Day two of MJ Unpacked Vegas brought a new sense of excitement and purpose as the brand experience hall opened for business. We have to give it to the clever and creative cannabis community – as we walked through a sea of booths and display cases, none felt dull or worth walking by without a second look. Between the miniature LED greenhouses on display, the ferns blowing in the breeze at the Dual Draft Integrated Airflow station, and the bright green lights at the Kosmik Brands booth, our eyes were plenty busy. And our ears, too. After all, the opportunity to speak with the professionals behind these cool brands is one of the best parts of MJ Unpacked.
We stopped by the Respect My Region booth to say hi to Mitch Pfeifer and Joey Brabo, who impressed us with his deep knowledge of strains—which should come as no surprise to anyone who follows those guys. (Big ups to them for featuring Felisa on their Higher Women podcast with Taylor Hart.) After tearing down a few overrated strains and delivering a hilarious monologue about the weirdness of Oregon weed culture, Joey observed, “The energy here is high…Takeaways? People were making deals before the event even started. Gongs were being rung before the event even started.”
Snacks were rolled out in the afternoon and we ran into Maggie Wilson by the buffet table. Maggie, who is the CMO of Fruit Slabs (a brand we’ve had good reason to cover), talked about how she was excited by their experience on the Money Stage and her general experience at the event. “It’s been really cool to see all the people we haven’t seen since last MJ Unpacked in Vegas,” she said. “It’s just been so nice to see all their smiling faces and to see where they’ve been since the last Unpacked and how much progress they’ve made. To see them coming back even after they’ve gotten funded or gotten new licensees. Because there’s just so much opportunity. And it’s a community.”
Other exhibitors on the floor shared her excitement. “A lot of retailers and buyers are coming up to me,” Ja-nice Johnson, CEO and founder of AXIS Hemp in a Cup, said. Johnson’s enthusiasm for her first MJ Unpacked was clear — she was beaming out on the floor, and drew us in quickly with a smile and well-versed summary of her brand and goals. “We’re looking for partnerships, shelf space, and notoriety. And it’s going great.”
On the other hand, Brian Holler, COO of Moody’s Medicinals, told us that he’s a veteran of events at this point, noting that it’s nice to see familiar faces and reconnect with fellow industry peers. “MJ Unpacked does a really great job of making sure that’s facilitated in so many different ways,” he said, pointing to the showcases, meeting spaces for conducting business, and multiple food stations to keep up the energy. “It’s been great for us. It’s good to meet a nice cross-section of investors, brands, and retailers. Everybody’s really focused on business,” he added.
Tony Braglio, director of business development at PowerQwest Financial shared some advice he’d been utilizing for the event: set up appointments with people before arriving. Although on-the-spot connections are meaningful and just about everywhere at MJ Unpacked, planning ahead is never a bad idea, and it was working for him. “Since we hit the ground we’ve been able to set up appointments with good people and we’ve also met fellow vendors,” he told us. Their goal for the event? Get the name out there and help dispensaries with payment solutions.
While the brand experience hall bustled, breakout sessions continued down the way. As we mentioned in our Linkedin Newsletter, the Black Women Get Us Higher breakout session was a major highlight for us. The powerful discussion between moderator Kika Keith and speakers MsKindness Ramirez, the CEO of Club Kindness, and co-owner, Our Kind, and Tiana Woodruff, CEO and founder of Queen Mary was both emotionally resonant and inspiring.
Naturally, social equity was a huge part of the conversation, and Tiana effectively pointed out that just because a brand is Black-owned or led, it’s not necessarily social equity. Mskindness Ramirez agreed and added, “don’t confuse Black-owned celebrity brand with social equity.”
The group shared stories, laughs, and a few tears. We’ve never heard so many rounds of applause in one session, but these ladies just kept the cheers coming. A key takeaway came from Tiana Woodruff, who reminded everyone to ask dispensaries if they carry social equity brands, and if not, to ask for them and create demand.
An audience member raised their hand at the end of the discussion to say, “Thank you so much for this incredible panel Iam inspired beyond words.” We agree.
Beyond The Hype: An Intelligent Approach to Products Backed by Science and Efficacy for Brands and Retailers was the next one we caught. And who better to moderate than Kim Sanchez Rael, co-founder and CEO of Azuca? The session lived up to the name – the conversation was intelligent, thoughtful, and necessary.
Chris Emerson, PhD, CEO, LEVEL, Dr. Harold Han, CSO, Vertosa, and Mike Hennesy, VP of Innovation, Wana Brands all contributed to the discussion, emphasizing the importance of scientists working with marketers (like the science liaisons in our women in science article), accurate labeling, and being honest with your brand presentation. “Quality will rise to the top,” said Kim Rael Sanchez as she brought the session to a close. “We’re still emerging as an industry and there’s a lot of crap out there.”
Next up was Cannabis Lounges as a Vehicle to Elevate Retail and Differentiate Brands. This breakout session was extremely relevant and informative, especially given Vegas city council members just voted to allow consumption lounges in Sin City.
Tina Ulman, director of brands at The Source, and President of Chamber of Cannabis moderated the session. Brian Applegarth, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Cultivar Brands and founder of Cannabis Travel Association International; Maha Haq, Managing Partner at Highspitality, and Judah Zakalik, co-owner of Zion Gardens and co-director of M4MM Nevada all provided insightful nuggets of wisdom. Overall, the breakout session felt hopeful for a thriving future, while maintaining a much-needed realistic approach, which Tina Ulman encapsulated well by telling the audience to call Nevada reps and be part of a change.
We found ourselves smiling for a “women in cannabis” photo at 4:20 as the brand experience hall wrapped up for the day. It was a powerful moment of support and camaraderie, and a rare experience for everyone in the photo. How often do women find themselves centered at an event for such a male-dominated industry? Needless to say, we left the photo opp feeling excited for the Clio Cannabis Awards that evening and to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.
You can read all about the Clio Cannabis Awards night right here. And with that, it’s time to get back out there and finish MJ Unpacked strong!
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