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Two big conferences on two coasts

Updated: Mar 28



I had the pleasure of attending two important conferences recently and wanted to share my thoughts. Both Hall of Flowers in Ventura and NECANN in Boston are important and very different events in the cannabis industry. Both I attended for the first time and both were interesting and fruitful in their own ways. Before I get into what I learned, who I saw and what I thought, I want to share briefly about a couple of important events I attended at the end of February and the beginning of March.



 

The first event was the Blunt Brunch San Diego Vision Board event. I have shared about Blunt Brunch before and it’s one of my favorite groups that I have joined since becoming a part of the cannabis industry. Blunt Brunch is special because it’s a group of women in the industry that have blunt conversations and lift each other up to help promote and encourage each other’s businesses. It was started by Adelia Carrillo and Parisa Mansouri-Rad who are both boss babes in cannabis working on a number of different endeavors.



Grass Goddess Consulting is a sponsor for all the Blunt Brunch events in San Diego this year and the vision board event was the perfect kickoff to 2024. Not only did I have the opportunity to connect and reconnect with other local cannabis professionals, but I also had the opportunity to do one of the Highly Capitalized interviews with Rachel Wright. I’ve known Rachel for a little while as my CPA and we’ve also worked together on some dispensary projects. She is a powerhouse financial expert in the industry and I’m honored to call her a friend. You can check out my interview with Rachel here.

 



The following week I was invited to attend a women’s event at the Flowerhire offices in Manhattan Beach by Sarah Falvo. I was a little hesitant because I knew I would be driving up to Ventura the following week but it also looked to be a really lovely event with a number of women who I either hadn’t met or had only met briefly. Sarah and I have only interacted briefly on a number of occasions but I’ve known of her long enough to know that she surrounds herself with quality people. That was definitely the case at what was a really fun, casual, engaging event at a beautiful location right on the beach.


I participated in a discussion on Patriarchal Bulls*** which was a powerful and emotional conversation about all the things we as women have to put up with in a male dominated industry. Menopause was also a hot topic of conversation and a subject that the cannabis industry is going to make its imprint on. Also loved that there was a craft table! Christina Cassidy who I keep running into recently is a master crafter and I’m hoping she will teach me her ways.

 

Onto the main event! Hall of Flowers in Ventura was definitely top three biggest events I will go to this year and it lived up to the hype. My HOF experience started at the Sunstone Winery Budist event. Sunstone started making cannabis seltzers as an alternative drink option for people visiting the winery that don’t want to drink wine, which I think is genius. There are a lot of parallels with wine and cannabis and the recent Ganjier program that was modeled after the Sommelier certification is just one example of how we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. It was almost too perfect to have the Budist launch to cap it all off and tie it all together.



The venue was gorgeous and there was a balcony area with cannabis consumption including a Kiva infused chocolate fountain, dab bar with 710 Labs concentrates and a number of other brands that you could experience.


Downstairs was the wine consumption area, terpene infused gelato, wood fired pizzas and just the best collection of cannabis industry professionals. I hung out with my friend Alyson Osterberg from Pamos and my attorney, Kelly Hayes and also ran into a bunch of other friends in the industry and met a handful of new people as well. My earrings from High on Plants and my Weed Auntie beanie are talking points for sure and facilitate me meeting people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.


The next day I didn’t have a ticket to HOF, which worked out because I had a bunch of meetings and took them from my hotel. Early evening I met up with Kelly Hayes and Rachel Wright for dinner and then we went to the THC Design and Gelato parties.



The sky was looking so pretty which made for some sweet pics at the THC Design party. I have communicated with Alice Moon over social media since I started wearing High on Plants earrings all the time more than 6 months ago but we hadn’t had the chance to meet in person. She was the one that told me about the party and we were able to chat and discuss ways that we can work together.

 


Next was the Gelato party which included Mini KISS, a KISS cover band, a mini donut making machine and of course a dab bar. It was a smoke-filled music hall in Ventura and the vibe felt perfect for the beach-front town. I had been wanting to try the little ice cream cones filled with chocolate edibles that Gelato makes and they are just as delicious as I imagined. It wasn’t a long, wild night of parties but it was perfect for me. I got to spend time with two women that support my business in important ways and meet some new people. Also ran into June Blankin from Fat Nugs magazine, who I met at the Beard Bros Friday Sesh Live event in January.



Thursday was industry day at HOF and I bought a ticket so I could experience the event for the first time. A lot of it was kind of what I expected, every brand with a booth showing off their latest and greatest but there was also this outdoor experience with consumption, small rides, food vendors and people enjoying the Southern Californian sunshine. It really was a cannabis lover’s playground. For me, talking to people at the booths was mostly just for fun, checking in with my favorite brands and reps that I know, getting some free (or almost free) product and just talking about the event and the industry. The real benefit of these types of events is walking around and bumping into people I know and meeting new people they might be with. Here are some of my favorites.



