business conference held by Cannabis Business Times, Cannabis Dispensary and Hemp Grower that’s known as the more intimate alternative to larger marijuana conventions such as MJBizCon. Sponsored by Fohse, a Las Vegas-based indoor horticulture lighting application and research firm, the leadership awards portion of the event returned for its second consecutive year.

Also honored with cannabis awards were Wendy Bronfein, Co-founder of Curio Wellness; Drew Duval, Cresco Labs’ Senior VP of Cultivation; Ian Hackett, President of Napa Valley Fumé; Kema Ogden, Co-owner of Top Notch THC dispensary; and Lindsey Renner, Owner of Native Humboldt Farms.

Fohse President Ben Arnet said the company backed the leadership awards as a way of giving much-deserved credit to people making positive change in the legal industry.

“We saw people doing cool stuff whether that be through charity or social equity programs, and we wanted to shout it from the rooftops,” Arnet said. “We believe it’s good for people to pull their head up every once in a while from all the work and just get a little recognition for all that they’ve done.” 

Love, Vegas Style

The Cannabis Conference is no stranger to Vegas; this week was the third edition of the event in Sin City after two years in Oakland dating back to 2017 and a pandemic-forced hiatus in 2020. It regularly draws more than 2,500 attendees and 180 exhibitors across its 85,000 square feet of convention space.

Largely thanks to Fohse’s involvement, the bustling convention has added more star power and flare every year. 

Tommy Chong was in Las Vegas just two days before receiving his cannabis award for a lifetime of achievement for Clark County’s declaration of an official “Cheech & Chong Day.” Yet the chance to be recognized for a lifetime of destigmatizing the plant was enough to convince him and his family to hop on another plane from Los Angeles to the desert metropolis.

Chong spent the majority of the day he received the cannabis award signing autographs, shaking hands and posing for photographs at Fohse’s booth on the showroom floor. A smoked-out SUV limo ride to NuWu Cannabis Marketplace on tribal land near downtown Las Vegas offered the legendary cannabis advocate a first-hand look at Vegas’ only operating cannabis consumption lounge.

PHOTO Courtesy of Fohse

“I loved the spot,” Chong said of NuWu. “I admire the Native [American] culture so much. It’s refreshing to see Native Americans leading the way in cannabis, and I believe there’s a lot that the rest of the [cannabis] culture can learn from them.”

Throughout the day, wide-eyed fans and fellow exhibitors greeted the comedy legend as he walked through the Paris and Cosmopolitan Hotels.

Oregon resident Ari Novak snapped a quick selfie with Chong in the Paris casino walkway as Chong and his entourage headed back toward the venue’s convention center. Novak, a 56-year-old engineer, cracked that he “grew up” with Chong.

“I’ve seen every one of [Cheech & Chong’s] skits and I just wanted to tell him that,” Novak said. “So surreal to be here and just randomly see one of my childhood idols walking by.”

Great Turnout

The US cannabis industry has undergone a number of significant setbacks in recent months. Besides the failure of federal authorities to make meaningful progress on banking and decriminalization laws, growers in California have been suffocated by high state taxes and government red tape. As inflation has skyrocketed, California’s bureaucratic hurdles have already put dozens of legal cannabis small business owners out of work. Media reports suggest dozens more could shut down in the next few months. 

Cannabis Business Times director Noelle Skodzinski said the majority of Cannabis Conference exhibitors and attendees come from the Golden State, and event organizers were holding their breath as this week’s event drew closer. The expo saw more on-site registrations than ever, a sign that many exhibitors waited until the last minute to ensure company budgets allowed them to attend.

PHOTO Courtesy of Las Vegas Event Photography

“Honestly, we’re pleasantly surprised with the turnout,” Skodzinski said. “With all that’s going on, we didn’t know exactly to expect.”

Looking forward, Skodzinski said she’s optimistic the California industry’s weed tax and bureaucratic hiccups will be mitigated, if not solved, by the time of next year’s Cannabis Conference. If not, both Skodzinski and Fohse’s Ben Arnet believe massive expansion in other cannabis-legal states—Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Connecticut and others—will help fill the void.

Conference organizers have again reserved the Paris Resort for next year’s expo but say increased demand for more exhibition space could eventually force them to move the annual expo to the much larger Las Vegas Convention Center.

