Marketed as the first business-to-business marijuana trade show in the nation, CannaCon Northwest seemed like any other trade show, with vendors of insurance providers, swag bags of T-shirts and hats and small business owners swapping business cards.
“It’s like any home and garden show,” organizer Bob Smart said. “Except no home and garden.”
Vendors showcased lighting systems, soil samples, marijuana-related products and business services as well as breakout seminars on legal issues and business practices in the industry that was made legal with the passage of Initiative 502 and the legalization of recreational marijuana use. There were more suits and ties than tie-dye shirts and no Bob Marley ballads piped through the speaker system.
“This is a business show about a business,” Smart said.
Only business owners were allowed into the first day of the four-day show, while members of the general public were allowed to walk the aisles Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Like any industry, it has its own trade publication.
David Tran publishes Dope Magazine, a glossy monthly publication that concentrates on marijuana-related articles that range from recipes to reviews, methods of testing potency and maximizing yield. The three-year-old magazine has a circulation of 30,000, mostly in Washington, Oregon and Colorado.
Some of the harder-hitting articles deal with tips on business practices for this young industry since there is a flood of people joining what some call “the next gold rush.” Tran shakes his head as he predicts that many of the newcomers will fail.
“You must be a good businessperson, like in any other industry,” he said. “Anyone can open a business, and a lot of people are jumping in who have no idea what they are doing. Those people are going to get weeded out.”
The trade show came as the first of Tacoma’s retail marijuana shops opened their doors, while the nearby city of Fife is headed to court to fight to uphold its ban against retail marijuana shops within city limits. The city is expected to argue that allowing retail pot shops would violate federal law, which still lists marijuana as an illegal drug. That designation, the city contends, means the state law allowing marijuana sales is invalid.
The Washington State Attorney General’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging that contention since state voters approved the retail sales of marijuana products in 2012. A hearing for a summary judgment by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper is set for Aug. 29.
The first question for Culpepper to decide will be whether I-502 overrides local zoning rules and requires local governments to allow marijuana businesses. An Attorney General’s opinion on the matter issued in January concedes the initiative doesn’t force cities to allow retail pot businesses but the reasoning behind a city’s ban can’t be based on a legal argument that states federal law trumps local laws on such matters.
“We are intervening in this case to ensure that Washington’s marijuana law goes forward as the voters intended when they adopted it,” said Alison Holcomb, ACLU of Washington criminal justice director and the author of I-502, the state’s marijuana law. “Federal law does not preempt our state’s marijuana law, nor can individual cities opt out of state law.”