The cannabis industry’s storied conferences are back! This week sees the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBExpo), one of the largest and longest-running cannabis business trade shows, return to the Jacob Javits Center after two years on November 4th through the 6th. Not only does the conference’s re-emergence symbolize a renewal of live industry socializing, it also celebrates New York’s legalization of adult-use cannabis. Since the passage of the state’s Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) in April, global business has viewed New York’s regulated market as potentially the most profitable in the nation. Even though licensing, retail and social equity issues remain to be determined, there’s great hope for how NYC might lead the way in legal THC.
Christine Ianuzzi, founder and Show Director of CWCBExpo, granted Honeysuckle an exclusive interview for a behind-the-scenes look at what to expect for this year’s show. As a board member of the National Hemp Association (NHA), she was quick to mention the conference’s many resources to learn about hemp and sustainability as well as the plant’s more psychoactive uses. From diverse speakers to government participation to hemp housing, CWCBExpo 2021 has it all!
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: This is a significant conference year because it’s the first CWCBExpo since New York legalized adult-use cannabis. How is that shaping the thrust of this season?
CHRISTINE IANUZZI: It is the inaugural year for New York state’s legalization of recreational use. So that's huge. We feel privileged that we are able to help usher that in New York's first legal year and to do it properly and appropriately at the Javits. We have a history in our trade show family [of doing shows] in other industries at Javits, and we were the first cannabis trade show [there] in 2015. They had vision then to allow us to have the show. It was a groundbreaking allowance for them to do that at a time when the legalization across the country was not where it is now; it was very limited. If you look at where we're at now, it's tremendous, and state by state is legalizing either medical and recreational or just medical and expanding their medical laws every year.
The Javits… is a perfect venue, New York state run. It is an anchor in New York City, a mecca for attendees to come and learn and network in our particular trade show. Our show's become the place to get content, to get the latest in innovation, to have fun in New York City. This year we'll have a lot more fun now, and we will do it in a safe way. [We’re] planning a nice ribbon-cutting ceremony and… Tremaine Wright, chair of the Cannabis Control Board, will be speaking as one of our keynotes. It’s her first public event [in that role]; we are extremely happy she’s joining us and kicking off our show.
We are also feeling very privileged to have CJ Wallace and Willie Mack [of Think BIG]. They are becoming anchors in the industry and very supportive in underprivileged [communities, working with] people of color and those affected by the War on Drugs. They will discuss that during their session, which is right after Tremaine’s address on Thursday. While they are businessmen building a brand and respected entrepreneurs, they are also giving back as they build and become more meaningful in the cannabis space.
It’s great to see that New York’s government officials are taking a participatory role in this year’s conference. Not only will Tremaine Wright keynote, but Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin will help with the ribbon-cutting ceremony, and many Office of Cannabis Management staff will attend.
Members of the Cannabis Control Board and the Office of Cannabis Management will be there over the course of the conference… Chris Alexander, Executive Director of the Office of Cannabis Management, is going to be there too.
What will you be doing differently in your programming?
This year, we have something that is very unique and offering more to our speakers and our attendees and exhibitors. We are content driven to the point that we want to make sure that we are providing relevant, timely information. Content in most industry conferences has a shelf life. We're no different, but this [year ours] is longer, or long lasting. We will have three days of a thought leadership series: Day One is Where We Are. Day Two is Challenges and Solutions. And Day Three is Where We’re Going.
What are some of the most pressing challenges up for discussion?
I think that some of the challenges are sustainability and climate change; this is where the cannabis and hemp industry folks can't ignore it. Geoff Whaling, chair of the National Hemp Association, will kick off each day with what NHA has been doing in these areas, [and discuss] solutions related to agricultural aspects of challenges, economic issues, climate and sustainability, and investment. One of the biggest, most intriguing sessions on Thursday is an industry investment panel – Money with a Mission - and it addresses the projects that are ongoing and that it's time to talk about. Because [people will ask] about the challenges and solutions related to all this money that we're building a fund over, people are investing in. [As businesspeople] you’re looking to bring communities in, to educate, to hire, to make other people entrepreneurs in it.
We'll also be talking a lot about social equity across the three days. It should be highlighted and discussed, and that's part of the solution, hopefully, that MRTA will address in its framework. I think MRTA is actually a template for other states. They've already gotten a lot of accolades and interests from other states, because of what New York has learned from what could go wrong with similar initiatives and legislation that went into recreation. So I think we have a shot at doing it pretty well, and really up the playing field to work for everyone, especially for people of color and people who didn’t get business loans.