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Transbay Challenge: A View From the Judges’ Table

When I pulled up to the 4th installment of the Transbay Challenge, presented by Jimi Devine & Chronic Culture on Aug. 13, I didn’t expect to be met by Mister Woods With The Goods himself, greeting me with a smile and a judges pass. He led us to the judging table, which was covered in mason jars of ultra-frosty cannabis, little jars of hash and rosin, rolling papers, dab rigs and notepads we could use to assess the entries. The race was on, and it was a test of endurance. Between the heat of the day and the heat in my rolling tray, I knew our only chance of making it to the end would be by pacing ourselves.

The Transbay Challenge began in the fall of 2019, a friendly competition for bragging rights as the best cultivator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearly three years later, the event has come to garner an almost cult-like following of craft cannabis connoisseurs willing to travel far and wide for a chance to rage with like a champion with Jimi Devine. The 91 Club, a private social club located in the Arts District of downtown LA with deep ties to the legacy market, was home to the event. A space once occupied by legendary cultivator AJ, creator of AJ’s Sour Diesel, the vibes were just right for judging a competition of this caliber.

With my handy-dandy rolling kit in hand, the judging began. We inspected the nugs by shining our cell phone lights into the jars to illuminate the trichomes. We inspected the bud structure and pinched the flowers between our fingers to gauge the density and stickiness of each offering. We stuck our noses into the jars, searching for the one that made us raise our eyebrows and reach for the prettiest nug of the bunch. 

Strain after strain, joint after joint, we made our way through the entries, five of which absolutely blew us away.

Fidel’s KMZ took home the win with almost half the judges’ votes. An immigrant from Saudi Arabia, Shawn Damirdijan (Fidel) has been a staple in the California cannabis market for over a decade. A pioneer of the beloved hash hole and cultivator extraordinaire, Shawn has built his flower brand on clean growing practices, consistent flower and achieving the maximum potential of each strain. His brand motto “Possessions Don’t Make You Rich” echoed his humble demeanor as he personally served cold beverages to guests who visited his booth.

As the sun went down and the day began to cool off, I couldn’t help but reminisce. The excitement and camaraderie paired with the cordial rivalry of who had the best stash brought me back to a time when the fun of cannabis events came from simply being together. It warms my heart that even in 2022, when corporate cannabis is operating full swing, some of the best cannabis can still be found tucked away in a lonely graffiti-covered warehouse—surrounded by friends.

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Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction Celebrates Cannabis & Community

Sometimes, we all feel that the time has come to move on, to push the limits, to graduate to the next level. That’s what it felt like on July 16, at the inaugural Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. The time had finally come to honor the world class legacy and craft cannabis farmers in this remote part of Northern California, while at the same time giving back to the community. The purpose of the auction was to raise money for the Redwood Community Services Crisis Hotline Program while also raising consciousness about the premium cannabis grown in this region. It was an ideal way for cannabis and community to come together and help one another.

For decades, clandestine growers were hidden in the hills of Mendocino County. That’s when weed sold for $4,000 per pound and lots of money in the county was spent on things like buying new trucks and building new homes. Upon legalization, many of us chose to take the leap into the regulated market, remaining faithful that it would recognize the value of pure sungrown flowers from the Emerald Triangle. However, it has been an uphill battle and many small farmers have perished from the struggle to survive. 

Struggling in Style

While the vision of a cannabis auction was formed several years ago, it has taken this long to realize that even if we must struggle, we can do it in style. And even if we aren’t getting rich as craft farmers, we still can contribute to local causes. It’s a way to say thanks for all the great years when we did profit from living off the land in this blessed county which produces such top-grade cannabis flowers. If Napa County can celebrate its terroir, which is ideal for world class wines, so can Mendocino growers tout the cannabis cultivated in their county.

It all started when Jim Roberts and Brian Atkinson of the cannabis brand Bohemian Chemist offered the ideal venue: The Brambles, an event center under the Redwoods, located in the picturesque Anderson Valley in southern Mendocino County. After several months of planning—which included finding the perfect caterer, an amazing fast-talking auctioneer, plus collecting a vast array of items to be auctioned—the vision became clear. This would be a gathering like none ever seen before in Mendocino. This was not a rodeo, not a music festival and not a picnic at the beach. This was a classy affair. It was “mendo chic,” as we like to call it.

