2023 was my first time at MJBizCon and here’s the highly anticipated THC MJBizCon 2023 recap. There were highs and lows and normally I’d bunch them together for organization’s sake but Vegas is a journey, and if you weren’t there – this is your chance to experience the highs and lows in one run just like the rest of us.
First thing to report: smoking cannabis was officially prohibited, but unofficially allowed. A clearly marked smoking section that allowed smoking but said “No Cannabis Use” in green lettering caged in smokers with cops on all sides. Clever attendees were spotted dabbing on balconies and in bathrooms like normal human beings. I saw it as a clear analogy for how normalization and decriminalization works in action. Nevada has ridiculous cannabis laws, with homegrow effectively disallowed and public consumption explicitly disallowed, there’s still a lot to improve. That being said, the venues hosting MJBizCon and its afterparties tolerated cannabis use outside their doors for one night only.
Typical MJBizCon attendee: “We like to party”
Before I get to the meat of the elephant in the room, I want to share my favorite after parties AND before party. Wake and Bake with Meadow, Stronghold, and Nabis at Hash House a Go Go was my favorite ancillary event by far. Hua sent us the invite, we showed up, it was a PleaZure to say the least. In fact, other attendees might remember that the PleaZure by Wood Wide Farms was the cultivar that was featured at the event. That shit was fiya. The chicken and waffles were fiya, too.
I knew about the importance of afterparties thanks to on the ground coverage from previous years. The most glitzy after party shows you which cannabis company has the most money. Just like the glitziest and therefore most well staffed and attended booth does! Both went to a company you might have seen before… Polkadot. For those who don’t know, they aren’t in the marijuana biz. That’s a red-as-an-amanita-muscaria-cap flag that says A LOT about the state of the industry.
I repeat: What exactly does it say about the state of the cannabis industry when the single item that sells the most volume on the show floor is mushroom chocolates? I didn’t go to the Polkadot party at the Lexi Hotel, where cannabis consumption is allowed on the 4th floor and every room there is numbered 420 and differentiated by A, B, C instead. But I did hear that each room featured a different brand getting hella exposure. Another similarly successful and well attended event I heard was fiya as always was this year’s rendition of 𝑩𝒍𝒖𝒏𝒕 𝑩𝒓𝒖𝒏𝒄𝒉.
I can comment on the parties I did attend. To kickoff MJBizCon on Tuesday night, Hearst (yes, the same Hearst that was unabashedly instrumental in spreading Reefer Madness and racialized stereotypes about entheogen use many decades ago partly because he was miffed the Mexican government nationalized his land) teamed up with an org with a decidedly more cannabis culture past – Sensi Media – to host a wonderful first afterparty at the Mob Museum. There was even a hotbox party bus resplite with a stripper pole featuring, as Jimi Devine noted on the ‘gram, many wedding ring etches.
For Wednesday night, I got to check out the classic Vegas glam with open bar and tightly curated exclusive lists at the warmest room at MJBizCon which was still the Grasslands Afterparty. I’ve caught renditions of the event for HoF and SXSW and the crowd at these afterparties (in stark contrast to the average Joe or Jane on the show floor) never ceases to disappoint with their knowledge about the green plant that supposedly brought us all together. No wonder Grasslands PR Agency won an EmJay a few nights later. The highlight of that party was hearing that entire teams of people were considering a first in their lifetime trip to the Emerald Triangle to experience that side of cannabis culture with Sol Spirit Retreats. The education needed to impact this industry for the better can come in many forms but I can attest that a little time in the Emerald Triangle is a must to fully appreciate the context behind the marijuana biz.
That same night, I navigated the crew over to Heat Quest II where I was able to see some Flower Mill prototypes…
and Jimi and Ellen checking out a classic Jerome Baker Design bong.
Those two pieces of hardware from Heat Quest tickled my fancy so much more than any of the vape hardware on the show floor.
For Thursday night, I committed to judging a small competition called the Candy Battle Royale at a house party in a gated community featuring the hypest candy gas cultivars from around the country hotboxed so loud you had to step out for a chance at fresh air. There was one panel of candy growers and a separate panel of genetics experts that dropped knowledge on a loud crowd in a loud room smokin’ loud marijuana.
People from around the country showed up. As an example, here’s a pic of La Marina Boyz (Joethehardway and Whiteboykev164) and Kevin Jodrey taken in Vegas not Jamaica.
As far as the competition went…The 1st place belt went to Mile High Dave with his Colorado Cherries. Second Place went to SF Canna and their run of The Original Z while third went to Apples and Bananas by Kush Alley.
While I was catching a flight back to Humboldt, those that stayed around Vegas after the show ended Friday afternoon had a positively lit time at Litty in the City which I heard was an absolute rager of a trapfest. I hope many suits got to experience that taste of real cannabis culture.
