Highlights From Cannabis Conference

Key takeaways and lessons from industry leaders who spoke throughout the event.

From left: Sarah Strickler, Chris Ball, Obie Strickler, Kyle Landrum
Las Vegas Event Photography
Las Vegas Event Photography

From the latest research in cultivation science to tips on how to set up an extraction facility, speakers on day one of the Cannabis Conference (held Aug. 23-25 at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino) covered a broad range of topics for operators across the cannabis supply chain. Here are some highlights. 

  • “University Research Roundup: The Latest In Cultivation Science:” Utah State University professor Dr. Bruce Bugbee expounded on the importance of licensed businesses partnering with universities to fund and produce cutting-edge scientific research on the cannabis plant. “We’re coming to a point where university research has really helped the cannabis industry,” he said, noting the decades of underground research that preceded this newly “open” environment. Still, only a trickle of federal research grant dollars has made its way to those studying cannabis.
    Dr. Michael Gutensohn, a West Virginia University associate professor, discussed his USDA-funded research into the terpene-cannabinoid metabolic network—and how, precisely, THC develops when the cannabis plant encounters biotic and abiotic stressors. This is critical to understanding why hemp “goes hot” in the field, but also to grasping the fundamental chemical building blocks of this plant.

  • “Pitch Workshop: Win Over Investors With The Perfect Presentation Strategy:” LeVon Terry of Capfluent and Patrick Rea of Poseidon Investment Management discussed the conversations that entrepreneurs are encouraged to have when pitching their business as a potential investment opportunity. It’s vital, Terry said, to speak frankly and clearly with investors. “It can be intimidating … to learn the language of finance in order to have these conversations, but it is important,” he said. “We appreciate entrepreneurs asking questions. Don’t be afraid to push on capital.” The conversation was moderated onstage by Colin Kelley of Merida Capital Holdings, who pointed out that due diligence is critical before and during the pitch meeting.

  • “Innovative And Regenerative Growing Techniques:” Julia Jacobson of Aster Farms, Mason Walker of East Fork Cultivars and Kevin Kuethe of Lume Cannabis Co. discussed alternative growing methods cannabis cultivars are using across North America, including dry farming, cover cropping, Korean Natural Farming and more. Jacobsen said the Colorado cannabis industry emits more greenhouse gases than the state’s coal mining industry, underscoring the need for more sustainable growing practices. “We plant companion crops every year. Companion crops are non-cannabis plants you plant in and around your cannabis crops to bring benefits," Jacobsen said. 
    Walker also discussed the importance of independence for business owners. "We are less reliant on service providers," Walker said, adding that while partners can be beneficial, he has also had experiences with bad partners, "so it's one of the biggest benefits to our business to be able to be self reliant."

    Las Vegas Event Photography

  • “How To Launch A Cultivation Business:” Speakers in this session included Kyle Landrum, chief production officer of Trulieve; Chris Ball, owner and CEO of Ball Family Farms; Obie Strickler, CEO of Grown Rogue; and Sarah Strickler, director of community relations for Grown Rogue. The four speakers sequentially discussed the steps of launching a business: Finding your location/region, funding your operation, building out your facility, selecting your genetics, building your brand, ingratiating yourself in the local community, and more. But, as Obie Strickler stressed, “there is no such thing as a good deal with a bad business partner.” All four speakers agreed: “if you don’t love weed, then this industry is not for you,” Ball said. 

  • “How To Build Out And Set Up An Extraction Facility:” Kim Eastman, vice president of manufacturing at Jushi, and Crystal Hoffman, former regional director of operations for Slang Worldwide, discussed key goals when establishing an extraction facility, including creating a high-quality product, maintaining terpene integrity, maximizing cannabinoid recovery, and recovery. "You want to make sure the facility and property are taken into consideration. ... Your needs vs. what you already have in that facility,” Hoffman said.They also discussed selecting the correct equipment for a facility, which is ultimately the largest expense. "Ethanol is no joke. It has even more requirements than hydrogen carbon. ... There's a lot of engineering requirements. ... We recommend a consultant or someone who knows what they are doing,” Eastman said.