A “Mendo Chic” Celebration 

It was a warm summer night for the first Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. The evening began with appetizers and local wines served while guests perused the several tables displaying both silent and live auction items. Ganjier-In-Training Isabella De Chard, the “Joint Girl,” wandered through the crowd with a tray of nicely rolled joints and matches, making sure everyone was well-lit. As guests made their way to the tables for supper, they were offered small sips of HVY, the perfect cannabis tincture aperitif, which lifted the whole group to another level. A lively yet leisurely supper ensued with festivities conducted by Michael Katz, the Executive Director of the Mendocino Cannabis Alliance.

Isabella “Joint Girl” ensures everyone is taken care of. PHOTO Shannon McInerney

During dessert, Sarah Livingston, the Director of Crisis Response at Redwood Community Services, spoke briefly about the charity that would be receiving the night’s proceeds and how the guest donations would be used. 

“We take what was an unfortunate event or experience for these people and then turn it into an opportunity for them,” Livingston said. “Events like this make these opportunities possible.” 

Live Auction Highlights

Nikki Lastreto of Swami Select at the auction table. PHOTO Omar Figueroa

At last, the live auction began, and it was lively indeed. The highest bidders (in more ways than one) were often well rewarded for their generosity. Upon the guidance of top cannabis attorney Omar Figueroa, we found a way to do this within the legal parameters. After the fortunate bidders paid for their items, they were directed to a table where they discovered that their generosity was matched by growers who shared from their Private Reserve, meaning flowers from their personal gardens. Such a sweet surprise!

“To be amongst such impressive growers, and such an elevated energy was truly a privilege.  The Brambles was full of inspiration and love tonight,” said musician and artist Bob Bralove. 

Indeed, many of the county’s premiere cultivators attended, including several winners in the California State Fair and Emerald Cup Awards ceremonies. Some of the farms represented included Lost Paradise Organics, First Cut Farms, Emerald Spirit Botanicals, Swami Select, Martyjuana and Happy Day Farms. Several donated farm visits and tours, which were won by lucky bidders at the auction. Shauna and Mike Harden of Sonoma Hills Farm, for example, came up from Sonoma County to enjoy the festivities and donated a generous luncheon for 10 at their beautiful farm.

Certified Ganjier Justin Hoegenauer observed the variety of attendees, from mountain growers to city cannaoisseurs, and commented, ”It’s a community here of legends who have grown the plant and respected the environment for a long time. Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience sungrown cannabis.” 

The evening wrapped up with DJ Mo Magic—also a longtime cultivator—getting everyone up and dancing under the stars. Many stayed right on site in the luxurious hotel rooms and some even chose to camp at the next-door campground. “Omar and I set up our tents and slept under the Redwoods rather than risk a dark and windy drive back to Sonoma County. I woke up this morning refreshed and bathed in the sounds and scents of the forest,” said attorney Lauren Mendelsohn.  

If you are feeling major FOMO right about now, know this was just the first Mendocino Craft Farmers Auction. It was way too much fun not to repeat. We want to welcome more adventurous cannabis enthusiasts to experience the Emerald Triangle in style, while giving back to those in need. Cannabis with a cause is a beautiful thing.

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Germany’s Drug Czar to Keynote Berlin ICBC

Germany is in the midst of the most robust and complex cannabis policy and industry endeavor in the history of humankind. Policymakers and industry regulators in Germany have worked diligently since the 2021 election to craft the laws, rules and regulations that will eventually govern a national adult-use cannabis industry.

Given the size of Germany’s economy and its geographical position in the heart of the European continent, Germany’s adult-use industry will instantly become the largest on the planet once it is launched. Currently, only Canada has a nationwide adult-use cannabis industry that is open to anyone of legal age and involves products that are not just of the low-THC variety.

Legalization can never come soon enough. However, the pace at which Germany’s new coalition government has moved on the adult-use cannabis front is considerable, given that the results of the 2021 election are not even one year old. Lawmakers and regulators in Germany want to legalize cannabis in as sensible, effective and efficient of a manner as possible, and that is not an easy thing to do in a nation that is home to over 83 million people and shares nine borders with other countries.

