I’m just back from another epic Seattle Hempfest. The Pacific Northwest is one of the most beautiful regions on the planet, and its volcanic mountains, vibrant cities and evergreen forests never cease to inspire wonder. I cherish my PNW canna-family, and am humbled at how rich and meaningful have been our shared experiences, as we workers in weed have toiled to reform marijuana law, and establish a legal cannabis industry.
It is a treat to spend time with legends: Farmer Tom Lauerman, Jake The Professor, Grandma Cat Jeter, Kevin and Crystal Oliver, AC Braddock and Fritz Chess, David Tran, Vivian McPeak, Joy Beckerman, Nurse Heather Manus, Ah Warner and so many others. This year we were honored to have USVI Senator Positive Nelson, who was traveling with a video crew from 420MEDIA, visit with us. I first met Terence, who is universally known as ‘Positive’, at a High Tea at Seattle’s Green Labs Farms a few years back, when as moderator I had the privilege of introducing the pro-pot and “positive living” politician to the cannabis community. Look for great things from the Senator and USVI (pot tourism anyone?) soon.
Seattle Hempfest for me has always seemed like the ‘State Fair of Weed.’ Tens of thousands of people — of every age, shape and size — streaming through a labyrinth of vendor booths, food trucks and tents, smoking weed, hanging out and listening to advocates preach to the choir, and bands sing about “Mary Jane.” This year was no different, a little smaller — a couple fewer stages due to lack of sponsorship support — and smokier, as a result of raging fires in Canada and Eastern Washington.
At the Curved Papers/MJBA booth, and at a series of industry parties, I had the opportunity to reconnect to my industry friends and colleagues. What I heard was a consistent narrative: these are make or break times for Washington licensees. Competition is fierce and getting fiercer. Wholesale prices are brutally low for producers, and while sales remain strong at retail and gross revenues are high, profits are elusive and unfair taxes still eat up most of the profits. For licensees the choice is straightforward: differentiate or die.
Much of our conversation revolved around the mainstreaming of cannabis — and the impact that the $4B USD investment that Constellation Brands just made with Canopy Growth would have on the mom & pops. The game has gone from grassroots to international overnight, and for the smaller players there is tremendous pressure to scale. Undercapitalized businesses are putting their licenses up for sale, or looking for partnerships and mergers.
Cannafest Destiny. The West Coast is the fertile birthplace of the legal cannabis industry. While NORML, established in 1970, can rightfully claim authorship of the political legalization and reform movement, the business — and more importantly the community — started in California, Oregon, Washington (and British Columbia). The legitimate markets that we have created out West have blazed bright, sparks have now inspired entrepreneurs, activists, investors and politicians across the country — from Maine to Maryland, Michigan to Oklahoma. Our duty and opportunity is now to export the incredible experience and knowledge to these new emerging markets.
In a weird wrinkle of federal prohibition, Legal Cannabis has become international, before it has become a national industry! Our neighbors to the north are rapidly ramping up their legal cannabis industry, and positioning themselves globally with distribution deals in emerging European, Caribbean and South American markets. Public Canadian companies are gobbling up American brands, and deals are now measured in the billions.
No where can we witness the mainstreaming of marijuana better than Las Vegas. Neon billboards on strip. 24/7 retailers with drive thru. Las Vegas, once upon a time among the harshest places in America to be caught with a seed or a stem (an infraction that could land you 20 years in the hoosegow) now actively planning the opening of consumption lounges and canna-friendly hotels. No peace, love and tie dye hippie culture here. Just the business of entertainment. It is fitting then that the next stop for the Cannafest Destiny tour will be Las Vegas Hempfest on November 3&4th — Viva Las Hempfest! Hope to see you there!