It felt like the entirety of California's cannabis industry congregated last week for the third installment of Hall of Flowers — a business-to-business expo, luring about 6,000 attendees over two days at Santa Rosa's famed Sonoma County Fairgrounds.
Marketed as a "licensed, industry-only, high curated" trade show, cannabis brands and dispensary buyers from across the state huddled over flower, concentrate, edibles, topicals, and accessories throughout three massive conference halls spread over the fairgrounds. The idea, according to the organizers behind Hall of Flowers, is to "incubate the future of cannabis brands." But as a journalist touring the expo, I wondered, what exactly does this curated future look like? In the age of legalization — and more so, regulation — can authentic cannabis culture flourish vis-à-vis market interests and the capitalistic forces of the Green Rush?
To be fair, unlike other events at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, such as the Emerald Cup, Hall of Flowers isn't meant to be a consumer-facing festival. Beside a familiar sampling of food trucks, there were no musical acts, and very little on-site consumption (at least compared to a Cup).
The conference was organized according to distribution companies, with their brands bunched together in a few shared booths that filled up various sections of the expo halls. My goal was to scour the conference for brands that would give me hope in a socially and environmentally conscious future for the industry.
And so, naturally, my first stop was Brother David's, a new flower brand, founded by David Bronner of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. Stickers reading "End Federal Cannabis Prohibition!" and "Just Say No to Chemical-Industrial Cannabis!" lined the booth. And the glass flower jars featured equally inspiring rhetoric, asserting the cannabis that would be sold inside them was sun grown "in the soil of Mother Earth, without chemicals, by fairly paid family farmers." The jars also had stickers that speaking to the company's ethos: "This sacred ally [cannabis] can help wake us to the miraculous present moment — to the natural world, music, each other, and our most loving, creative, beautiful selves. God/dess bless."
Feeling inspired by Bronner's eco-conscious approach, I headed down the aisle to Highland Pantry, a brand that tackles ageism in the cannabis industry. Marketed as "Cannabis for Boomer Babes," Highland Pantry offers low dose, CBD-dominant mints to accommodate the lifestyle of an older person and to aid in better sleep, stress relief, and anti-inflammation. The brand's female-forward approach highlights a demographic of older women, who are mostly left out of the public eye and trendy marketing schemes.
Riding the feminist wave, I then came to a lounge area hosted by Glasshouse Brands, a Santa Barbara-based cultivaor and distributor boasting a range of brands, including the dainty Roam Escapes vape pens. The luxury vape line, also catered to women, infuses each pen's cannabinoid ratio with a blend of essential oils to give each pen a distinct flavor. The pens are named after different locations and experiences — "NYC Hustle" or "Paris Nights," for instance — to provide a sense of what mood the cannabis may put you in, or how it can help you get through the day. The distributor Glasshouse Brands is vertically integrated, using a "farm to bowl, Whole Foods-type" approach, with full control over the products' quality, consistency, and efficiency. They also circulate their water and reuse it in order to be more sustainable.
For brands that qualify as conscious, so to speak, environmental justice and social equity are major themes to stand by, both in branding and in practice. Questions I ask myself to evaluate these companies revolve around how they grow their cannabis, what stereotypes they're breaking down and perpetuating through their marketing, whether women, queer folk, or people of color are in leadership positions within the company, and the extent to which they practice what the preach — or in other words, how deeply rooted is the ethos of the brand?
To that end, I approached three more brands at the conference I think are worth highlighting: Ocean Cannabis, whose packaging is made entirely from reclaimed, recycled material; Platinum Cannabis, whose give-back program links different products with different charitable causes like suicide prevention, Children's Hospital, ending hunger, animal rescue, and breast cancer awareness; and for good measure, the best chocolates I've ever had, Coda Signature, an award-winning edible brand, named for the founder's love of music.
While the trade show was in many ways simply a networking conference, there were some opportunities for some R&R, as well. The morning, I got a massage at topical brand Papa & Barkley's booth, and later in the afternoon, I hung out in a beautifully, floral decorated tent space, hosted by Sonoma Pacific. Bouquets of cannabis bud and other flowers adorned the entrance to the lounge, where leaders of all different brands, such as the newly relaunched Medicine Box, came to hang out.
The conference also boasted a strong lineup of speakers, including April Pride of of Van der Pop and top talent manager Shep Gordon. And if you were lucky, you might have also caught Seth Rogen there onsite, as well!