Commissioner Burkhard Blienert

PHOTO Courtesy of ICBC

Fortunately for Germany, they have a very qualified Commissioner on Narcotic Drugs at the Federal Ministry of Health helping oversee the legalization process: Mr. Burkhard Blienert. The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) is extremely proud and honored to announce that Mr. Blienert will be the keynote speaker at ICBC’s upcoming Berlin Conference, taking place July 19-20.

Commissioner Blienert’s resume is extensive, as he has dealt intensively with questions of drug and addiction policy for roughly ten years. In the 18th electoral term (2013-2017) he was a member of the German Bundestag and represented his parliamentary group as a full member of the Health Committee, the Culture and Media Committee and the Budget Committee. Mr. Blienert was his group’s rapporteur on drug and addiction issues during this period.

Since 1990, Mr. Blienert has been a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). He has worked for the SPD party executive committee and served as policy officer of the SPD group in the Land parliament of North Rhine-Westphalia, responsible for school and education, sports and petitions.

As a member of the German Bundestag, Blienert sat on the Board of Trustees of the Federal Agency for Civic Education (BpB), on the Administrative Council of the German National Library and the Hörfunkrat Deutschlandradio Broadcasting Council, as well as on the Administrative Council of the German Federal Film Board (FFA).

Currently, he is a member of the Supervisory Board of the Federal Cultural Federation, the National Society of Labour Welfare (AWO), the United Services Union, the association “Against Oblivion—For Democracy” of the German Thomas Mann Society as well as the Paderborn district council.

History in the Making

PHOTO Courtesy of ICBC

Commissioner Blienert is not new to ICBC. Last year, he participated in a truly historic panel in which, for the first time ever, representatives from every major political party in Germany took part in a cannabis-only policy discussion. The discussion was held mere weeks before the 2021 election.

Much of what was discussed at the 2021 ICBC panel has since become part of the mainstream cannabis policy conversation in Germany. The ICBC team is looking forward to continuing the cannabis conversation at this year’s B2B event in July where the schedule will once again feature several policymakers who are directly involved in the effort to legalize cannabis in Germany. Attendees can expect to receive the most up-to-date information on what’s happening in Germany directly from people involved in the process, including Germany’s current Drug Czar.

In addition to the Berlin B2B event, the International Cannabis Business Conference will also offer a one-day Global Investment Forum (GIF) on July 18. The ICBC Global Investment Forum in Berlin will feature hand-picked cannabis companies participating in a pitch session in front of top investors on the ICBC Main Stage.

A cannabis industry revolution is sweeping Europe, and Germany is at the center of it.

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NYC’s Mayor Tells People to “Light Up” at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo

Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo (CWCBE) took place over three days at The Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center on New York City’s West Side and while the event’s expo portion wasn’t surprising in its typical presentation or lack of actual cannabis, the standouts of the event were surprising, candidly forward comments about legal cannabis by the featured speakers. The talks were the focal point of the event. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams seems to agree. The veteran NYPD officer opened his brief remarks to the audience with a joke.

“I’m a bit disappointed,” Mayor Adams said. “I thought I’d walk in the room and have a nice scent of weed goin’ on in here.” 

He went on to discuss his intentions for New York City’s legal cannabis industry at the well-attended speech at CWCBE.  

“There are great opportunities, and as I talk with mayors across the country, no one has seemed to have gotten it [cannabis legalization] right,” Adams said. “This is our opportunity to get it right; and the way you do that is with the power of information. We allocated, in our executive budget, close to $5 million just about assisting in openings of facilities, all the info you need. How do you navigate this complex new way of using cannabis for so many different reasons and so many different products? We want to hear your feedback. Reach out to us and my small business service commissioner. If there’s something you believe we can do better to make it happen, we want you to be a part of it.”

Legal marijuana will undoubtedly be big business for New York, “The numbers speak for themselves,” the mayor said. “The potential of raising almost $1.3 billion in this industry, 19,000 to 24,000 jobs. We’re going to be giving out 200 licenses in the area of cultivation and 200 licenses in the area of retail and 162 have already been issued. This is an opportunity for those who were left behind to really participate in this industry. We want to be clear that the magic term is equity.”

