Thousands Roll Into the Southwest Cannabis Expo in Downtown Phoenix

Baron Gelwicks and his business partner, Jenny Sanchez, at the marijuana expo.EXPAND
Baron Gelwicks and his business partner, Jenny Sanchez, at the marijuana expo.
Shanna Hogan

Cannabis enthusiasts rolled into the Phoenix Convention Center Tuesday for the second day of the Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo.

The three-day marijuana conference, which kicked off Monday with a job fair, hosted hundreds of weed-related businesses, products, and professionals in Arizona's growing cannabis industry.

Packing the convention center at 100 North Third Street, vendors displayed the latest technology in hydroponic growing and portable marijuana vaporizers, as well as an array of weed merchandise and edibles.

About 2,000 attendees, many dressed in green or wearing pot-leaf apparel, wandered down the aisles, partaking in the goods and learning more about how the laws have changed since 2010, when Arizona voters made marijuana legal for medical purposes. 

Many attendees were medical marijuana card holders, who are legally allowed to consume pot. Others have smoked pot covertly for years and, in some cases, decades. 

Duane Hostetler, 68, who sported a vintage-style mustache and cowboy hat, started smoking pot in 1970. Today he has a medical-marijuana card and uses cannabis legally to control his epilepsy, blood pressure, and chronic pain.

“I never thought I’d ever see an event like this out in public,” he says. “It’s amazing. I’m in awe.” 

Gilbert resident David Pole, 26, brought his mom to the expo.

“Everyone thinks it’s cool my mom is into this,” David says. “My whole family really supports legalizing marijuana." 

His mother, Shirley Pole, wasn’t always a fan of pot. But when her younger son, who has spina bifida and scoliosis, became addicted to the pain meds the doctors prescribed, she says cannabis helped cure his pain.

“I see the difference where he can have a life with cannabis but not with opiates,” she says. “It just really helps him.”

Shirley eventually got a license to grow marijuana and makes her own ointments for her son.

“I got my son back now,” she says. “But I never gave up on him.”

Kayla Kerr and her partner, Paul Rodenborn, wore green shirts and marijuana leaf necklaces to the expo. Kerr says it’s amazing how much the state has progressed in the last few years in acceptance of marijuana.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “I don’t know if an event like this would have happened five years ago.”

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In Arizona and across the nation, the times, they are a changing when it comes to marijuana laws, says Steve DeAngelo, a lifelong cannabis activist who spoke at the conference.

“It’s a really unique time that we’re living in between legality,” he says. “The growth has been so amazing.”

DeAngelo was just one of about 60 cannabis professionals to speak at the expo about marijuana healthcare, business, and governmental legislation.

DeAngelo told the crowd of hundreds about how things will change if the Marijuana Legalization Initiative passes next year in Arizona, making pot legal for use recreationally for all persons 21 and older.

If passed, Arizona’s already financially robust medical-marijuana industry will become a billion-dollar business from which many local entrepreneurs could profit, DeAngelo says.

“We’re creating this very unusual situation for an industry,” he says. “We’re going to launch immediately, as soon as the law [legalizing recreational use] passes.”

One of the expo's vendors, Jessica Ragel, who bakes delectable marijuana-infused goods at the Tucson-based Cornocopia Health and Wellness expects a marijuana referendum to pass next year.

“I give it four years before it’s legal nationally," she says. 

The conference brought together many of the business owners already working in the local industry.

“It’s a gathering of business professionals,” Steve Cottrell, manufacturer of Open Vape, a marijuana vaporizer, and a vendor at the expo. “I do a lot of conferences and this one ranks among the best.”

Cottrell says the tremendous interest in the expo is just another example of how perceptions of marijuana are changing. 

“People are more inquisitive, not so judgmental, and much more enthusiastic than ever before,” he says. “They really want to understand what everyone used to be so afraid of.”

New Times is the media sponsor of the conference, along with the title sponsor, MJ Freeway Business Solutions.


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