“A big round of applause for the marijuana industry,” Chris Walsh, then-vice president of Marijuana Business Daily, crowed on the occasion of his trade publication’s annual MJBiz conference in 2018.
The cannabis industry had “successfully navigated childhood” to stand “at the doorstep of adolescence,” Walsh, who today is CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, wrote at the time.
For this year’s conference, Eli McVey, MJ Business research editor, extended the metaphor, writing, “The cannabis industry has since bolted across that proverbial doorstep, emerging as a lanky, acne-ridden teen.”
While some in the industry might take exception to the dermatitis reference, no one would deny cannabis’s status as a thriving category. That was apparent at the Dec. 11–13 2019 MJBizCon, in Las Vegas, which attracted more than 31,500 cannabis professionals. The publication called that attendance figure a 14 percent increase over 2018, reflecting a record turnout of 33,000 attendees, on hand to eye the latest tech innovations in cannabis. Today In: Innovation
Walsh interpreted these numbers positively: “While there are problems in the industry, as a whole it’s still a fast-growing industry with a lot of optimism and a lot of opportunities behind it,” Walsh said in an interview. “There’s some doom and gloom coming out of California, where the marijuana roll-out has not been smooth …” he said, describing companies struggling in California and Canada alike, due to uncertain regulations and a shifting landscape.
But, overall, things are good, Walsh said, citing, for instance, the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in Illinois and Michigan. Trends he noted at the conference included the increased presence of international attendees, especially from China; and the use of larger, flashier booths and exhibits, reflecting stepped-up marketing and branding. “The industry is becoming more competitive and is following a lot of the trend lines that have played out in other sectors,” Walsh pointed out.
Karen Paull concurred; she’s half of the duo, with Wendy Robbins, behind The Marijuana Show, a Shark Tank-like show on Amazon television for cannabis companiesseeking investment. “Our industry has grown so much, and yet we are still so new; there are many possibilities for any company to rise up and become the next Netflix of cannabis,” Paull said by email. Referring to Netflix’s takeover of the entertainment market after Blockbuster tanked, she added: “Maybe that will be us!” She and Robbins have particular affection for MJBizCon, she said, because they raised their first million dollars there in 2015.
Asked as cannabis investment experts to single out some of the most interesting companies they’d seen at MJBizCon, the Marijuana Show founders listed the following:
Hypur – banking technology: Because federal disapproval of cannabis makes credit transactions risky, if not illegal, Hypur has stepped in to provide payment and banking technology for high-risk markets, including MSBs and cannabis-related businesses. “We like their app and the ease it provide[s] for cannabis-banking transactions, without sign-up or transaction fees,” Paull said. “This ease of use puts them ahead of their competition, which often relies on work-arounds, like paying with pre-paid cards or cryptocurrency. She said she and Robbins liked the fact that Hypur enables buyers to pay for cannabis and hemp from their bank accounts – legally, with “no need to deceive the card networks.”
Canntrade – bringing buyers and sellers together: Basically a Match.com for buyers and sellers of cannabis and hemp, Canntrade integrates with metric tracking, Square, sales tools, inventory tracking and some CRM tools; it focuses on bulk products in the B2B space. Paull said she liked how Canntrade takes a smaller percentage than its competitors do and follows up with buyers and sellers to make the sales process easier. “They also ensure that the buyer has the funds to pay, as that’s a big issue in the market,” Paull wrote. “This cuts out brokers, since that is where a lot of confusion and endless fees typically come from.”
Pax – Paull defended Pax Labs, an electric vaporizer company and Juul spinoff, despite the current vaping crisis. “Since the black market was the culprit” in recent vaping deaths and injuries,” those unfortunate events “negatively impacted many legitimate vape companies including Pax,” Paull wrote. She praised the company because, she said, it’s “made a name for itself in terms of quality and an Apple-like ease of use and ruggedness.” The company was started by two Stanford grads frustrated with the poor quality of vaporizers then on the market. “We like the cutting-edge technology, the clean and modern branding, and the quality of the people at the booth we met,” Paull wrote.
Robbins, for her part, said she was pleased to see eco-friendly presentations at the conference. “Our ‘green’ industry is not green,” Robbinspointed out by email. “Too much plastic, energy and water, so we loved that all three days featured solar energy options … we are interested in investing in hemp and mushroom packaging.” Among the eco presentations she mentioned from the conference:
EMerge Alliance: Emerge is an open industry association developing standards to encourage the rapid adoption of DC power distribution in commercial buildings. The objective is greater design and space flexibility, energy efficiency and improved sustainability. For cannabis, the need is obvious: “Cannabis cultivation in the United States is on pace to consume nearly 1.8 million megawatts-hours of electricity,” an Emerge Alliance document said. “That energy demand is only expected to rise and will greatly impact the operational costs for cultivators. With energy costs accounting for 20 to 40 percent of an indoor grower’s total operating costs, solar energy is a game-changer for the cannabis industry.”
DR Microgrid: DR Microgrid presented on the role solar microgrids will play for cannabis and other growers, to establish an energy plan to mitigate the loss of essential power infrastructure.
Finally, on a lighter note, was this next company, whose exhibition Marijuana Business Daily personnel said attracted considerable attention:
The EZJ AutoRoller: A EZJ AutoRoller video portrays this machine roller of cannabis joints. In person, the manufacturer jokes, the AutoRoller “resembles an over-sized coffee machine and can produce several hundred joints in an hour.” Added the company literature: The patent pending platform “was uniquely designed to meet the demands of the pre-roll market and can produce an unlimited number of high-quality pre-rolled cones, at speeds faster than any other small-scale manufacturing methods.”
Joan Oleck Contributor
Joan Oleck is a freelance writer based in Northampton, Mass.