Key Takeaways from Cannabis Conference 2021

Highlights from the industry’s leading event geared exclusively for plant-touching businesses.

After 28 months in the making, Cannabis Conference 2021 has officially come and gone. Cannabis Conference hosted nearly 3,000 industry members at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino from Aug. 24-26 for networking and in-person learning for the first time since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The excitement was palpable, as there was much to break down after a historic and challenging year in cannabis.

Cannabis Conference, focused specifically on helping plant-touching businesses succeed, showcased nearly 90 industry experts who presented on topics surrounding cultivation, dispensary operations, extraction, and business. The event also featured an extensive exhibit hall, where 175-plus exhibitors shared their technology and solutions offerings with attendees.

In a post-Cannabis Conference survey, attendees extolled the energy and caliber of the event. “I was very happy to be in a building filled with people who were passionate knowledge seekers,” shared Megan Clemens, director of cultivation at Fire Rock Farms in Akron, Ohio. “Growing is not for the faint of heart, and it was great to be consumed by the energy of the industry—around folks who are crazy enough to keep digging!”

“The conference was invaluable to us. We learned so much and heard so much valuable advice that we can only imagine it will only benefit our future business in ways we can’t even measure yet,” said Cannabis Conference attendee Monika Hladik.

Below, the editors of Cannabis Business Times take a look back at Cannabis Conference 2021 highlights.

Cannabis Conference attendees included cultivators, dispensary operators, extraction professionals, investors, consultants, suppliers, university researchers, and more.
Photos by Las Vegas Event Photography
“As soon as you flip that switch, you may go from 75 to 300 people a day, to 400 people a day. Imagine what you have to have on your shelves then to satisfy those 400 people who are coming in and looking for all different types of things,” shared Wanda James (left), founder and CEO of Simply Pure, during the session, “Expand Your Medical Dispensary to Adult-Use: What You Need to Know.” James was joined on the panel by Giving Tree Dispensary founder and CEO Lilach Mazor Power (center) and moderator Eric Sandy, CBT Digital Editor (right).
In the session “Creating a Winning License Application,” Zeta Ceti of Green Rush Consulting (left), Erin Alexander of Cresco Labs (center) and Sumer Thomas, J.D., of Canna Advisors (right) shared pointers from their experiences writing successful cannabis license applications in medical and adult-use markets across the U.S. “Just because you’re familiar with the licensing process in one state doesn’t mean that same process is going to translate over into another state. Be very aware of the exact rules for the state or local jurisdiction you’re talking about to make sure that you’re specifically tailored to that,” Thomas said.
“It was like attending a college that doesn’t exist—for three days.”– John MacClain, CEO of CRMS, LLC, a tribal cannabis retailer based in Okanogan, Wash.
Above: Snapshots of the Cannabis Conference 2021 exhibit hall, which spanned 85,000 square feet. “The networking is ... valuable as there is a higher caliber of attendee,” said Colin Kelley, operating partner of Merida Capital Holdings. Great Lake Leaf’s Helene Graham said, “Meeting the salespeople and learning about available equipment was wonderful.”
“Whether you’re a farmer, whether you’re a dispensary owner, … whether you’re an extractor—whatever it is, there’s something here for you.” – Joel McClure, founder and director of operations, Bridges Academy Farms
In one of the most highly anticipated sessions of Cannabis Conference, “The Future of Cannabis as a CPG (Consumer Packaged Good),” CannaCraft’s Angela Pih (left) moderated a discussion that outlined how to overcome the current logistical and regulatory roadblocks to CPG cannabis with Papa & Barkley’s Guy Rocourt (left-center), Curaleaf’s Mark Russ (right-center), and Trulieve’s Valda Coryat (right). “The stigma is definitely going away, we see the expansion across the U.S., and so with that, when you talk about daily consumption products, it’s because we can see that day when it’s no longer illegal from a federal level,” Coryat shared.
David Haley (right), president and CEO of Ancient Roots, spoke on the session “How Cultivators Have Succeeded Carving Out Their Small-Batch Niche.”
CBT Digital Editor Eric Sandy (above, right) moderated the Day 1 keynote, “A Fireside Chat With Sherbinskis’ Mario Guzman,” during which Guzman (above, left) highlighted details about his partnership with cannabis breeder Jigga. “We had a friendship and a passion and an intent: We wanted to help people. We wanted to make a difference,” Guzman said.
“As I thought about who I was … it was about preserving what I experienced ... in the early 2000s.” - Mario Guzman, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Sherbinskis, on building a brand
CBT Editorial Director Noelle Skodzinski presented the “2021 State of the Industry” address, during which she shared the following highlights: 1. Cannabis is “essential” and has produced tax dollars desperately needed during the pandemic. 2. State legalization is accelerating, and federal legalization and support for the state-legal industry is gaining momentum. 3. That momentum presents opportunity for expansion and new entrants to the market. 4. The industry is growing, and we’re seeing the emergence of larger and smaller businesses—but it also is consolidating through more strategic mergers and acquisitions. 5. Small businesses continue to comprise the bulk of the industry, as with the traditional non-cannabis U.S. business landscape. 6. Social equity, ESG (environmental, social, and governance) priorities have skyrocketed in importance and will continue to do so. 7. The Canadian market is right-sizing and leading in exports. 8. Hemp infrastructure is expected to develop within the next several years to support expansion in fiber/grain markets. 9. There’s an increasing focus on sustainability, opening the door further for hemp to disrupt markets such as paper and plastic—and provide for carbon sequestration.
During the session, “Turning Talk Into Action: How Cannabis Companies Are Developing Meaningful Social Equity Priorities,” Minority Cannabis Business Association Executive Director Amber Littlejohn (above, left), along with Managing Director of the Curio Investment Fund at Curio Wellness Jerel Registre (above, center left), Mary & Main Owner Hope Wiseman (above, center right) and Viola Brands CEO Al Harrington (above, right), discussed the efforts they are making within their businesses and organizations to facilitate opportunities for people of color within the industry. Harrington said, “Education is key. Once you get the license, the real work begins. We don’t have a lot of margin for error ... If we can be more free with information, we can help people with their learning curves. Social equity was a reason to give people these licenses, but it was for them to be successful, so how can we be beneficial to help these people be successful?”
“Education is key. Once you get the license, the real work begins.”– Al Harrington, CEO, Viola Brands
Dr. Sue Sisley, president of Scottsdale Research Institute, spoke to a standing-room only crowd on Day 2 of Cannabis Conference. She received a standing ovation for sharing her experiences researching and treating patients with medical cannabis over the past 10-plus years, as well as how she and her legal team brought forth lawsuits against the Drug Enforcement Agency and Department of Justice in 2020 to end the 52-year-old monopoly on clinical cannabis research. “We ended up winning. We got to the brass ring of what we endeavored, which was to be able to grow our own flower for our own [clinical] trials and maybe even to supply other DEA-registered scientists who want diverse [cannabis genetics] options,” she said.
“I had this revelation ... ‘Oh my goodness, I’m selling weed to the DEA!’ ... this is so historic!”– Dr. Sue Sisley, president, Scottsdale Research Institute
October 2021
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