The mayor continued. “Those who were impacted by heavy-handed policing and had their lives destroyed, we need to make them whole. That means job training and improving credit reports of those who’ve been unemployed because of marijuana arrests. How do we make them whole? The money that’s set aside is about really looking back with understanding and acknowledging that we can’t just say, ‘let’s start from where we are.’ We have to make people whole who’ve gone through some very difficult periods of over-policing in the area of cannabis throughout this entire city, throughout this entire state.”

The newly elected mayor ended his less than three-minute speech in this rather remarkable fashion:

“So, welcome here,” Mayor Eric Adams said. “Enjoy yourself; light up, and, most importantly, spend some money. We want your money. Thank you.”

While the mayor encouraged the CWCBE attendees to smoke cannabis, smoking anything indoors is prohibited at the Javitz Center and throughout the Empire State. 

In contrast to the mayor’s pithy and succinct remarks, rapper, author, actor, record producer and Co-Founder of the National Cannabis Party (NCP), Redman went several minutes over his allotted keynote speaker slot. Plugging the NCP, an official Presidential Electoral Party registered with the Federal Elections Commission representing the cannabis industry; the rapper explained that he isn’t representing a specific brand. 

Additionally, while repeatedly calling for unity in the industry, Redman contrarily discussed the Schadenfreude of Jay-Z’s cannabis brand Monogram, which is notoriously unpopular among cannabis aficionados. The rapper remarked that while some celebrities who are true proponents of the plant, such as Wiz Khalifa, deserve to have a cannabis brand, arrivalists, and opportunists, including Jay Z apparently, shouldn’t be white labeling a cannabis brand when he has “never done shit for the industry.”

When discussing the regulated legal cannabis industry in New Jersey, Redman said that “What we should be doing is learning off the mistakes of the West Coast.”

“It’s not about social equity; it’s about equity empowerment,” Redman insisted.  

For the record, Redman admits that he has never been to a New Jersey cannabis dispensary or bought cannabis from a Multi-State Operator (MSO). He still consumes legacy cannabis. 

When Redman was done speaking and came off the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo stage, he ran into fellow rapper and cannabis brand entrepreneur Spliff Star. The two shared their enthusiasm for how far they’ve come from the rap game to the legal marijuana game and teased one another about the names on their expo badges. 

Redman greets Spliff Star after speaking at CWCBE in NYC. PHOTO Sara Brittany Somerset

Redman’s badge said Sooperman Luver, while Spliff Star’s had his official government name rather than his moniker. 

“This weed game is serious. I’m Mr. Lewis now,” joked Spliff Star. 

“You can’t even say ‘marijuana’ anymore,” Redman lamented. “You have to say, ‘cannabis,’ now.” 

The post NYC’s Mayor Tells People to “Light Up” at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Green Street Festival Celebrates Cannabis Culture in Los Angeles

What looked like another Saturday music festival in downtown Los Angeles was something much more—a pioneering entry in the history of cannabis legalization. Unlike other cannabis events that allow consumption, the inaugural Green Street Festival, which took place May 13-14, aimed to go public in the center of the largest cannabis market in California. It mostly succeeded. 

On a busy stretch of South Hill Street, the Green Street Festival launched with a ticketed entry into the namesake Green Street building. The 67,000-square-foot, nine-floor “cannabis epicenter” opened in January, exclusively for cannabis-focused businesses. Inside, attendees could view the glass-fronted offices and coworking spaces that were set up for brand demonstrations, DJ sets. Meanwhile, the patios and rooftop were reserved for consumption. An adjacent parking lot was staged as a registration area that was in full view of shoppers and passersby in the slowly gentrifying Jewelry District in the city’s bustling center.

Music was a centerpiece of the Green Street Festival.

The Green Street Festival is the brainchild of Rama Mayo, a music, events and cannabis entrepreneur, and Gary Vaynerchuk, a media and advertising executive. Along with Joshua Shelton,  the business partners own a house of cannabis brands and operate the Green Street creative and compliance agency, which is headquartered in the building. Green Street’s principals are also co-founders of the reputable industry event Hall of Flowers.

“The whole point was to celebrate the building once a year,” Mayo says. “It’s the first time I did a consumer event with cannabis.”

