Hall of Flowers is no ordinary trade show — instead, it feels more like a music festival than a networking conference. Held at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the sleepy, wine country town of Santa Rosa comes alive annually with pot punters who make the pilgrimage to "HoF." Unlike typically frenetic trade shows that tend to be dry and boring (yes, even weed can be made boring when you get enough white men in suits in the same room where consumption is not allowed), Hall of Flowers is fun.
Four separate and distinct halls showcase a wide variety of vendors with all kinds of cannabis products: vaporizable oils, edibles, salves, dabs, shatter, and yes, flower. The allocation of vendor booths at Hall of Flowers takes what appears to be more of a socialistic rather than capitalistic approach. Vendors can not pay extra for signage or any bells and whistles. All the light and airy “standard” booths, or "boutique booths" as HoF refers to them, are located within the circumference of each hall. They're all the same size and shape, while the quadruple boutique sized booths around the perimeter of the halls are next level, resplendent with disco balls, neon lights, actual trees, comfy couches and blissed out vendors.
At HoF, you will not see bro-fessionals, donning man buns and wearing suits with sneakers, giving off the impression of corporate but cool, whilst bragging about how they don’t “touch the plant” — which, to those like myself who risked their freedom building the cannabis industry before it became legal, can be wildly offensive. These are the guys I've rolled my eyes at, at least at other expos. The self-proclaimed experts who have been in the space for all of two years. But here, at HoF, attendees shed all pretenses: People come as they are in comfortable clothing and they have no qualms about getting high (on their own supply, or their competitors'). Hall of Flowers keeps it real.
The outdoor consumption lounge is complete with a live DJ on a wooden boat; bean bags on the grass; food trucks serving custard, charcoal lemonade, and poké bowls; picnic tables; water dispensers; and a VIP Kitchen catered by Canadian entrepreneur Paul Rosen (Tidal Royalty and PharmaCan, which rebranded as Cronos Group in 2016)’s new venture, Pantry. Rosen is teaming up with chefs like The Franks to make high-end cannabis edibles including chocolate bon bons -the olive oil chocolate is to die for whether it is infused or not- and gummies that Pantry is insisting are not candy or gummies.
The lounge is a stoners' Shangri-La and there is totally no shame in that at Hall of Flowers. The event nails the perfect combination of education and recreation. It encapsulates the ethos of the authentic cannabis culture while pushing said culture forward by being at the forefront of product debuts from cannabis lifestyle and indie brands alike.
There are also giveaways galore. (Did somebody say “schwag?”) From cannabis cosmeceutical company and Aveda alumni Apothecanna's geranium and cannabis deodorant (No you can't get high by spraying it under your arms) to Lowell Smokes’ T-shirts to Caliva hoodies, a cannabis aficionado can arrive with the clothes on his or her back and find a new weekend wardrobe amongst the booths.
Most notable are the product debuts and company announcements that are timed to take place during the show. Hall Of Flowers is infamous for big reveals and hot new gadgets.
Easily one of the most popular booths at the show belonged to gen!us, which debuted a whopping 25 new products at once from their booth that served as the set of a J.Lo video shoot a week prior. From their booth, which felt more like a diva club lounge, gen!us displayed four new non-battery-operated (to reduce e-waste) vape pens, and several different strains of mid-range to high-end craft cannabis. It does not take a genius to realize this California-based brand is taking off with a bang.
Omura debuted a new device for vaping cannabis flower with visionary industrial design. The brand itself is named after the Japanese word "omura," which refers to the combination of precision and purity — and which is reflected in the design and execution of their device. By leveraging airflow to cool the walls of the device, the “airform” vaporizer remains comfortably cool to the touch.
Unlike other disposable vape cartridges, Omura's — which contain flower, rather than oil — are biodegradable and compostable. Omura also utilizes proprietary “heat not burn” technology (the company has 12 patents pending), which eliminates smoke and allows for a more discreet consumption experience. The ground-up flower comes in 12 individual pre-packed tubes made specifically to fit the cylindrical, ergonomic device.
Another hit at the show were the infused cookies by Cookies, a brand founded by serial entrepreneur and Bay Area rapper Berner. Complete with cyan blue Cookie-Monster-colored packaging, the cookies were launched in collaboration with California's Big Pete's. Unlike distillate-infused edibles, every cookie is baked with full-spectrum butter to preserve more cannabinoids and terpenes to convey the essence of Cookies’ flower. Cookies also dropped a new Lemon Pound Cake cannabis strain.
Meanwhile, adjacent to one of the on-site dispensaries in Hall E, celebrity guests including Chelsea Handler and Reginald Noble, better known as the DJ/record producer/actor named Redman. In discussing her recent partnership with NorCal Cannabis, Handler said in her hallmark witty manner that she “didn’t want to work with drug dealers, but with people who are clean, smell good, and show up on time for meetings.”
Though not a comedian in the traditional sense, Redman was equally hilarious when he said he “didn’t know weed wasn’t supposed to be brown until he got ahold of his first copy of High Times magazine back in the day.” Hidden in their humorous remarks were nuggets of woke truths: Chelsea is a self-styled "Big Sister" to women who have yet to try cannabis and need a guide. In response to a question from an audience member, while being careful not to slut shame the women who appear scantily clad in cannabis ads, she disparaged sexually charged advertising as offensive and unnecessary for a cannabis brand. Her point? You don't need sex to sell weed. Good weed is enough to sell itself.
Throughout my time at the conference, I spotted the CEO of Israel-based cannabis conference CannaTech, Saul Kaye, running around like a kid in a candy store, geeking out over the multiple well-stocked on-site dispensaries. He told me HoF was "the best trade show in America." Meanwhile, rapper Jim Jones was celebrating the release of his signature blunt at the Saucey Extracts booth.
Everyone from cannabis cultivators including Lorelei and Dave Sandemino of Sunrise Mountain Farms to socially conscious cannabis company CEOs including Dennis O'Malley from Caliva — who pays his drivers a living wage — were on hand to discuss corporate social responsibility. For me, it was a nice shift from the “greed rush” crowd at other expos, where it seems everyone just wants to cash in on the Green Rush.
Unfortunately, as with all things that start out indie and cool — from your favorite music festival to cannabis itself — they ultimately go mainstream. For now, the vibe at Hall of Flowers is perfect, even though it has doubled in size from the inaugural event last year. My hope is that it will stay this way — a beacon of true cannabis culture, social consciousness, and a fun time — that stands out from the snake oil circus of lesser quality cannabis expos.
Photography by Alex Maeland