All in all, the afterparties of MJBizCon 2023 were quite the Weed Week for Vegas. Shout out to all the amazing individuals from the cannabis media that I saw reppin’ this past week. Respect my Region, After I Got High, LEAF Magazine, Great Moments in Weed History, Beard Bros, Skunk Magazine, Green State, Btchy Hippie, Mike Rosati, Sensi Magazine, Grasslands PR, yes even Hearst, and all the rest my high ass can’t remember right this second.
Support Cannabis industry Non Profit Associations every day
Associations Day saw dozens of cannabis industry nonprofits. Everything from the Chamber of Cannabis to craft grower associations in states around the country to cannabis advocacy groups from other continents. This room was honestly one of my favorite from the entire week and the people at these booths were incredibly well informed. Seeing reps from the burgeoning cannabis culture in Japan, Australia, and Latin America really got me thinking about the global future of the cannabis industry.
It was also in this room that I got to meet the Marijuana Institute Trade Association and Max Juhasz from DOPE SEO and hear about their Unshackled podcast, which also won an Emjay Award a few days later.
According to a panel of experts…
Back to the elephant in the room: Is there an industry upturn coming? Or will MJBizCon turn into PsilyBizCon? Two of the talks I went to really summed up the industry sentiment in response to the underlying question on everybody’s mind in this period of historic industry lows.
The “Can Legal Weed Win?” fireside chat was held during one of the pre-show forums on Tuesday and featured Professors Daniel Sumner and Robin Goldstein from UC Davis. They were authors of the eponymous book from which the talk drew its title, and the room was crowded with eager attendees with a clear leaning on which way they hoped the answer would go and it sure as hell wasn’t the Betteridge way. I haven’t finished the book yet but suffice to say the answer is still being worked out and we’d be foolish to think that there won’t be analogous developments as happened with alcohol after its prohibition period. Back then, they also struggled with a staggered relaxing of Prohibition regulations that bolstered the legacy market, triggered a temporary focus on alcohol % over flavor, and other analogous happenings. All said though, the invisible hand and appropriate regulations should lead to a legal market win in the long run.
I asked about the role of appellations in differentiating legal producers, the authors emphasized that such a future world only works if education catches up and the market realizes that premium sungrown can and should demand a higher price than premium indoor. I highly anticipate that more irrefutable data showing that proof will come out eventually.
In Friday’s panel titled “Mature Market Regrowth? Glimpses of Hope from The West Coast,” Guy Rocourt from Papa and Barkley, Hirsh Jain from Ananda Strategy, and Vince Ning from Nabis spoke on insights in California’s market that might provide hope to other states. They touched on topics ranging from the importance of truth in marketing regulations to the differences between Prop 215 and Prop 64. Jain highlighted that the two props had different principles. Prop 215 championed cannabis as medicine while Prop 64 allowed local rules to supersede and ban medicinal use. He emphasized that “local control is not conducive to a legal market.” Rocourt highlighted that the industry was “bigger, thriving, and more robust” under Prop 215 and he felt that it was odd that the California market has regressed. Jain highlighted that changing laws which came to be through a ballot initiative is harder, and that’s why Ning implored all stakeholders in the cannabis industry to band together in solidarity and “stop pointing fingers at each other” to address the real problem: the government. At this point in time, it seems that all California has to offer in terms of insights as a mature market is how not to do things with no hope for change within the restrictive regime and only a hope for political reform.
I asked about appellations as a potential glimpse of hope and was met by a similar answer from Guy as I had gotten from Robin. There is so much education that needs to happen first before appellations can be even considered a glimpse of hope for the cannabis community. Namely, people need to learn the difference that different ways of growing the plant makes in the end product. In very clear words, we’ve been told that sungrown is superior to indoor in terms of cost to grow, impact to the environment, and because of terroir soon to be codified by appellations in terms of high and flavor too. Put that in your pipe and smoak it.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from booths at MJBizCon 2023
There were lots of parties, many more talks, and a LOT more booths – like everything else in this industry – some more diverse and/or inclusive than others. Booths like Super Dope doubled down on hentai-based marketing with life size cutouts of naked women which seems like a clear symptom of the observation that an industry run by men is only capable of marketing to men.
Despite garring displays like that, the MJBizCon show floor is where serendipitous meetings happen, cards and increasingly e-cards change hands or contact lists and hopeful brands look for their new supplier of X or a new machine for Y. It’s a giant room full of giant contradictions. It’s loud noise wise, but notably not loud marijuana wise. I saw solventless tech companies I had never heard of which is an exciting development. That is a coming new standard I can look forward to. There’s some stuff I saw that made me shudder though.
If you as a consumer ever see the words “live-dried” i suggest you run-don’t-walk away. I got to try a giant nug of freeze dried “cryo-trimmed” and “live-dried” flower. The cultivar was Compound Genetics’ Apples n Bananas and it was grown by Node Labs which I’ve tried flower from when it’s properly dried, cured, and trimmed (in that order) when it is good. The nug was too big to come out of the jar, all I could do was pinch it and take out perfectly finger ground dust one pinch at a time.
