5 Key Takeaways From Cannabis Conference
Eric Sandy, CBT digital editor (left), alongside Paul Weaver, director and head of cannabis at Boston Beer Co.
All images: Las Vegas Event Photography
Plus, read some more quickfire quotes from the week.
August 26, 2022
After three days filled with more than 40 educational sessions, Cannabis Conference 2022 came to a close on Thursday.
In that time, nearly 100 different speakers covered a wide variety of topics, from cultivation and processing to retail and business.
While they offered numerous pieces of advice, some common threads appeared throughout the week. Here are five key takeaways from this year’s sessions.
1. Work with what you have.
Several panelists spoke to the importance of recognizing the bounds in which business owners are operating, both in terms of their facility and community. This can help them make crucial decisions along every step of the supply chain, from cultivation to retail. For example:
- Panelists in the "Facility Design - Greenhouse” session agreed that when it comes to greenhouses, it is critical to understand your local environmental in order for your cultivation to succeed.
- In terms of processing, “you want to make sure the facility and property are taken into consideration. ... Your needs vs. what you already have in that facility,” said Crystal Hoffman, former regional director of operations of Slang Worldwide.
- At the retail level, Kate Miller, co-founder and CEO of Miss Grass, urged the audience to consider the community their brand is attracting before launching new products. This will help generate a sense of self, which is necessary for building an audience locally and, eventually, nationwide. Also, Amanda Ruge, co-founder of Flowspace Design, LLC, told the audience not to “underestimate the amount of space you are going to need for receiving and storage.”
2. Choose who you work with carefully.
Some emphasized that doing business with the right people is essential. “We are less reliant on service providers,” said Mason Walker, co-owner and CEO of East Fork Cultivars, adding that while partners can be helpful, he has also had experience with bad partners, “so it’s one of the biggest benefits to our business to be able to be self-reliant.”
“There is no such thing as a good deal with a bad business partner,” said Obie Strickler, CEO of Grown Rogue.
3. Recognize the value of in-person communication.
Panelists shared their experience with not only educating consumers face-to-face, but also learning from them in person. "At the store level, we really focus on educating at the point of purchase," said Jonathan Spadafora, president of Veritas Fine Cannabis.
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Some noted the importance of getting out into the floor and listening to conversations between dispensary staff and customers, where invaluable insights that can’t be quantified are shared. “Use data more as a gut check than a North Star,” said Jesse Channon, chief growth officer of Columbia Care
4. Cannabis is finding a place in the beverage market.
Paul Weaver, director and head of cannabis at The Boston Beer Company (a company that launched a line of THC-infused iced teas), spoke to where the cannabis beverage market stands. "We now know how to make a stable beverage that will preserve the ... terpene content," Weaver said. He added that he would like to see “separate consideration” instead of linking them with edibles.
“Our biggest dream, and [I think for many people] is to find harmony in how we market alcohol and how we can market cannabis,” Weaver added.
Weaver’s talk wasn’t the only time speakers linked cannabis with the alcohol market.
“I always compare cannabis to alcohol spirits. When you’re an 18-year-old kid, you go into the liquor store, and you buy Bacardi 151. You’re like, ‘That’s the one. That’s the best one—151.’ And then eventually you learn to like something that’s aged, or it’s just a better quality with a better effect,” said David Holmes, founder and CEO of Clade9. “The [cannabis] consumer is not there yet, but they will be.”
5. The cannabis market is still in its early stages, but maturation is coming.
Many speakers looked to the future of cannabis. While challenges remain for the industry, the market is continuing to mature day by day. Advancements are being made in cultivation, especially as “we’re coming to a point where university research has really helped the cannabis industry,” said Dr. Bruce Bugbee, a professor at Utah State University.
Holmes also spoke to where he predicts consumers will take the industry. “…At this stage, we’re growing for high THC, growing for real pretty-looking, super triched-out purple bud. But it’ll evolve eventually,” Holmes said. “It’ll be a little bit more I think of a connoisseur landscape.”
For now, the market is still unpredictable, said Mitchell Baruchowitz, the founder and managing partner of Merida Capital Holdings. “No one knows the cycles of this [market],” Baruchowitz said. “The reality is, if you have the right open mind and approach, [the opportunity to exit the market will] be there for you again. This is going to go back up. There will be wind in our sails, and it’s not always going to be a headwind.”
However, Baruchowitz also noted the importance of understanding the difference between “the future that will arrive” and “the future that will be built.” The former is coming anyway; sales will continue to accelerate, more states will come online, cannabis will become a normalized product in society. But the latter is something business owners have the power to create on their own.
Here’s what other speakers had to say about:
- “We plant companion crops every year. Companion crops are non-cannabis plants you plant in and around your cannabis crops to bring benefits.” -Julia Jacobson, CEO, Aster Farms
- "Ethanol is no joke. It has even more requirements than hydrogen carbon. ... There's a lot of engineering requirements. ... We recommend a consultant or someone who knows what they are doing." - Kim Eastman, vice president of manufacturing, Jushi
- "If you lose power, you need to make sure you have a backup generator. ... You can't just have the power shut off. ... If you have a backup freezer with the product and the power goes out, that product is basically shot." - Kim Eastman, vice president of manufacturing, Jushi
- "We focus on engaging budtenders and incentivizing them to get the products out," - Jonathan Spadafora, President, Veritas Fine Cannabis
- "You have to find a way to differentiate yourself so you are the choice dispensary in your area." - Wendy Bronfein, chief brand officer and director of public policy, Curio Wellness
- "You want to be in the best high-traffic area [when you choose a location] ... with good visibility, lots of traffic going by." - Wendy Bronfein, chief brand officer and director of public policy, Curio Wellness
- “Consider whether product will be right behind budtenders or if they have to go into a separate room to get it. " - Amanda Ruge, co-founder, Flowspace Design, LLC
- "We now know how to make a stable beverage that will preserve the ... terpene content." - Paul Weaver, director, head of cannabis, The Boston Beer Company
- "In Canada, ... you are five times more likely to consume a cannabis beverage with a group of five or more. ... it's the natural sweet spot." - Paul Weaver, director, head of cannabis, The Boston Beer Company
- “It can be intimidating … to learn the language of finance in order to have [investment] conversations, but it is important. We appreciate entrepreneurs asking questions. Don’t be afraid to push on capital.” - Colin Kelley, operating partner, Merida Capital Holdings
- “If you don’t love weed, then this industry is not for you.” - Chris Ball, owner, CEO, Ball Family Farms