  • “How To Become A National Cannabis Business:” Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO of Miss Grass, urged the audience to consider the community that their brand is attracting before launching new products. In this way, a brand can generate a real sense of self, and that is necessary for any national business expansion aspirations. Too many brands, she pointed out, tend to put the cart before the horse and begin shipping product into the market before knowing precisely what sort of values their company represents. Scaling a business to a multistate level can be very difficult, but you’re only making it harder on yourself by avoiding this community-building phase.

  • “From Pioneering Founder To Foundational Investor: Mitch Baruchowitz Shares Crucial Strategies For Building A Successful And Long-Term Cannabis Company:” The managing partner of Merida Capital Holdings commanded a full house during this keynote speech on Wednesday. Mitch Baruchowitz outlined several ways that individuals and teams can distinguish themselves in this highly competitive landscape (bearing in mind that they’re competing against both the licensed and illicit cannabis trade). For one, it’s important to grasp the difference between “the future that will arrive” and “the future that will be built.” The former is coming anyway; sales will continue to accelerate, more states will come online, cannabis will become a normalized product in society. But the latter is something you can create. You and your team have an opportunity in the present to build a fruitful and productive future—but you must stay tuned in and committed to the cause.  

  • "How To Use Today's Marketing Trends To Boost Your Bottom Line:" "We focus on engaging budtenders and incentivizing them to get the products out," said Jonathan Spadafora, president of Veritas Fine Cannabis. "At the store level, we really focus on educating at the point of purchase." Those in-person conversations can be crucial to capitalizing on effective marketing. 

  • "Facility Design - Greenhouse:" This panel, moderated by Dr. Nadia Sabeh, discussed a number of considerations when it comes to building out your greenhouse cultivation. The panel agreed that greenhouse growing uses the best of both worlds—natural sunlight and humidity from Mother Nature, but also some ability to control the environment. Perhaps the most critical factor when it comes to your greenhouse is understanding the location or region you’re in. If you have the ability to choose where to build your greenhouse, as opposed to simply acquiring a facility, then take into consideration a number of regional and environmental factors, but also consider how close your facility is to ancillary businesses, and how that may impact your production timeline. Flower One’s Salpy Boyajian said if a gear breaks in your greenhouse, it’s better to be able to drive down the road to go buy another  than have to wait on shipping from a vendor in another state. Bottom line: When it comes to greenhouses, it is critical to understand your local environmental in order for your cultivation to succeed.
  • "Using Data To Boost Sales & Improve Inventory Management:" While data is an essential tool for businesses to make decisions, from product assortment to staffing, each of the panelists on this session cautioned there can be fallacies in the numbers. “Use data more as a gut check than a North Star,” said Jesse Channon, chief growth officer at Columbia Care. The metrics that matter most to your business may differ from the dispensary down the street as well. Nick Jack, chief operations officer at Frost Exotic Cannabis said the Denver-based company is zeroing in now on cost of goods sold and transactional heat maps to see where customers are gravitating to most in store. For Narith Panh, chief operating officer at the vertically integrated Dragonfly Wellness in Salt Lake City, average weekly sell through is essential to better predict what products are in demand most, which leads to better decisions at cultivation, too. Data isn’t just about statistics and numbers—each panelist noted the importance of getting out into the floor and listening to conversations between dispensary staff and customers, where invaluable insights that can’t be quantified are shared.
  • "Turning Talk Into Action: How Cannabis Companies Can Develop Meaningful And Actionable Social Equity Priorities:" When it comes to social equity in the cannabis industry, the panel agreed that unfortunately many operators simply talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Chima Enyia, executive vice president of SEED at Cresco Labs, explained that Cresco has made it a point of emphasis to have a diverse staff at all levels, and said that Cresco’s commitment to diversity has helped the company attract—and perhaps more importantly—retain talent. Cynthia Villamizar shared how Cookies partners with legacy growers throughout California, including its Humboldt Grown Initiative, in effort to promote inclusivity and diversity in the industry. 
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