The Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBExpo) is one of the largest trade shows dedicated to the cannabis industry. Since 2014, the CWCBExpo has allowed people interested in the industry to learn valuable information about how to succeed while also helping businesses already operating gain valuable insight into growth strategies and also help connect with possible investors.
The fourth annual CWCBExpo is set to launch in Los Angeles on September 13th through the 15th and in Boston from October 4th to the 6th, with another show launching in New York next spring. In anticipation for these shows, we spoke with Dan Humiston, the founder of the CWCBExpo and President of the International Cannabis Association about how his events have helped change the industry and what the future may hold.
How did you get involved in the cannabis industry?
I got into the cannabis industry in a very roundabout way. In 2012, I was in a bicycle crash and I had to spend a whole summer in bed. During that time, my former business was winding down and I had retail locations around New York state that I had to figure out what to do with them. I was watching TV in bed because that’s all I could do that summer, and there was a 60 Minutes segment about the marijuana industry. And I thought, “Oh, there we go! I’ll open up dispensaries all around New York state.” So as soon as I could get mobile, I went out to Colorado and I tried to meet people and walk through dispensaries. But I couldn’t find any information. People were guarded and uncomfortable giving out info because they didn’t know who I was. So I looked it up on the Internet and couldn’t find much.
In 2013 I found a trade show up in Seattle in the grandstand of a horse track. At the show, they had all these experts speak, and I didn’t understand a thing they were saying because I wasn’t in the industry. The whole time I’m on Google trying to figure out what they’re talking about. I really felt out of place. At lunch time, I was sitting next to somebody and I said, “Gosh I don’t know what they’re talking about.” And he said, “Oh my god, I’m so glad you said that! I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about either.” The people at the table next to us said they didn’t know what they’re talking about either. There were about 200 people there, and about two-thirds of them were not in the industry. So all these people were there to figure out how to get into the industry, and they’re talking to people who’re already in it. So I saw there was an opportunity there, and began running my own trade shows.
What was the purpose of your trade shows?
Our target customer was the person looking everything up on Google. People who weren’t in the industry, but wanted to be. I tried to create an educational conference around that. At first, it was a lot of introductory information. As we’ve expanded, we’ve added more 200 and 300 level courses. That’s one of the big differentiators between ourselves and others in the industry.
Most of our advertising dollars are spent on billboards, radio, cable TV, buses, subway trains. These are the things where we’re doing to attract new people to the industry as opposed to sending stuff to dispensaries and people already in the industry. We have a great program for people who are already in the industry. But we’re trying to open the door to the industry for a new wave people and corporations who may not have felt comfortable before.
So how is the CWCB Expo different than other trade shows in the industry?
It’s a B2B show, not an end user show. Our exhibitors are not there to sell their wares to the attendees. Most people who attend our show are either in the industry trying to expand their product line or expand to a new state, and they come to see what’s available. Or it’s people who are brand new and want to know how to get into the industry and where there are opportunities. There are a lot of people who got into the industry by coming to one of our shows and got a job through it or started their own business. That’s how it seems to play out.
We also do really well with investors. When we do profiles of our attendees, we get a lot of them. So a lot of businesses get funding or find a partner through our shows. A lot of people walk away from our shows with investments they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
You’re running a show in LA in a few weeks, in Boston this October, and New York next year. How are the shows different in those locations?
We’re expanding our educational program in Boston. It’s probably going to be the largest cannabis educational conference ever held. We’re going to have over 100 sessions and well over 200 speakers over two days as well as a day of workshops. If you want to learn something in the industry, odds are that topic is going to be brought up. We’re covering a lot of things that maybe doesn’t hit the biggest audience, but definitely needs to be heard. And because there are so many educational institutions in Boston, we’ve attracted a lot of people who are doing research and projects related to cannabis that they’ll report on.
New York is a full-on media show. The exhibitors who come to New York come away with tons of free media. And people always say New York has such a restricted medical marijuana industry, but the market at that show isn’t just New York. It’s the entire East Coast and the international audience. We got a lot of people from other countries to attend our New York shows.
In LA, it’s California legalizing recreational marijuana. It’s the same thing we do at all our other shows, but everyone knows California is going to be the game-changer.
How would you say your show has changed the industry in recent years?
We’ve opened the door and allowed people who are interested in the industry to get the information they need to make that decision. When I got into the industry, I felt the next step was to be embraced by the business community. Marijuana was a fringe industry. I think we’ve helped bridge that gap and made it easier for the business community to embrace the industry and add it to their portfolios and make investments. I don’t know if we’re there yet, but we’re close to that final piece of the puzzle where the business community will push the legislative agenda over the top. That’s the only thing holding it back. There hasn’t been enough mainstream businesses and businesspeople involved. They don’t have to dominate it, but they need a piece of it so they can force the legislative hand.
What do you think will be the major trends in the cannabis industry the next few years?
Assuming the legislative environment at the national level doesn’t change, because any change federally would complete alter this prediction, the next three years there will be a ton of momentum as California comes on with recreational marijuana. It will cause a domino effect. In three years every state will have either medical or a recreational law in place. That will be the jump off point for the federal government to make a move. California will drive that. It won’t be day one. But when it doesn’t fall into ocean and everyone’s fine, people will realize they need to do this everywhere. And all the states where they can’t get the ballot initiative or state legislature bill through will start to grease right through. In three years, everything will be teed up for a change federally.