At this point, I’d like to call out a new partnership that I’ve made with Meadow. I’ve been following Meadow since I came to the cannabis industry and have a lot of respect for their software, their business and how they position themselves in this complicated industry. Why it took me a little longer to form a partnership with Meadow, well there’s a few reasons, honestly it was just a matter of time and me only having so much time. I now have a client that is using Meadow and it made sense to finally make our partnership official.

 

The reason why I’ve dropped this little gem in the middle of my HOF summary is because the Meadow team was present and accounted for at HOF and it was really a great opportunity after reaching out to Wally the week before, to meet several members of the team including David Hua the CEO. Some of the Meadow team attended the Sunstone Budist party Tuesday night including Max from their support team who I had emailed with just a few days prior. He came up to me and introduced himself and it was such a standout moment to meet someone who gave such amazing customer service. (Think about the last time you got great service like that over email or phone and then imagine a few days later you are at a party and that person comes up to you…it’s pretty wild!) I also had the opportunity to discuss the project I’m working on with David and the team and they are very excited about the work we are doing. Stay tuned for more on that…


While at HOF on Thursday I was able to chat briefly with Wally at their booth and also met some other members of the team. Meadow was supporting the sales of many of the brands in their booths and it was cool to see their software front and center at the show. While making one of my purchases, Matt Anderson from Meadow came up and started a conversation with me and Kelly. I’ve interacted with him on LinkedIn and he mentioned pretty quickly the lack of their logo on my website. My little business hasn’t fully been in existence for a year yet and people knowing about it and what I do is still strange for me so I was humbled by this interaction.



The conclusion to my first HOF was also a highlight. I had the privilege of listening to Bill and Jeff from the Beard Brothers interview Randy Lanier who spent 27 years in prison for non-violent cannabis charges. He now heads Freedomgrow and helps put money in prisoners bank accounts by selling art he creates and pieces made by people incarcerated. Social equity and reversing the wrongs created by the war on drugs is a platform that I take seriously. It is IMO a critical piece to the success of the cannabis industry.


Randy’s story was heartbreaking. He had a wife and two small children when he was incarcerated and I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like for them to go through their lives not only without their husband/father but also with society deeming his actions as criminal. Randy’s story is also uplifting. After what sounds like years of denial, trying to escape, solitary confinement and other unthinkable punishments, Randy decided to change his life. He started meditating, doing art, educating himself, and when Randy was finally released, he returned to his family and chose to do work to better the lives of those dealing with a similar situation. It was a beautiful way to conclude my time by walking through the art gallery with all the pieces Randy brought to raise money and give back.

 


The seven days in between HOF and NECANN were rough. The day after HOF I had 103 degree fever and was stuck in bed for four full days with headache, chills, body aches, all the fun stuff! Tuesday the following week I started to feel human again and got back to some important work that I had to put on hold. Wednesday morning I was so excited that I got to go back to my hip hop class. With my trips up to LA recently I’d missed a few classes and then being sick, I was really missing my dance therapy. Maybe I was just a wee bit too excited because about halfway through I fell flat on my face!  Well I tripped myself and landed on my chest (pretty sure from my sore neck that I whipped my head back saving my face). It actually wasn’t that bad at all, I’m good at falling. Rarely brace myself as I fall which saves me from sprained or broken wrists or other weird aches and pains. Anyway, I mention this because it felt meaningful to me. I fell, I got back up, I’m a dancer, that’s what we do. It’s just one more life lesson smack dab in the middle of my crazy life that (though I wish I never fell down, ever) told me a lot about myself and that things get in my way but it’s not about the fall, it’s about what you do after.

 

Now you should have a good picture of my snotty, recovering, bruised body traveling across the country to Boston for NECANN. I lived in Boston in 2013-2014 and it holds a special place in my heart. I consider it one of my three hometowns alongside Chicago and San Diego. I hadn’t been to Boston in over five years and was really excited to be back. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans and it was unusually cold, rainy and windy for late March but so it goes in New England. My travel over wasn’t the smoothest with a very early morning flight and a too tight connection in Newark (United- If the boarding starts before the connecting flight lands, there’s a problem) but I got to my hotel in Boston by 6p and had time to relax and go to bed at a decent hour.

 


The conference started at 10a and my hotel was just a 10 min walk away so also had a chill morning and then went over and checked out a few talks to start the day. The first talk I went to was about the ‘Invisible’ shopper and how to capture data about them. It was interesting because the industry is trying to capture consumer data at the dispensary level to use for loyalty and marketing purposes but people aren’t always shopping for themselves. This resonates with me a lot because I buy a lot of products at dispensaries that I give to other people. One of the reasons I love my Weed Auntie beanie so much is because I love to be everyone’s Weed Auntie and bring them new cannabis products to try.


During Q&A I turned around to listen to the question being asked and caught a glimpse of Laura Hand from Laura Loo Experience Design, who I’ve been talking to remotely but hadn’t yet met. She does Customer Journey Mapping and I'm hoping to find some clients that are interested in working on a project involving CJM and utilizing data to craft or improve the customer experience. It was great to start the day meeting one of the people I had been looking forward to meeting in person.