Many marquee cannabis events are organized for industry professionals only, depriving loyal fans an opportunity to meet suppliers and to build community, which has been a cornerstone of the weed experience. Others, such as the Kushstock Festival, are set in remote locations, out of sight of the general public. 

Even in America’s largest marijuana market, cannabis normalization is a long way off. But even though the Los Angeles cannabis festival was scaled back, it helped demonstrate that weed can be publicly celebrated in a major city’s business district. 

The two-day festival began May 13 with a VIP dinner in the building’s ground floor restaurant, Gusto Green, where diners sampled fresh hemp in salads, cookies and pizza in an upscale, contemporary setting. Day Two of the festival included panel discussions featuring Vaynerchuk, food trucks, art installations and consumption in designated areas. However, according to public reports, the festival was supposed to have been staged either in a public park or the cordoned-off street. Instead, brand demonstrations were confined to the interior of the building and at the Majestic Downtown, an historic theater a few blocks away.

Mayo, a veteran concert promoter and indie record label owner, filled the Los Angeles cannabis festival with performers, including rapper Juicy J. Shuttle buses ferried guests between the two locations, splitting the energy and focus of the event.  

Going Public

Mayo said he anticipated attendance of 5,000 people, though 2,000 ultimately came through the Green Street building. 

“Something you can never get past if you’re a consumer is the private aspect of cannabis B2B events,” says Mayo, referring to the industry-only events. But public events could be the key to building customer loyalty, awareness and community. They could also help create a track record with city officials who can issue permits for public gatherings, which is equally important. 

“In cannabis, there aren’t many events and they’re really hard to do,” Mayo said. “You can’t buy ads. You can’t do promotions or gifting.” 

With in-person events, attendees can gain valuable word of mouth marketing, which carries an exceptionally high rate of trust.

Things Didn’t Go as Planned

In January, the festival organizers announced that the event would take place “in a historic outdoor venue in downtown Los Angeles.” Though Mayo said that he asked for a permit a year ago, the permission was withdrawn, and the organizers had to quickly pivot to indoor venues. 

“Essentially, city officials aren’t ready for the city to do anything on public property,” Mayo says. “Whatever. We’ll figure it out. We have a long-term plan. And what I showed the city originally was this plan to use the building and the parking lot. I wanted to shut the street down, but then they said it’d be easier to do it at a park,” he says. 

Dispelling Stereotypes

Still, tenants and representatives from outside brands seemed thrilled with the Los Angeles cannabis festival. 

“Our whole purpose is to show people there’s a productive nature in the cannabis industry,” says Joesh “Savage” Wright, who heads the Skylark cannabis brand and shares an office in Green Street. 

For Francesca “Goldie” Salafia, who operates the Alpaca Club LA delivery service, the Green Street Festival supercharged the experience she has as a tenant. She called it “a chance to connect with many industry people mixed with the opportunity to change end consumers’ experience and belief systems of what cannabis is.” 

Green Street Festival Building
The Green Street Festival opened the doors to the Green Street Building, a coworking office building exclusively featuring cannabis-related businesses. 

“The festival is another example of how we can come together and create the awareness that the movement needs,” says tenant Jono Pinsky, CEO of creative marketing agency 3is4, who was glad to expose visitors to the many kinds of companies involved in the industry. They could also share in the feeling of being a Green Street tenant, which he likened to “a tradeshow every day.”

Having a building dedicated to cannabis is helping restore the plant’s image, says Jeronimo de Miguel, Gusto Green’s managing partner. “It legitimizes the whole thing, and in doing so, it creates a sense of authenticity and community.”

But Wait, There’s More

The festival’s VIP dinner at Gusto Green, however, was a success, selling out the 50 spots at nearly $1,000 a ticket, according to de Miguel. The 220-seat restaurant, which functions as a sort of commissary for the tenants, also serves as an entry point for the cannacurious. The menu now includes fresh non-psychoactive hemp leaves or hearts sauteed with other greens or incorporated into sweet potato fries, caldo verde soup, pizza and cookies.

In the short time the building has been open—since January 2022)—Rama correctly predicted that “people would want to come to the ‘weed building’ expecting a tour.” To satisfy that interest, a new retail concept is coming this summer. Rama says delivery service HyperWolf will launch a new kind of head shop featuring brands that work within the building and the agency.