This comparison point makes me even more adamant that industrial shortcuts to proper post-processing are inherently detrimental to quality product, and it also makes me SO sad that this is likely a coming industry (low) standard due to the time and cost saving benefits.
No living plants are in sight, new fake flavors meant to imitate real cannabis are wafting from most booths, boof pushers meet with their new spray terp guy, MSOs are formed and introductions are made and received… and for better or worse, the industry moves forward.
In every niche of the industry, there are industry giants in larger booths and their upstart competitors in smaller booths all with varying qualities of end product/service or customer support. Everyone walking the floor is hoping to find the good provider, at the cheap price and everybody at a booth is hoping to find a good client, at the not cheap price. The amount of booths with people that can’t tell you basic information on what they’re selling was too high for comfort. This includes people selling white label seeds who don’t know how the autoflower cross was made, with what cultivar, or even by what breeder. If there really are new license holders in newly online states buying questionable genetics through these vendors instead of taking the time to educate themselves and seek proper genetics from proper sources, then that alone explains a lot of the lack of biodiversity in cannabis offerings I’m seeing in the legal cannabis industry across the board.
New cultivars with different taste and high profiles and therefore therapeutic uses are what really underpin this industry. It’s no surprise that I thought the most legit booth in terms of cannabis culture had to be cannabis genetics booths like the Exotic Genetix booth. I didn’t get a chance to meet Mike but I did peep their new menu. I also checked the menu from Seedsman, and liked the highest priced Diet Durban. It showed test results of 14% THCV and 14% THC. That is the kind of stuff that moves cannabis forward and gets me excited and to see it in a sea of autoflower options is reassuring.
I talked with a lucky visitor to that booth who did get to meet Mike and who actually walked away gifted with a free seed he had found in his sample bag. That’s the kind of serendipity that has always moved this culture and industry forward and I’m happy to see it alive and well even while stranded in the middle of a sea of suits in the middle of a desert in 2023.
I have one further anecdote of a high power interaction typical of the cannabis culture that I witnessed between two unsuited humans which I sincerely hope ends up moving the American world of cannabis in a better direction. Here goes…
Well known people in the space – like Berner – show up at big booths like Bic’s, and lines form for a chance to snap a selfie with a bonafide cannabis celebrity. Knowing this, the head of Cookies RnD walked up from the side, skipping the line entirely, and made sure the man himself knows to look out for the newest Pakistani landrace genetics coming down the line that hopefully make it all the way to the mylar bag.
For every deal between a fake terp provider and disty wholesaler that pushes forward the samesameification of weed, there needs to be a counter action that keeps the cannabis culture – the counter culture – alive. If real heads from around the country like Exotic Mike, Kevin Jodrey, Mile High Dave, La Marina Boyz, Jimi Devine, and many others (you know who you are) stop showing up at MJBizCon – that’s when the corporatization of cannabis will have completed. I’m happy to report that we aren’t quite there yet.
Dispatches from the floor: Made in America vs Made in China
Seeing proud made in America booths with long lines in sharp contrast to Chinese booths staffed by those with limited English skills with no visitors queued highlighted the need for somebody to translate cannabis culture to a key part of the industry that is largely alienated but obviously not leaving. I spoke to many hardware manufacturers – in Mandarin – and still marvel at the amount of competition over there and the continued general lack of consideration that some knowledge about the plant or extracts in question might aid in their business goals. The businesses that do take the feedback end up taking the torch, it’s cool to see new tech coming out like no burn tech for carts which is a chip in carts that keeps the temp of the coil below a certain limit. Guess which side of the left pond that level of tech evolution needs to happen at.
On a clearly related side note. If you ever ask a Chinese business partner to smoke and they politely decline, don’t be upset. This isn’t the site to hash it out on, but just know that they can’t risk it for their family’s sake. Shit’s real back there and the international snitches are real out here. Under these circumstances, even the admittance that they’ve tried it at some indeterminate time in the past should be recognized for the intimate disclosure that it is. Hats off to the real ones out there.
That’s it for The Highest Critic’s MJBizCon recap.
PS: It’s been a minute since I lived in Vegas and it’s always fun to go back and see Sin City still sinning. This city is still litty and primed for late night munchies. America’s true late night food mecca. Don’t miss the event next year.
My tips on how to properly enjoy Vegas? Take advantage of the open bar by drinking fruit juices instead of alcohol every now and then and stay hydrated. Why? So you can smoke more fiya.
Rebuff the offers of snow from Uber drivers with a chuckle and smoke doobs with the homie behind the counter at the tastiest buffet in town.
Take a risky bet on a 99 cent shrimp cocktail in the middle of the desert. Or try the other Fremont Street Experience: hustlin’ a chess street hustler and tippin’ him with weed.
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