In the year since recreational pot use was legalized in Colorado and Washington, the cannabis industry has been booming. Now, the association that represents it is attempting to pull off its first full-scale meeting.
To an outsider, the Cannabis Business Summit—the National Cannabis Industry Association’s (NCIA) first national conference, which will take place this June in Denver—might seem like an excuse for people in the marijuana industry to get together for a “tradeshow” of epic proportions.
Whether that’s a fair assumption or not, it represents an image of the industry that NCIA is hoping to break away from by hosting its first full-blown tradeshow.
“Whenever we do regional events, if you walked in off of the street and didn’t know what the event was for, you’d never be able to guess from [looking around] the room. This event will be no different,” said NCIA Deputy Director Taylor West. “As a national conference, this is a great opportunity for people to see what the reality of this industry is, and that reality is that these are extremely competent, responsible, and ambitious businesspeople—on top of it being an industry that’s committed to ending the social injustices of prohibition.”
Since 2012, when voters approved ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado creating the legal-marijuana market in those states, the growth of the industry has been tremendous, West said. “Fifteen months ago we had about 150 member businesses. Now we are almost 500 strong, and that was part of the reason why it looked like the timing was right to put together this kind of national event.”
NCIA is still putting the finishing touches on the conference agenda. West said it is likely to include education sessions broken down into five different tracks for various parts of the industry and attendee experience levels: CannaBusiness 101, Advanced CannaBusiness, Ancillary Services and Products, Cannabis Policy and Reform, and Community Sessions. The exhibition floor will feature 30 cannabis businesses.
“We want to put a spotlight on some of the critical segments of the industry,” said West. “Because of our position within the industry, we know who the truly experienced and skilled people are, and so the idea is to put together a program that allows people to gain the most knowledge possible.”
As for location, West said NCIA wasn’t tied to holding the meeting in Washington or Colorado, but Denver was a logical choice given the nature of the cannabis market there.
“Colorado has been the epicenter of the increased attention being paid to the industry, so it made sense to have our first conference there,” she said. “Plus, about a third of our members are based there.”
The goal for the conference, like any other association meeting, is to bring together members of an industry to network and learn from one another.
“One of the things that’s great about this industry right now, is that there is just a very real sense of collaboration—people are sharing information and sharing ideas,” West said. “It’s obviously a competitive industry, too, but there’s a real sense that we are building the next great American industry, so the national conference is just going to put that on an even bigger stage.”