What The Weed-less Ambiance of CannaCon Says About The Legalization Of Pot
Walking into CannaCon was like stepping in a time machine back to the year 2015. With blaring EDM, a smattering of attendees wearing brightly-colored snapbacks, and the soft scent of dab pen exhales filling the air, I felt a strong sense of deja vous. To my senses, and my senses alone, it felt as if I had been transported back to my college days, entering a dormitory bathroom to find my friends sitting on the floor below me, handing me a dab rig and blow torch with outstretched arms. In reality, however, I was in New York City's Javits Center a week after New Year's Day, surrounded by cannabis professionals striving for success in a rapidly budding industry.
Self-described as "the nation’s leading business-to-business cannabis conference,” CannaCon seemingly has everything cannabis growers needed to run a truly state-of-the-art operation, including advanced hydroponic systems, seeds for a variety of strains, and hell, special dispensary ATMs, which despite being peddled by a charismatic spokesman in a green, money-printed suit, are just regular old ATMs that just so happen to live in a dispensary. But of all the niche weed accessories and high-tech growing apparatus on display and available for purchase, one item was conspicuously absent from the CannaCon floor – actual cannabis.
What appeared to be an edibles counter next to the concession stand? Fancily packaged hemp-infused soaps. Those beautifully rolled blunts sitting in a glass case? Nothing more than empty wraps – and a stark reminder that I should probably visit my optometrist. The joints sitting next to the rolling machines? Filled with some seriously dank herb…garden basil, according to the man sitting behind the booth.
On some level, the lack of actual cannabis at CannaCon seemed par for the course. With detailed displays on greenhouse lighting and jargon-heavy presentations about the future of indoor cannabis growing techniques, CannaCon isn't for the casual stoner, rather, the seasoned seller looking to up their legal game with the latest scientific innovations.
“You are correct there is no cannabis for sale at any of our events,” Angela Grelle, CannaCon's director of marketing explained when I emailed her confirming that there was no pot for sale on the premises. “For the main reason that it would be highly illegal to sell cannabis in an unlicensed space but also because we really focus on the business side of the industry. Basically everything from seed to sale that you need to run a farm, processing facility, or retail store.”
But CannaCon's crackdown on cannabis seemingly spans well beyond vendors selling weed – attendees are also prohibited from consuming pot at the convention.
“CannaCon does not allow the consumption of alcohol or cannabis on the expo floor at any of our shows,” reads CannaCon's “cannabis consumption policy” listed on their website, noting that the "consumption of cannabis in designated areas, as dictated by local jurisdiction, will be considered on a show-by-show basis.”
But these rules are more than merely a testament to CannaCon's lazer-focus on the business side of cannabis. Instead, the aforementioned policies speak to yet another strange reality of the pot industry – the confusing question of legality.
Although cannabis is banned under federal law, many individual states have opted to legalize or decriminalize weed within their respective jurisdictions. Since Oregon decriminalized marijuana in 1973, state-level legislation surrounding cannabis has exploded, a movement that particularly picked up steam starting in 2012. Over the past decade, several states have hopped on the bandwagon, 37 authorizing medicinal cannabis, with 18 others – plus Washington D.C. – permitting pot for recreational purposes.
And it's not just state governments that are slowly but surely embracing weed. The vast majority of American adults – 91% to be precise – say they are in favor of some form of legal cannabis according to a Pew Research Center survey from last year. While 31% of respondents said that they were in favor of exclusively legalizing medical marijuana, 60% said they were in favor of legalizing weed for medical and recreational purposes.
But even with a growing number of states on board and public support reaching all-time highs, federally legalizing marijuana is much more complicated than meets the eye. Over the past year alone, there have been numerous attempts to pass this type of legislation. Last July, Democratic Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden alongside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer released a proposal entitled The Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act, which laid out their vision for legalizing cannabis on a federal level. Aimed at taxing and regulating cannabis, this proposal has yet to be formally introduced.
In the fall of 2021, the House of Representatives passed the Safe and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act for the fifth time as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act. First introduced back in 2013 by Representative Ed Perlmutter, the SAFE Banking Act had bipartisan support – as it did each of the other four times it was passed – but still ultimately failed to survive the Senate last December.
But it seems that perhaps the sixth time won't necessarily need to be the charm – in November, Rep. Nancy Mace introduced a new bill named the States Reform Act, aimed federally legalizing pot.
“There's a million reasons to end federal prohibition and the only place where this is controversial is up here,” Mace explained in a Forbes profile earlier this week. “It’s an enormously popular idea. America is like: ‘WTF, D.C., why have you not done this yet?’”
But unlike its predecessors, it seems that the States Reform Act has more political traction than its predecessors, thanks to the support of a few notable (read: very, very rich) players. Along with backing from Charles Koch's advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, Mace's bill received a public stamp approval from a major corporate giant earlier this week – Amazon.
"We’re pleased to endorse @RepNancyMace's States Reform Act," the company's official public policy Twitter account posted on Tuesday. “Like so many in this country, we believe it’s time to reform the nation’s cannabis policy and Amazon is committed to helping lead the effort.”
Although as Forbes noted, this bill is “unlikely to go forward before the midterm elections" this coming November. But even with that hurdle, Mace says that she strives to illustrate a “proof of concept” that her bill could garner enough bipartisan support, especially among Republicans, to venture where no piece of cannabis legislation has before – actually being passed.
“It’s American, it’s uniting,” the Congresswoman said of cannabis. “There are three things that really bring people together—animals, Britney Spears and cannabis. Those are the three things I've found that have struck a chord with the American people and that can bring people together at the dinner table—just like apple pie."
But even if you're a legislator who falls within the aforementioned 8% of American adults who are vehemently against legalizing cannabis, Mace says there's no good reason not to pass the bill.
“It means that if you don't do it, you're full of shit,” Mace responded when asked about the significance of the fact that in several red states, including Mississippi, more people voted in favor of laws allowing more legal access to cannabis than Donald Trump. “There's no reason not to do this. And if you are anti-marijuana, this is not forcing you to do it. It's not forcing your state to legalize it. But if it is legal in your state, then we're going to tax it and regulate it.”
And hopefully someday, this widespread regulation will lead to the "Canna" actually existing within CannaCon, creating a space where cannabis professionals could maybe treat themselves to a delicious edible after attending a session on the future of hydroponics while still following the convention's code of conduct.
Top Image: Wikimedia Commons/Chmee2