“It’ll basically be the nicest smoke shop in the world,” predicts Rama, who promises all manner of merchandise and hardware. Importantly, the shop will also give the public another point of access to the building and to the brands—though it can’t sell weed.

Even though the Green Street Festival fell short of the vaulted expectations, Mayo is taking the long view. 

“It’s still just the beginning of this world,” he says. “I’m already working on the next festival.” 

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ICBC Berlin Event Returns July 2022

The emerging legal global cannabis industry is bigger than ever and growing at an exponential rate. These next few years will prove to be monumental for shaping the industry for decades to come. As such, there has never been a better time to join the industry, and there is no better place to do so than at the International Cannabis Business Conference in Berlin July 19-20 at the Estrel Berlin Hotel. Known for its unique blend of policy, business and entertainment, the International Cannabis Business Conference’s flagship event is Europe’s largest and longest-running cannabis B2B event.

ICBC events are the best way for cannabis innovators and inventors to get their products or services in front of the top influencers and decision makers in the cannabis space, as well as for investors to network with aspiring entrepreneurs. 

The Cutting Edge of European Cannabis

The Estrel is not only the largest venue of its type in Berlin—it’s the largest of its kind throughout all of Germany. The venue is second to none and will serve as the perfect place for hosting the world’s top cannabis policy and industry leaders.

At last year’s event in Berlin, the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) hosted a panel that brought together representatives from every major political party in Germany for a first-of-its-kind cannabis policy discussion. The panel took place mere weeks before the 2021 election in Germany. 

Out of that election a new governing coalition was formed, the Traffic Light Coalition, and much of what was discussed during the ICBC panel has since become the focal point of emerging cannabis policy in Germany. It’s just one of the many examples of how so much cutting edge information, insight and knowledge can be gained at ICBC. This year’s Berlin event will feature a similar panel, moderated by managing director of the German Cannabis Association, Jürgen Neumeyer, with Bundestag members from all coalition parties participating in the discussion.

Germany has the largest economy on the European continent, and the fourth largest economy worldwide. It’s not a question of if Germany will legalize cannabis for adult use; it’s only a question of when. The timing of this year’s conference could not be better, as Germany is working toward implementing what will become the largest legal, regulated adult-use market on Earth.

“We are particularly excited about this year’s conference in Berlin given the favorable political climate for cannabis legalization,” says ICBC Founder Alex Rogers. “It’s going to be extra special for our team to offer world-class cannabis industry and policy education, networking and entertainment to attendees at such a crucial juncture for Europe’s emerging cannabis industry.” 

Invest Capital, Seek Capital

Prior to the B2B event, ICBC will also host a one-day Global Investment Forum at Berlin’s Hotel Adlon on July 18, with a VIP reception being held the night prior. The forum will feature hand-picked cannabis companies participating in a pitch session in front of top investors on ICBC’s main stage. It’s a tremendous opportunity for cannabis companies to showcase their products and services in front of seasoned industry investors.The pitch session is also open to service providers seeking reliable and high-end clients.

At the conclusion of the B2B event, attendees will then be able to enjoy one of ICBC’s famous after parties. This year’s after party will feature the multi-Grammy award-winning reggae band Morgan Heritage. After days of learning from true-cannabis experts and networking with cannabis enthusiasts from around the globe, this is the perfect way to cap off the International Cannabis Business Conference.

ICBC Berlin after party

The topics covered at the Global Investment Forum and B2B conference in Berlin via panels and presentations will be led by the top cannabis experts in the global cannabis space. Below is a sampling of the presenters:

  • Peter Homberg – Partner, Dentons
  • Jessica Billingsley – Chief Executive Officer, Akerna
  • Antonia Menzel – Public Affairs, Sanity Group
  • Ben Dronkers – President, Dronkers B.V. Group
  • Silvia Alunni – Advisor EU Affairs, Hague Corporate Affairs and Deputy-Secretary General, Medicinal Cannabis Europe

ICBC events are attended by leading policy makers, executives and entrepreneurs from around the world, with over 80 countries being represented at previous events. Over 5,000 attendees and 350 companies, sponsors and exhibitors are expected at the Berlin ICBC conference alone. Click here to check out the event’s Stands Map. Secure your tickets before midnight on June 22nd to take advantage of early bird discount ticket pricing.

