CWCBExpo brings together business, government, academia and activists

CWCBExpoIn the ultimate imprimatur of mainstream acceptance, the 10th annual Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo was held June 5-6 in Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center, the Big Apple’s premier venue for trade shows and industry confabs. And the event had the open participation of New York city and state government agencies, as well as capitalist enterprises from around the country and the planet.

For those who remember the days, just a generation ago, when New York City led the country in arrests for cannabis, there was a nearly surreal sense of living in the future.

Held in Gotham every year since 2014, and in the sterile environs of the Javits Center since 2015, the CWCBExpo bills itself as “the premier business-to-business trade show event for the legalized cannabis industry.”

Canna-business players
This year the guest of honor was Josh Kesselman, founder and CEO of HBI International, which since its founding in New York in 2005 has been selling the popular RAW Rolling Papers—the “plant-based” and “unadulterated” brand of unbleached papers designed to appeal to the all-natural set. Fashioning himself an icon of idealistic capitalism, Kesselman has funneled millions of dollars into global humanitarian work through his RAW Giving program.

Kesselman gave the confab’s opening address on the morning of June 5. This was followed by a “fireside chat” (no actual fire in the climate-controlled complex) with finance heavy-hitter Tim Seymour of Seymour Asset Management, who is portfolio manager of the Amplify Seymour Cannabis ETF (exchange-traded fund).

Other featured speakers included Cy Scott, CEO of Headset, an analytics company for the cannabis industry, who spoke on implications of the cannabis rescheduling now in the works by the federal bureaucracy.

After the gig, Kesselman enthused to Cannabis Now: “The CWCBExpo was RAWesome! I was honored to give the keynote in my birthplace of New York City, which I consider the birthplace of RAW. I believe that New York is the epicenter of cannabis. Which is why it was so important to me that I speak with our entrepreneurial market makers and do my best to help guide them through this transitional period, towards a New York cannabis market that provides opportunities to all of us. We all get higher together, especially when you have a New York State of mind!”

Such unabashed product-boosterism was, of course, much in evidence.

Among those on display were Glenna’s cannabis creations, made from upstate New York sungrown herb; Connecticut-based women-owned tincture purveyors Let Mom Sleep; and HappySap CBD-infused Vermont maple syrup.

Actual dispensaries represented tended to be from the greater metro area, such as TOSD—The Other Side Cannabis Dispensary & Lounge of Jersey City, NJ.

Also on hand were specialty companies that service the industry, such as GrowPros Solutions lighting systems of Chino, Calif.; Prihoda Grow ventilation systems of Mobile, Ala.; Savorx Flavors of Somerset, NJ,; TrufflyMade candy molds of Coronado, Calif.; and Setronics surveillance and security systems of Billerica, Mass.

Ravens View Genetics of Delhi, NY, provides landrace and hybridized seeds. The “dirt nerds” of GreenGro Biologicals in Windsor, Calif., offer organic fertilizers and soil amendments. LDT Works of Anaheim, Calif., boasts itself as “advancing automation in commercial cannabis.” Proteus420 of Vista, Calif., provides “seed-to-sale software,” while CannaCoverage of Newark, NJ, specializes in insurance for the cannabis industry. Jersey City’s CannaContent offers online marketing strategies. Fort Lauderdale’s Cannalytics is a consulting firm for the industry, while Indiva Advisors of Las Vegas offers accounting services.

And at least two Chinese firms were on hand. These were Huizhou Risen Lighting, from the city of that name in Guangdong province, and Yunnan Hempmon Parmaceuticals, based in Yunnan province’s Guandu Industrial Park. This latter is a subsidiary of the state-owned Chengzhi Shareholding, and produces commodities such as CBD cream, mousse and tincture.

Trade associations, government agencies
Beyond simple profit, many groups were present to advance a socially responsible model for the unfolding industry.

These included the New York Cannabis Retail Association (NYCRA), with its motto of “collaboration over competition.”

The Minority Cannabis Business Associations was promoting its vision of an “equitable, just, and responsible” cannabis industry.

Bloom Roc, based in upstate New York’s Rochester and rooted in the city’s African American community, networks the cannabis community throughout the western end of the state.

Also focusing on the BIPOC community is the Seasoned Evolution Center in Lake Katrine, NY, a small town in the Hudson Valley, which supports entry into cannabis and other sectors for historically marginalized peoples.

The CannaDiva Collective plays a similar role for women entering the industry.

The Asian Cannabis Roundtable seeks to represent and amplify AAPI voices in the cannabis industry.

And government was represented too. NYC Small Business Services had a Cannabis NYC table, presided over by the city’s own mayor-appointed cannabis czarina, Dasheeda Dawson.

The NYC Health Department was distributing material on “Safer Cannabis Use,” while the state Office of Cannabis Management was promoting its License Application Assistance Program. The NYS Department of Labor distributed a factsheet from its Cannabis Workforce Development unit on the legal status around adult-use cannabis and the workplace under the 2021 Marihuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), which implemented changes to the state Labor Law.

The New Jersey Business Action Center, a state government entity, was promoting its new Cannabis Training Academy, providing technical assistance to entrepreneurs.

Ezra Parzybok, principal consultant at Blue Skies Unlimited of Northampton, Mass., staffing the cannabis consultancy’s table, spoke to Cannabis Now about the need for pubic advocacy to make the “social equity” programs in many legalization states actually work.

“The state of Massachusetts was the first in the country to implement a social equity program,” he says. “The state has close to 1,000 applicants and less than five percent of them have successfully opened cannabis businesses.” This is partially due to a lack of seed money, which a state Social Equity Fund is now trying to provide. But navigating the bureaucracy can be daunting.

Parzybok says he has personal insight on the question as a social equity applicant himself, having pled guilty to cannabis possession in pre-legalization Massachusetts in 2015.

He offers an insight on the dilemma surrounding the legion unlicensed retail operators in New York state. “An interesting irony is the New York market. It has thousands of illegal shops open that in many cases are owned and operated by the very people these social equity rules purport to help. Shutting them down forcefully harkens back to drug war tactics, but leaving them open prevents ‘legitimate’ social equity teams from opening and succeeding.”

Academia embraces the industry
New York state universities were also represented—most notably SUNY Orange (formerly Orange County Community College) which had displays plugging its new course in Horticultural Cannabis (Hort 150), building on its longtime Hort 101, or General Horticulture. The school partners with local licensed producers, so students get their hands dirty in the earth at Orange County farms.

A display from the New York State Cannabis Workforce Initiative was plugging its efforts to promote equity, diversity and quality jobs in the emerging sector, in a partnership with Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations and the Albany-based Workforce Development Institute.

Challenges for cannabis media
One panel at the expo was entitled “Meet the Cannabis Press,” featuring Cannabis Now publisher Eugenio Garcia, Debra Borchardt of Green Market Report, Ronit Pinto of the alt-culture magazine Honeysuckle, and Mona Zhang, states cannabis policy reporter for Politico. It was moderated by Kim Prince of Proven Media, a marketing communications firm serving the cannabis industry.

They all had something to say about the existential crisis for media in the US and worldwide thanks to the sinister designs of search engine giants, social media platforms and artificial intelligence. Borchardt noted that cannabis media is inherently advocacy media, and called for the new money in the industry to commit to sustaining it.

“We can’t exist unless you help support us,” she urged the assembled industry heavy-hitters. “Buy ads, sign up for newsletters! We’re fighting so hard to get support for what we do.”

Cross-post to Cannabis Now

Image: Global Ganja Report



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