Q&A With the CEO of the World’s Largest Cannabis Tradeshow

The Marijuana Business Conference — also known as the MJBizCon — is bringing together some of the biggest names in the cannabis industry from the Las Vegas Convention Center from Oct. 20-22.

The event is marking its tenth anniversary and in-person return to Las Vegas, and will feature over 1,100 exhibitors and more than a hundred speakers, including Daymond John of reality TV show Shark Tank fame.

We spoke with Chris Walsh, CEO and President at Marijuana Business Daily and MJBizCon, about MJBizCon’s return to Las Vegas, what attendees should be excited about this year, and what the future holds for the growing convention.

Did you ever imagine MJBizCon would become as big as it is today?

When we first held our event in 2012, it was the first of its type. A really professional business conference for the industry. I had no idea and could have never dreamed that the industry would have taken the direction that it has, where you have 38 states that have legalized medical [cannabis] and you have 19 states that have legalized [recreational] adult-use, plus Washington D.C..

MJBizCon has reflected that growth. I truly believe that we’ve helped professionalize the industry and help it get here to some degree, but we were also really a reflection of what has happened over the last decade: A massive change in public opinion around marijuana, the increasing number of states that are legalizing, the fact that federal lawmakers including the Senate Majority Leader [Chuck Schumer] are now behind legalization and reform. You also have an industry that generated $20 billion in retail sales last year during a global pandemic, and it’s poised to nearly double by 2025. I could not have predicted any of that. 

What do you want people to take away from this year’s conference?

Well first that we’re back. We’re back to doing business in-person as an industry and a show, and we’ve always been a cornerstone every year in terms of getting the industry together. That’s really that link that brings people from not only across the U.S., but across the globe to network, learn, market their products and services, and really just get together. I think that the fact that we are back in that situation after a horrible 2020 in general for humanity is what I want people to take away. The industry more or less thrived during this very difficult two-year period, and we’ve seen a tremendous response from the industry itself, our show floor is busy, it’s full of exhibitors, it’s on par with 2019.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed this year’s convention?

We streamlined some things. We typically have a lot of add-on networking receptions and pre-conference tracks and a lot of different things going on, and we try to streamline some of that because we were still in an unpredictable situation and we still wanted to make sure the core of what we’re trying to provide the industry is solid and comes roaring back, so we kind of pared-down in some ways with that and really focus on the areas that are the most important right now, which is the main show. it’s making sure that goes off and is effectively executed and that people are getting value out of it. 

Of course, we have different precautions in place following Las Vegas and Nevada rules, so everyone is masked up and we spread things out more this year so people could get more space than previous years.

How does it feel for MJBizCon to come back to Las Vegas?

It’s so awesome to be in Vegas. We held our first [conference] in Denver in 2012, and then we went to the Seattle area in 2013, and then we made the strategic decision to come to Vegas and anchor our show here for the coming years. and there was some push back from people in the industry because at that time Nevada had just had a strange medical industry that wasn’t particularly larger and didn’t have good regulations.

But we really felt at that time Las Vegas is the convention capital of the world and we wanted to be here. We saw the future of where we thought Nevada could go. Now you have Nevada pioneering various aspects of the cannabis industry and it has really become a force in the marijuana sector. I’m particularly excited about the kind of social consumption aspect of what the state’s trying to do.  

Social consumption has been a big problem in the industry since legalization took hold because other states haven’t figured it out. What you have here is what I think will become more of a blueprint for other states — not all of them — on how you can do this. The fact that the consumption lounges will be able to sell regulated quantities of marijuana and marijuana products — I think it’s huge. So I really am looking to Las Vegas, in particular, to show that this can be done, it can be done well, give people a place to go in a social setting, and it can also work effectively on the business side.

What can conference attendees be especially excited about this year?

We were extremely excited to get Daymond John. There was a big reluctance in general among mainstream, successful executive speakers to come to a cannabis conference and talk, and we’ve seen a big change. 

We love getting these successful well known, outside, business people to speak, because they can impart a lot of useful knowledge on how to be successful in general that you can apply to cannabis. Even if they’re not experts on the marijuana industry, they just have just great insight from their own experience and stories that translate. It also gives the industry even more legitimacy when you can get someone of Daymond John’s caliber, to come and speak about business. 

We’re very excited about that, and really this year is a celebration. There’s a lot to be excited about so I want people to feel the energy of the industry.

What are some misconceptions people may have about MJBizCon?

There are definitely misconceptions from people not in the industry or if it’s their first touchpoint with the cannabis industry. From day one when MJ Biz Daily just started doing content and journalism for the industry, our goal was to always be professional, realistic, and objective, which was sorely lacking across the industry back when we started. 

That has carried through. People are wearing suits and ties in many cases. We don’t have marijuana on the show floor — It’s not allowed in Nevada. Our show floor is huge, and it’s lighting companies, packaging companies, lawyers, insurance firms, soil companies, consultants, marketing pros. It’s also companies that are making infused products but they’re not bringing their THC-infused chocolates for instance. If this industry is going to grow and thrive and it’s going to gain mainstream acceptance, it has operated like a mainstream industry. 

People who come for the first time in many cases are surprised because they do think everyone’s going to be walking around in tie-dye, shorts, and sandals more like a consumer fair, and that’s not what we are. This is about business. 

How do you see MJBizCon Growing in the future?

We want to serve a broadside of the industry and go deeper in areas of it where there are needs. So what that means is that as we grow we’re going to be paying close attention to how things shift, what are the evolving needs of the industry. Qe are going to meet those needs, but we don’t know what those are going to be in 10 years. 

A major focus of ours is making sure that we don’t rest on our laurels and that we just do everything the way we’ve done it because the industry doesn’t work that way. It changes quickly and we’ve got to be on top of it to really understand what’s needed. We still see continued growth for this event. We’ve been named the fastest-growing trade show in the country of any trade show. We hope and expect to continue growing as the industry grows and to do that we have to make sure that we’re providing value and that we’re in touch with what the industry needs. Maybe one day we’ll be rivaling CES as one of the biggest shows in Vegas.

Click here to register for MJBizCon 2021.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.Read more Las Vegas cannabis content on VegasNews.com.