Odds are, most of you have attended a few conferences in your life. It could have been a gaming/casino industry convention in Las Vegas, 414 Milwaukee Day, LebowskiFest, or a jewelry fashion show in Rosemont, Illinois (Yes, I’ve been to the jewelry fashion show. No, it was not my idea. No, I did not enjoy myself.). You see my point – there are conferences for everything in our lives.
Given my professional career, I get to attend a number of conferences. Pot Conferences.
My guess is that half of you are already smiling at the thought of a McCormick Place-level throng of attendees getting high and eating munchies. Nope, it is not that kind of party. But if you are curious, let me describe to you what it is like attending a cannabis industry conference.
Let’s start with commonalities with almost any other conference:
- Headliners/keynote speakers, endless expert panel discussions with 2-4 panelists, expo’s with businesses promoting their products and services, and lanyards that share your name and workplace.
- Convention centers and conference ballrooms, stale hotel rooms, and hundreds or thousands of people you don’t know.
- Several days of meetings offering you the best chance to discard a bulk of your 500+business cards, and before you can blink you are longing to return home to your family and personal life.
Here is where cannabis conferences diverge from the norm:
- Yes, there is a fairly-constant scent of marijuana throughout the conference from those vaping in their hotel rooms, outside, and perhaps in the stairwell. Sometimes there are cannabis-friendly gatherings depending on what state the event is in (Colorado=yes; Illinois=no).
- The vendors are unmistakably focused on the cannabis industry – promoting their vaporizers and extraction machines, insurance and consulting services, and everything in between.
- There is an electricity in the air. Everyone seems to embrace the presumption that this industry is booming, that it is morally and scientifically beneficial, and will be trending upwards for many years to come. Attendees also seem to appreciate, and thrive on, the ever-present risk in the cannabis industry that it all could be shut down at any moment by the federal government. It sometimes feels like a capitalistic version of civil disobedience.
- It is not boring. We are talking about cannabis, after all.
There are many, many conferences/social gatherings/industry conventions to choose from. They could cost as little as $20 for a meet-up at a bar, or as much as $750 per person and thousands of dollars per company to stage a booth. Some of the best are hosted by groups like the National Cannabis Industry Association, Marijuana Business Daily, and Marijuana Investor Summit. I’ll even shamelessly promote a smaller Illinois conference I helped organize discussing cannabis legal issues.
But as fun and educational as cannabis conferences can be, I would strongly discourage you from making a habit out of attending them. For starters, they quickly become redundant – betraying how recycled the session information can be. It can be difficult to see through those peddling B.S. versus those that are true industry experts. The events are expensive – paying $750 a pop, plus hotel and airfare, can quickly become much too expensive for the likely return.
Finally, the proliferation of conferences diminish the overall value. Marijuana Business Daily showed how quickly they have expanded by identifying 6 conferences in 2014, but 31 conferences in 2015!
Forbes joined in by interviewing industry leaders on the impact of so many pot conferences:
“You can literally attend, speak or exhibit at an event every weekend,” said Chris Drissen, Chief Business Development Officer at O.penVAPE. “It has really had a negative impact on the attendance and viability of the few shows that are worth going to.”
For those of you considering attending your first cannabis conference – choose wisely and sparingly. It is absolutely worth going to one, but if you start attending so many that you reuse your lanyard from conference to conference, consider finding other things to do with you hard-earned cash.