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Benzinga Cannabis Conference in Miami Draws Big Investors 

Last week’s Benzinga Cannabis Capital Markets Conference in Miami kicked off on 4/20 bringing together a venerable cornucopia of the cannabis industry. Cannabis Now was on hand to connect with some of the industry’s most illustrious power players to discover where the market is heading. Two such thought leaders, Mitch Baruchowitz of Merida Capital Holdings and Troy Datcher of The Parent Company, shared some insights on what makes their successful companies tick, and why they chose to attend the Benzinga conference.  

Baruchowitz’s slide presentation at the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach described using data to create a disruptive thesis. He elucidated Merida’s investment thesis as picking regions rather than companies. For 20 minutes, Baruchowitz went on to discuss data and disruption, explaining that the firm’s prediction model has helped them solidify their place as one of the cannabis industry’s leading investment groups.

“We find companies that we believe fit the areas that we think are disproportionately large, and I think that’s resonated in the last few years with people who want to hear how we keep ending up in the right place,” he said. 

Mitchell Baruchowitz of Merida Capital Partners gives a presentation at Benzinga, North America’s leading cannabis investment conference. PHOTO by Cannabis Now

Baruchowitz says Merida Capital uses its Twitter account as a prediction engine, and that the data he’s talking about isn’t that data. Rather, he refers to predictive economic data as “the future that is going to arrive.” 

“That’s on a trajectory,” Baruchowitz said. “We did make predictions four years ago about the projections. We said, ‘Projections were people being revised upwards based on state adoption.’ So, we nailed that because I think most people are projecting $28 billion for 2025. We’re now at approximately $40-$42 billion. Every year its applications keep going up. The data we’re using primarily is more like thin-sliced, precise data that tells us something notable about something, and then we do the work.” 

Baruchowitz isn’t a big fan of the “predictors.” He says he believes that they’ve been wildly wrong because of cannabis’ newness; and it’s impossible to be correct. 

“Merida doesn’t use that type of forward-looking projection,” Baruchowitz said. “I think that it’s effortless for people to project the blank slate of Colombia, for example. There’s been a new blank slate every year, such as in Lesotho. There’s always a shiny new object. Being in the cannabis space for a long time and having many employees means that you don’t have to go down that road and run into a brick wall when you find out the projections are off.

Baruchowitz insists that Merida is more about discrete data packets. He believes the company analyzes things that no one else does. Most of his investors are high net-worth individuals or entrepreneurs who want sophisticated exposure to cannabis on the investment side. 

California-based, consumer-focused cannabis business, The Parent Company (TPC), potentially represents such an investment. TPC’s company portfolio includes trusted consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, such as Caliva and Jay-Z’s more recent Monogram. The company’s newly minted CEO, Troy Datcher, believes the brands will be the basis of the cannabis industry’s future.

Datcher attended the Benzinga conference to network with investors as well as regulators. He believes the conference presents an excellent opportunity for him to meet other industry entrepreneurs. 

“I’d been in the cannabis industry for 150 days as of the beginning of Benzinga last week. So, attending the conference was a great opportunity for me to mix and mingle with the folks that are a part of the industry and can provide some insight on the challenges they’re facing and how they’re tackling some of those challenges,” Datcher said, adding that the Benzinga conference provides TPC with a platform for sharing their own story.

“Hopefully that story resonates with either someone who wants to be a member of our team, or to analysts who are there covering companies like ours, as well as investors,” he said. 

Datcher also credits Benzinga for being in the right place at the right time to spend some quality face time with lawmakers, including Ohio Congressman Joyce and South Carolina’s Nancy Mace

“It was great and informative to hear where our latest legislators are in terms of supporting the industry,” he said.  

Datcher cites the variety and diversity of the speakers as another draw of the Benzinga conference. 

“I think the content and the types of folks who showcased were incredibly diverse and impressive. From a single-state operator (SSO) to multi-state operators (MSO) to folks on the front end of innovation for the industry, Benzinga creates an atmosphere where everyone wants to participate in the conversation,” Datcher said. “That’s great for someone like me, who again, is looking to absorb as much as possible and create a great curve for learning.”

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