If you’re holding onto the image of tie-dyed T-shirts and Cheech and Chong, the marijuana business has passed you by.
More than 5,500 people converged on The Rio hotel-casino for the fourth annual Marijuana Business Conference and Expo. And some 250 exhibitors showed up to ply their wares, everything from good-old-fashioned pipes and bongs, disposable brain wave analyzers to $180,000 oil extractors.
And at least on Thursday afternoon, not a whiff of that smoky sweet marijuana smell in the air. In fact, most of the marijuana standards were largely absent. Long-haired Hippies, if you will. Blood-shot eyes. And those tie-dyed T-shirts.
Not a one.
The Marijuana Business Conference was more like a convergence of MBAs and shiny young entrepreneurs perched and ready to capitalize on America’s next new opportunity for dividends.
Among the exhibits is MJ Freeway Business Solutions. MJ Freeway is software for, as its website says “point of sale, inventory tracking, manufacturing, cultivation management and … cannabis small-business consulting services.”
Jessica Billingsley, co-founder of MJ Freeway, came from a tech background.
“Well, I’ve never actually lived in Silicon Valley but I do have a computer science degree and a tech background and my business partner ... had a web development firm,” she said. “So we are true IT tech people and we saw a need in this industry.”
Billingsley added something that is repeated by almost every exhibitor here. Business is booming.
“I can tell you that at MJ Freeway, we’ve doubled in revenue and staff since inception,” she said. “We’ve had some very explosive growth. We’ve been named to the Inc. 5000 list this year, one of only three cannabis companies to make the list.”
The “pot conference,” as many here call it, was started by Marijuana Business Daily, an online newsletter with more than 30,000 subscribers. Its audience includes business in 23 states, plus the District of Columbia, that offer medical marijuana, including Nevada. Four states have also legalized recreational marijuana. And next year, voters will decide if Nevada is added to that list. Six other states are also likely to vote on legalizing recreational pot.
Cassandra Farrington, who co-founded the Marijuana Business Daily, says watching the industry transform as it grows has been akin to a Harvard Business School case study.
“In the early days back in 2011 … they came up through the social advocacy side. And had perhaps been involved with the black market side for many years (and) truly believed in their heart of hearts that this was not a harmful product and it needed -- access needed to be given to the wider populations,” she said.
Today, it’s a very different story.
“Nowadays we see a seismic shift to where we see a lot of economic entrepreneurs. We see people looking at the marijuana industry as the next tech boom and pursuing it from that angle. What are my opportunities? I have this nest egg I created when I sold my Amazon stock. And where do I want to put that money? The marijuana industry is the next great important and fun thing to look at.”
So what are they selling at the marijuana expo?
Cannabidiol water and gummie bears, for one thing.
A company called Isodiol has used nanotechnology to make CBDs, or cannabidiols, soluble in water.
People drink lots of water, so there’s bottled CBD water called “CBD Naturals.” It’s legal in every state because CBDs are not illegal.
Cannabidiols, as publicist Andrew Hard explains, is NOT THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that makes people high. You could take as much CBD as you want without getting high.
“It’s the non psychoactive cannabinoid, you may also call it though the medicinal cannabinoid,” Hard said.
As such, 17 medical marijuana states only allow CBDs, not it’s more well-known cannabinoidal brother, THC. And because CBDs are a big part of the medicinal marijuana movement, several companies here sell machines that extract CBD oils.
One of those machines looks like a French espresso machine on steroids. It’s from Eden Labs, whose CEO, AC Braddock, explains how it works.
”So this is a 20-liter system. Our most popular system. You put 10 pounds of material in here. Put it in at the top, put the ground material in. It gets flushed with liquid CO2, so it’s really saturated. It travels over to the separator over here where the saturated gas drops out all of the oils and then the oils come out of the bottom.”
And just one of these glistening 20-liter oil extractors will put you back $180,000.
At that price, is anyone buying?
“Yes we sell quite a few,” Braddock said, smiling. “We have a hard time producing enough of them, actually.”
Not too many booths away, Andrew Pitsicalis sells glass pipes in the form of skeletons and other forms whose intricate design no words can adequately describe.
And there are booths that hawk canisters for pot that are vapor proof—you can’t smell it once it’s in there. There are grow lights. Special soils.
One of the most crowded booths is for PotBotics. It markets a throw-away electroencephalogram or EEG device that works something like this: After a doctor prescribes a CBD, you return a few weeks later for a checkup. The doctor puts the plastic, thin device on your head. It’s sticky. Doesn’t hurt. But gives him a computer read out. A neurologist at a remote location analyzes the readout. That will help the doctor decide if the prescription needs to be altered.
Co-founder and CEO David Goldstein says the hope is to have a model out within a year that people could purchase on their own and do at home.
Pot, it’s becoming very clear, is not just for stoners anymore. It’s big, big business. And with medical marijuana just getting started in Nevada, and a ballot initiative for legalizing recreational pot up for a vote in 2016, expect more and more of this business in Nevada.
Joe Schoenmann, KNPR's State of Nevada
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