I would like to see loan programs being made available to impacted communities because [getting a license is] very difficult. I would like to see how people will suddenly be able to come back to society after they had been ridiculously arrested for a little tiny joint or half joint.
In addition to your themed days, the overall panel structure will change. Can you explain more about that?
Thursday has only plenary panels on the main stage all day. Nobody has to choose where they're going to go. All the rooms are going to have what's on the main stage piped in, and everybody can see all of these wonderful first day happenings. Then we’ll have the cocktail party from five to seven, which we always did, and it lets deal-making continue. It lets information continue to flow.
Then on Friday and Saturday in the morning, up until 1:00 each day, we have plenary panels again, co-hosted by Geoff Whaling and Matt Anderson, CEO of Vanguard Scientific. They'll be calling up people to the stage. We want it to be very participatory, interactive.
We want to make sure that we provide to everyone in that hall, everyone in the conference room, everyone who's looking online, learning about this business… to take away a real great snapshot. What's going on with the economic landscape [now], what is the economic landscape going forward? What is the most relevant content so that they leave that room after the three days feeling [action-oriented]? That's what we're offering. We have a stellar lineup of co-hosts and speakers, professionals from in and outside the industry to give them a foot in each.
What can we look forward to on Saturday?
The Saturday keynote is Faye Coleman, CEO of Pure Genesis. She's also a member of the NHA, on the standing Committee of Social Equity, along with [our other Saturday keynote] Calvin Frye. Calvin Frye is the chair of that committee; he was one of the first license holders for medical cannabis for a dispensary on the West Coast and he is the founder of Cloneville. He travels all the time to build up businesses and help them achieve a license. He and Faye are multi-state operators who have been in this business for quite some time. After that we have the continuance of the global mission in [an] international address by Dr. Aimon Kopera from Thailand, who is going to talk about the emergence of cannabis and hemp from a health and wellness perspective.
We have a lot of new speakers, people that really have not been on the speaking circuit. Some have never spoken, some spoke at our 2020 virtual conference, and some are on our CWCBExpo advisory board.
Past CWCBExpos have been really impressive with spotlights on industrial hemp. What exciting new information from this sector will be center stage now?
One of the most intriguing, innovative things you'll be hearing is a Saturday session from Michael Woods, CEO of Big Sun Holdings Group. They were formerly owned by Hyundai. Hyundai is big in climate change solutions and it always has been viable, but… Big Sun Holdings specializes in 3D printing. They are embarking on 3D printing for [hemp-based] housing manufacturing. This is transformational.
Some of the solutions you will hear about on Friday and Saturday are transforming life as we know it. I am looking forward to more discussions and learning about the 3D printing aspects that Big Sun Holdings is doing, because this has implications on building homes as sustainable product. And it has implications about addressing homelessness at an economic level and costs that are much more doable than not using hemp in 3d printing as the method. People [can] live in a house made by a 3D printer and go, “It’s strong. It's protective, it'll be sustainable. And if I don't like where the wall was, I'm told I can take down the wall, grind it up and use it to make something different, maybe an island in my kitchen.”
I think this is groundbreaking. This is tremendous. This is transformative. This is what we need. It's transforming our living conditions, transforming the quality of life for everyone. And that's where I think when we talk about cannabis as the genus of marijuana, and as we recognize the power of this plant, it's transformative for health, for wellness, for recreation. And it's also transforming the hemp applications that have impact beyond what anyone's been talking about anywhere. We're going to talk about it on the main stage.
Are there other innovations from exhibitors you’d like to point out?
We’ll have over 200 exhibitors and climbing, because people are still raising their hands to get into the show. We continually have to keep accommodating for more space, which we do, because everyone’s welcome… It’s an action-packed week and many after parties and events are happening, which we explain in our newsletter and Cannabis Week guide.
I would like to mention the Women Grow booth. They started around the same time we did. Over the course of the three days, they’re going to feature in their booth six new entrepreneurs who are coming up from the ground and taking advantage of the education and mentoring that Women Grow provides. It’s an opportunity for them to be highlighted in their first real industry trade show, and it’s a great idea. We’re going to see firsthand new female entrepreneurs coming [into the space] and we’re going to help them grow.
Registration for CWCBExpo New York will remain online, visit cwcbexpo.com for more information and to attend, use Promo Code: HON21
CWCBExpo New York runs November 4-6 at the Jacob Javits Center. Follow @cwcbexpo on Instagram for more updates.
Featured image: CWCBExpo founder and Show Director Christine Ianuzzi, September 2019 (C) CWCBExpo