 



The next talk I went to was about various technology and was also really interesting. Tetragram, MyTEPI and Pluggi were all being spotlighted and it was great to learn about the apps and some of the thinking behind their founders. This brings me to one of my favorite things I heard while at NECANN. Livi McKay, the founder of MyTEPI was talking about the concept of medical vs recreational and she made a comparison that I hadn’t heard before. She said, when you go for a walk, is that medical or is that recreational? I feel like that resonates so well with a lot of people because everyone knows walking is important for health, you have to get your steps in! But is it medical? Cannabis is for wellness. There are so many benefits from cannabis that can help people medically. Cannabis is also fun, it can open your mind, increase connectivity, you can get high. The issue with calling cannabis recreational (which I try not to do, I prefer adult use) is it gets compared to alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin, it isn’t medical. So much of what I try to use my platform for is around language and using the right terminology to help de-stigmatize and increase normalization. But it’s also not always just about the language, it’s also about categorizations. We need to be careful, medical cannabis is taking a back seat in adult use markets and that’s a problem. A big one!

 

Walked the floor for a little while and stopped by some booths of tech companies that I’m considering partnering with. I ran into my friend Taylor from CASA Retail and met the person he was walking the floor with who I will definitely stay connected with. I love growing my network through people I trust’s networks. I have to say that I was slightly over walking the expo floor and having random conversations but I stuck with it and made sure I connected with everyone I needed to before calling day 1 at the conference a wrap.



After thinking through various afterparty scenarios, I decided to just go to the Happy Valley party, which I was invited to from Gregg Weiss who I met at Cannadatacon. I was very impressed with Gregg and how he described Happy Valley and wanted to see more.


The party was across the street from my apartment when I lived in Boston. The whole area around North Station has completely transformed over the past 10 years and it now is a super hub of experiences, movies, shopping, and lots of flashing lights. My little apartment building still stands there just as it was in the middle, which seems surreal.


Happy Valley just launched their new flower line, which was FIRE! I’m a Cali girl, we are snobby about our weed and I was impressed. They also have some high quality edibles and these Stir Stix, which are 5mg powder you dissolve in your drink, which is right up my alley!! The food was great, people kept handing me more free product and I had some fun conversations and also talked some serious business. Stayed for a couple hours, took the T to and from my hotel and was in bed by 10p. Party perfection in my book!

 


I started day two at a panel about the intersection of healthcare and cannabis with Roz McCarthy, Omari Anderson, Nichelle Santos and moderated by Dru Ledbetter. Medical cannabis has taken a hit in most markets that have added adult use and it's frustrating. Cannabis is first and foremost medicine and thinking about the fact that making it more accessible has made medicine more expensive and difficult to get is infuriating. It was a good conversation about things we can do to advocate for the medical market and different product types that are important for medical patients.


Maybe my favorite talk that I attended was Dr. Miyabe Shields who named her talk 'Reframing Stoner Science - A New Perspective on the Biochemistry and Chemical Diversity of Cannabis Consumption.' The title spoke to me since my background is in science and I have a Biology degree but the talk itself was so much more than a research presentation sharing data and coming to conclusions. It was about people and how we are different and how our brains (and other body systems) were made for cannabis compound interactions. Neurodivergence was discussed and Miyabe presented research but also gave anecdotal evidence from her own life and how cannabis has facilitated many of the impressive things she has accomplished.


Miyabe's company is The Network of Applied Pharmacognosy, which analyzes data from lived experience and research to share conclusions on plant-based medicine. Miyabe is cool. I felt like I was at a scientific conference hearing a technical presentation while knowing that the presenter had consumed cannabis prior to getting on stage. This is not for everyone but as I've gotten more comfortable with my own consumption, I've found how it elevates my performance in various activities. Miyabe's research will probably enlighten us on why this is and varieties of brain chemistries that make this a phenomenon.

 

This brings me to my final point, which is the juxtaposition of HOF in Ventura and NECANN in Boston can’t be ignored. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of similarities in these markets that make them both cannabis industry leaders in their regions. Both CA and MA were early legalization states, both currently have robust markets and both are struggling with their medical programs being insufficient post adult-use legalization. Both conferences are important for people working in the industry, from brands to retailers to ancillary companies, if you work in the market, you should probably attend the conference to keep up-to-date.


But the differences were striking. HOF has always been first and foremost about the brands. Brands bring culture and culture comes mostly from the legacy market. In addition, Ventura is a surfer town in Southern California. There are a lot of associations made with cannabis and the surfer/stoner association is a big one. On the other hand, Boston is right next to Cambridge. Harvard and MIT bring a lot of smart people from all over the world and a lot of these people are or are going to become cannabis consumers. As more legacy consumers 'come out of the closet' and more new consumers try and incorporate cannabis into their lives, we are going to see a shift in these personas. I feel like over a weeks time and traveling across the country, I saw it with my own eyes. And though I am a proud 'So Cal Stoner,' I am also educated, intelligent and in my own right a 'Stoner Scientist.' Final picture showing me in my Scientist days working for Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Boston in 2013. Was a daily cannabis consumer then as I am now, just looks a little different.



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