By Ronit Pinto
If cannabis could shine – it did! And it sparkled all last week. On the tail of the Arcview Group Investors Forum, the biannual networking event for the world’s oldest and most prominent cannabis investors organization, Honeysuckle and Honey Pot made our way to the 7th Institutional Capital & Cannabis Conference (IC3), a leading investor forum for the legal cannabis industry.
Presented by the Information Management Network (IMN), a global organizer of institutional finance and investment conferences across diverse industries, IC3 united great minds from many different arenas interested in the opportunities surrounding the plant. The Convene New York, situated on 46th Street, provided an ideal meeting place with panels and events for those high-worth individuals establishing and/or finding themselves in the industry. Sessions revolved around topics such as the importance of investing in companies committed to diversity and social equity, emerging markets in Europe and other regions, and the mergers and acquisitions “land grab” in the United States. While sponsored booths and hors d’oeuvre-sprinkled lobbies provided a nice backdrop for significant investor meetings – with break times presented by the cannabis retail enterprise Shryne Group – an array of distinctive speakers set this year’s IC3 alight with exuberant wisdom. Among those onstage: Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (Oregon) and David Joyce (Ohio); Amy Peckham, CEO of Etain, New York’s only women-owned medical marijuana organization; John Kagia, Chief Knowledge Officer for New Frontier Data, one of the leading forecasters for the cannabis sector; Barbara Koz Paley, CEO of Art Assets and a change-making investor in the space; Jay Czarkowski, CEO and co-founder of the consulting firm Canna Advisors; and Jeanne Sullivan, Managing Director of Arcview, renowned for her industry insights.
From IC3’s luminosity we were ushered, a few days later, to the second annual Luxury Meets Cannabis Conference. The invitation-only LMCC, which could have been a chichi Soho art show, was instead a high-end event showcasing the development of luxury brands for the cannabis space. It was the first of its kind that we’d seen, set up at NYC’s remarkable venue Hudson Yards. The revolution of the cannabis industry was in full effect, or as Merida Capital managing partner Mitch Baruchowitz described it, “an evolution.”
Merida was a presenting sponsor of the event, first created in 2018 by market trend expert Jed Wexler, CEO of the marketing firm 818 Agency. Wexler believed traditional buyers in the luxury sector should be directly connected to a new genre of high-quality design, branding and production in cannabis – companies establishing innovative categories within a dynamic asset class. This year’s LMCC featured educational panels on everything from product formulation to hemp and CBD’s multiple uses, brand marketing and luxury investing, as well as a juried competition.
As Wexler told Forbes, “We are using the concept of luxury and what that means today to push this idea that cannabis is no longer exotic and no longer nor should it have ever been criminal. My privilege has always allowed me to navigate and partake in this space without any repercussions, so it’s really important to fold that into this. What’s unique to this industry is that we have an opportunity to embed social impact into the DNA of what’s happening in all the ancillary businesses coming together before it gets away from us. It’s a requirement.”
Stylish participants dressed in avant-garde haute couture, alongside vendors offering samples of these premier products and expert speakers, filled the entire 7th floor of the building for this year’s LMCC, booked to overcapacity. Everything emitted elegance, outlaid in Art Deco-like creams and blacks. Some of the eye-catching brands on display quickly captured our fancies; opulent, gorgeous topical and creams by Nature of Things, a California-based wellness brand, stood out. Our interest was piqued by the ultra chic black-and-gold packaged Black Dahlia, whose creators live and work out of the John Sowden House in Los Angeles. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr. in 1926, the site is registered on the national list of historic places, infamous for its connection to the Black Dahlia murder (hence the brand name) and features in TV and film including America’s Next Top Model, L.A. Confidential and The Aviator.
Malin + Goetz, a long-running beauty brand that was among the first to incorporate aromatherapy into their lines, is renowned for being an early adopter of cannabis in luxury skincare products as well. Their intoxicating packaging and tinctures are perennial favorites. Founding partners Matthew Malin and Andrew Goetz, together in business and life for 35 years, now have retail locations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, and Hong Kong; their flagship store opened in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC in 2004. Goetz spoke about the importance of being a “crossover” brand between cannabis and the more mainstream luxury industry, noting that the modern concept of luxury is not necessarily exclusivity, but “speed and immediacy” – which their uniquely architected stores deliver.
Fascinating panels and panelists abounded. Vanity Fair’s former Beauty Director SunHee Grinnell moderated a talk on building plant-based brands with Mineral founder/CEO Mills Miller and Gossamer founder Verena von Pfeffen. The power of women was demonstrated in a panel on the “$1 Trillion-Dollar Global Opportunity” of the luxury cannabis industry. Thought leaders included Betsy Scanlan and Kelly Brock, co-founders of The Good Patch; Lynn Honderd, co-founder of Mary’s Nutritionals; Christie Tarleton, co-founder of Yuyo Botanics; Victorine Deych, founder/CEO of DUSTED; Sally Nichols, president of Bloom Farms; and Mary Kate McGrath, Chief Content Officer of Gallery Media Group.
On the mainstage event, “The Hemp Opportunity,” experts from a variety of fields discussed hemp’s ability to clothe, house, heal, feed and otherwise help our world through multiple applications. Michael Savarie, Sustainable Enterprise Catalyst for the technology company Hemp Black, spoke about the firm’s development of sustainably hemp-derived textiles and composites from clothing to nanofilm. Savarie spoke at length about carbon black, a pigment used to produce black textiles and coloring in numerous products, which can be developed in nontoxic ways from hemp and other plant-based sources. (This differs from more traditional methods which use petroleum and could be carcinogenic to humans.) Meanwhile Anthony Neron, founder of Montreal-based construction company DuChanvre, discussed the negative charge in nature and the strong benefits of using hempcrete and hemp-based insulation in residential and professional structures. And Joshua Geeter, an acclaimed herbalist, is bringing hemp and other plants back as viable health treatments with his wellness center and brand Medicine Ranch.
Of course, the most anticipated topic was social equity, the subject of much debate in ongoing state and federal legalization efforts. Karim Webb, CEO of 4THMVMT, an initiative that provides solutions and development programs to grow professional potential in underserved communities, gave a particularly poignant keynote on maintaining social impact in every aspect of the growing industry. 4THMVMT is based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy that the “4th phase” of racial equality in the United States would entail income equality for all.
Four companies from the Merida Capital portfolio (which contains 41 overall) were displayed at LMCC’s showcase, with a plethora of others on hand exemplifying just how this evolution is taking place. We highly recommend checking out the brands listed on the agenda page from LMCC’s site, as well as these hot picks: Bloom Farms, Canapa, Canndescent, Fog & Tree, The Good Patch, Her Highness, Kiskanu, Lab to Beauty, Mary’s Nutritionals, Saint Jane Beauty, Serene Cannabis, Treaty, and Shea Brand, a hip, super-friendly brand crafted locally in Brooklyn.
Beauty itself is an evolution and so are the cannabis brands in it.
To learn more about IC3, visit https://www.imn.org/investment-management/conference/IC3-Institutional-Capital-Cannabis-East/