Business leaders, consumers and advocates gathered at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo (CWCBExpo) at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City last week. For five straight years, the cannabis community has shared research, presented its latest products and established new relationships at one of the premiere marijuana conventions on the East Coast. Counselor was on the scene to see all of the promotional products that sponsors and exhibitors were handing out.
The four-day event featured speakers and presenters such as Whoopi Goldberg, former Kansas City Chiefs star Christian “Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, UFC fighter Liz Carmouche, NFL running back Mike James, and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.
Talk show host Montel Williams also delivered a keynote speech at the CWCBExpo, representing his brand Lenitiv, a line of innovative, high-quality cannabis and hemp derived CBD products. Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999, Williams has been using cannabis products to effectively manage the symptoms of his chronic illness.
“It’s not just his face on the cover – he has so much heart in the entire process,” said Jordon Rahmil, spokeswoman for Cura Cannabis Solutions, the manufacturer of Lenitiv products. “He has such a moving story and he does whatever he can to be the Montel Williams everyone expects him to be. People are inclined to check it out because of him, but on a deeper level, because it helps him in his daily life.”
In addition to networking events, there were discussion panels and sessions centered on a variety of industry topics such as medical marijuana, licensing, international investment, legal compliance and growing the hemp supply chain. High NY, the largest and longest-running cannabis meet up group in the state, holds similar education events each month. “I’m personally very interested in turning consumers into advocates,” said Michael Zaytsev, CEO of High NY. “We want to empower entrepreneurs and investors into building a responsible and sustainable industry.”
High NY had an assortment of branded apparel available, offering baseball caps, T-shirts, hats and socks, all emblazoned with the cannabis leaf. Attendees were given a tote bag upon arrival to the expo, filling it with logoed keychains, folders, leather eyeglass cases, foam coasters, stickers, pens, stress balls, pins, fidget spinners and koozies. There were also cannabis products on display such as bongs, bowls and refrigerator magnets that hold your vape pens. Capitalizing on the ever-growing edibles market, several exhibitors showcased cannabis-infused beverages and candy. Bradley’s, which manufactures and distributes hemp oil and nicotine e-liquids, set up a crane arcade machine for selecting hemp products.
“You can’t make assumptions about anyone in this industry,” said Francesca Vavala, marketing director and co-founder at Alias Cann, a cannabis sales and marketing outsource agency. “The person who walks past this booth could not look like a player, when in reality; they are one of the biggest growers in the state.”
Despite legalization slowly spreading throughout the United States, advertising challenges remain. Facebook, Instagram and Google have all cracked down on allowing cannabis brands to run ads, even in the states where marijuana is legal. “You have to circumvent traditional marketing paths,” Vavala said. “The challenge is finding the words and proper verbiage to get around the restrictions and still reach your target demographic.”
Since 2012, nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use: Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize by passing a law in the legislature rather than by use of a ballot measure. On the other hand, medical marijuana has been legalized in 29 states since California ignited the trend in 1996. Washington D.C., has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana use. Up north, medical marijuana has been permitted in Canada since 2001, and full-scale legalization in the country is slated for July.
Legal marijuana sales in North America were predicted to hit $9.7 billion last year, representing an unprecedented 33% rise over 2016, according to cannabis industry analyst Arcview Market Research. The industry is expected to reach $24.5 billion in sales by 2021 as more states follow suit and existing markets mature.