What We Saw at MJBizCon 2021

Featured 5 min

The expo floor was bustling. Sessions were full. Networking events were sold out. The pull to gather and connect is clearly a strong one for the cannabis industry after so many long months without a major trade show, and MJBizCon delivered. 

Several team members and subject-matter experts from GPS attended MJBizCon alongside many partners and GCNC members. Since not everyone could make it in person, we hope you’ll enjoy this summary of our collective top takeaways and what we saw at MJBizCon 2021: 

Market Development & Sophistication

The industry is getting increasingly sophisticated, and asking increasingly sophisticated questions as well. No surprise to anyone, this industry isn’t letting lack of federal legalization deter development. “This train is rolling, the momentum is continuing, despite the inaction of the federal government,” said MJBiz CEO Chris Walsh.

Rosa Puentes, Chief Business Officer for Mannta, agreed but isn’t letting that stop her from getting inspiration for new products in Colombia after seeing the U.S. showcase on the MJBizCon expo floor. “I saw so many new products — there’s still a long way to go for Colombia,” she noted. 

However, Puentes sees the potential for marketing to help develop consumer markets. “From the marketing point of view, there’s a huge opportunity at the top of the funnel since consumers tend to buy brands that are at the top of their minds. As long as they are aware of the brand there’s a higher chance that they’ll buy it.”

Short sessions on the Expo Floor included “How data and tech are the roots of the cannabis industry”. Photo by Daniela Injoque

Looking to the Future

MJBiz CEO Chris Walsh predicted more M&A activity bringing together the biggest companies. “We’re going to see our biggest year in 2022 for M&A,” Walsh said. As though responding to this very comment, several sessions discussed different approaches for how the industry can be actively inclusive and make room for all the players, from small business owners and BIPOC, to deep-pocketed pharmaceuticals and publicly traded companies. These topics were addressed in various sessions  focused on U.S. regional markets as well as by headliners like Wanda James in the panel, Clash of the Titans: Can Cannabis Culture and Big Business Co-Exist? 

As well, Europe and Latin America are learning from the market behavior of the U.S. and Canada. “It’s very evident that international players don’t just want to take advantage of new emerging markets, they still view the U.S. market expansion as a continuous one that has yet to peak, and they want in on it,” observed GPS Chief of Staff Derek Porter .

The international panels highlighted the pace and speed at which global expansion of cannabis markets is occurring throughout South America and Europe. “They are arguably now the global leaders in moving cannabis opportunities worldwide,” said GPS Chief Marketing Officer Chris Day, who hosted Connecting the Dots: How Global Cannabis Comes Together. “While there are still some outstanding political questions around whether or not Mexico can join Colombia and Brazil in pushing the region forward, it appears that soon the United States will be bookended by fully legalized markets as they struggle to make any substantive progress at the federal level.”

Marketing to Potential

Overall marijuana retail sales, which were around $20 billion in 2020, may double to between $38.4 billion to $45.9 billion in 2025, as predicted at the conference.

“The ability to capture quality data is improving, so marketers and retailers should react strategically to get to know their target consumers and influence behavior. This includes education to demographics who could benefit from cannabis and are not currently consumers,” said Jill Reddish, SVP for Communications at GPS. 

Networking events focused on women in cannabis as well as equity and inclusivity were hosted during ‘Cannabis Week.’ Photo by Jill Reddish

Daniela Injoque, Marketing Manager for Futura Farms in Peru, observed “Since the industry is rapidly growing and there are more and more international players in the field, it would be great to have more general marketing and business oriented conferences for next year.”

This year also marked the first time the industry had a choice of large-scale professional cannabis events to attend in one week, as MJ Unpacked kicked off on the other end of the Las Vegas Strip on October 21-22, focused on retail brands and investors. 

“Seeing the addition of a new competitive show on the retail side in Las Vegas during MJBizCon, proves that ‘Cannabis Week’ in Nevada will be the world’s connectivity point for at least the next several years but MJBizCon itself may, like most other segments of the cannabis industry, have to innovate to keep its previously uncontested position,” said Day. 

250,000 sq ft of Expo Floor

Jose Escalante, CEO of Futura Farms in Peru, observed a boon for retailers and product developers: “I felt the new trends are gearing more towards tech and demand generation, as production is getting a little crowded.”

The Expo Floor was somewhat over-indexed with cultivation and extraction technology showcasing advancements in technology, making it a challenge at times to discover new brands and finished products. However, many attendees were buzzing about the new Hall of Flowers activation which put the spotlight on up-and-coming retail brands.

The 2021 MJBizCon Expo Floor hosted over 1,300 exhibitors. Photo by Jill Reddish

Porter noted: “The show floor must have had half newer brands (3 years or younger) than in previous years, where I recognized more than 80% of the brands in previous shows. Entrepreneurs have realized the innovation demands that are out there and have stepped up their game to meet those demands.”

Tim Gordon, Chief Compliance Officer for GPS, pointed out that “advances in operational technology in both the cultivation and extraction refinement side were impressive to see.”

He continued, “For a ‘pandemic era’ event, MJBizCon still had substantial attendance from across the globe. Networking in the global cannabis industry was excellent with individuals and companies from India, Canada, Poland, Colombia, and Venezuela.”

Photo by Daniela Injoque