California’s recreational cannabis industry is only sixteen months old but, judging by the impressive showcase of brands and products on display at the Hall of Flowers business-to-business trade show in Santa Rosa April 30 through May 1, it appears the industry is evolving into a mainstream, mature economic engine.
Now in its second year, Hall of Flowers (HOF) puts emphasis on connecting buyers, vendors, and investors and features many of California’s premium cannabis brands. Attendees were hard-pressed to make the rounds inside two large convention halls on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in one day, especially considering all the impromptu smoke-outs and networking events around town day and night.
Unlike the Emerald Cup and other trade shows that let big brands dominate the stage, HOF lays out a fairly level playing field for all shapes and sizes.
David Hua, chief executive officer and co-founder of Meadow, a point-of-sale software platform for retail and delivery businesses, was impressed with how quickly the industry in California has grown and matured.
“Seeing all these brands in full gear is inspiring, and it elevates everyone,” he said. “Companies are really starting to understand their place in the supply chain, which creates more consistency down the line, and people now have a more conscious intention in their role in the industry.”
SoCal in the House
As a showcase for the diversity of brands in California, HOF was an impressive and sometimes overwhelming display, with everything from boutique-y extracts to sleepy-time tinctures, sublingual strips, cosmetic creams, and cannabinoid-infused beverages. There were flowers too, of course, with farms big and small touting their latest, greatest strains and other creations. The merch and schwag also flowed fast and steady, as brands new and old tried to win over buyers with fanciful packaging, logos, and marketing materials.
One of the more notable developments was the emergence of Los Angeles-based brands, which brought a whole new level of panache, marketing savvy, and far-out color schemes (pastels?!) to a NorCal cannabis town that is more attuned to gray or black hoodies, beanies, and camo fashion wear.
The SoCal-based Genius brand soft-launched, dishing out CBD sodas to passers-by and pumping its line of “legacy” and “2.0” extracts. Guerilla Union founder Chang Weisberg, who organized some of the biggest hip-hop events in the U.S. over the past twenty years, promoted brands owned by artists and other L.A. notables who market under his Blue Distro umbrella. Los Angeles Kush is one of Blue Distro’s early risers, but Weisberg proudly listed his own “Chang’s Blind Tiger” and its heavy-hitter Marathon OG strain as an up-and-comer, too.
Looking farther south, companies from the Coachella Valley and Desert Hot Springs made noise with massive new developments that feature on-site power plants and cutting-edge cultivation operations. Growers in the area take advantage of year-round, steady sunshine. Dr. Robb Farms is building a hybrid indoor facility that will consume almost two acres when it’s finished and will be part of the 160-acre Coachillin’ Canna-Business Park, located in Desert Hot Springs. When completed, the project will host more than three million square feet of cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and processing operations.
While the vast majority of companies at the show were California-born and -bred, a number of brands from other states attended as well, looking to make a mark in the biggest cannabis market on the planet.
Her Highness, a new brand co-founded by Allison Krongard in New York City, is “cannabis feminized” and features “female-friendly terpenes” in its products. The line includes a ceramic-coil vape pen and a cartridge with a high CBN (cannabinoid) content that promotes better sleep, she said. While showing off the company’s extra-long joints—packaged with a snazzy gold flip-top lighter (natch)—she explained the products will help prevent burned eyelashes when women spark up. Indus will distribute Her Highness products, which will hit shelves in about fifty dispensaries this summer.
Hall of Flowers is presented by co-founders Dani Diamantstein and Aaron Levant of Project, Agenda, and Liberty trade shows, in association with their partners at Los Angeles-based creative firm Green Street Agency. According to their initial estimates, about 4,000 people attended the event. More buyers attended the show, as did representatives from some unexpected verticals including fashion to marketing. Even a furniture company had a presence on the show floor.
Like most new events in the cannabis industry, though, HOF is a work in progress with some unique challenges and growing pains. Tension sprouted in the building from day one as attendees and vendors saw the lines for samples grow to unreasonable lengths. Retailers on the floors gave sample tickets to buyers, who could redeem them for $2 at two designated pick-up areas, but by mid-afternoon on both days the wait was more than an hour in both spots. The cut-off time for sample distribution on the second day was 6 p.m., but after the deadline attendees reported boxes upon boxes of products remained stacked floor to ceiling in the distribution area—all bound for destruction per Bureau of Cannabis Control regulations. The BCC’s strict regulations about event permits and distribution have created challenges for organizers of events of any shape or size.
The Handler effect
Some of the biggest buzz at the event was built up by Chelsea Handler, an actress, writer, and activist Time named one of the 100 most influential people in 2012. She enjoys her weed and currently is building a brand in association with NorCal Cannabis, a vertically integrated company that has raised $50 million since 2015. The company operates cultivation, manufacturing, processing, packaging, and distribution facilities.
During a by-invitation dinner party at a small winery near Santa Rosa the night before HOF, Handler and a group of influential women in the industry talked about her brand’s mission. She said she’s testing and taking notes on a wide range of strains and extracts so she can be the “big sister” who leads a nation of little sisters down the right path as they experiment with new products. The next day at the conference, she discussed the challenges the industry faces, even in Hollywood circles.
“It changed my life, and helped me cut my drinking in half,” she said. “It’s important to normalize this, and it’s also important to find what you’re looking for and be honest about what you’re after. Let’s get on board with this!”