The 2017 Southwest Cannabis Convention and Expo was simply buzzing with people and excitement on Saturday.
About 3,000 to 5,000 people attended the third annual event at the Phoenix Convention Center on Friday and Saturday, said its co-founder and adviser, Demetri Downing.
More than 100 vendor booths filled one of the center's buildings, featuring the modern marijuana industry in full. Local dispensaries, advocate groups, veterans, makers of smoking gear, grow-lights, brand-name cannabis or edibles, custom vehicles to transport weed — you name a category of cannabis-related items or services, it had a representative there. (Full disclosure: the Phoenix New Times was one of the sponsors of the event.)
Like any business conference, it had panels of experts to attend and networking opportunities. Celebrity speakers including former Mexico president Vicente Fox and former NFL player Marvin Washington added pizzazz. Several hundred people showed up for Fox's speech, which New Times covered in a separate article.
The medicinal side of cannabis was ever-present, but what many consider the next step — adult-use, or recreational legalization — was the topic covered by four state representatives at a morning panel in one of the meeting rooms. They were: State Democratic Whip Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, Cesar Chavez, D-Maryvale, and Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson. The panel, hosted by Downing, spent 45 minutes discussing prospects like a ballot measure in 2020 — or sooner — that's similar to last year's failed Prop 205.
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After the discussion, Fernandez said she supports the voter-approved laws in Colorado, California, and other recreational-marijuana states. The revenue alone is one reason not to keep cannabis prohibition, she said, explaining that the state faces a $100 million shortfall in the Legislature's next budget-preparing session.
"We're losing revenue and I want to be proactive," she said, adding that "adults should be able to make their own choice."
The meeting room began to fill up as people flocked in to see the next, more technical presentation on the endocannabinoid system.
Inside the booth area was a green-themed carnival of stuff to look at and folks to chat with.
Thomas Hunt of iLava discussed the company's topical cream featuring THC and cannabidiol (CBD) distillate. Like other samples at the convention, iLava's didn't actually contain THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis plants, because the event was open to the public and only medical-marijuana cardholders in Arizona can possess and use cannabis legally. Hunt described the actual product as a good remedy for several maladies, adding that it wouldn't get someone high. It's made by a Tucson dispensary and distributed in several Valley medical-marijuana shops, he said.
"It reduces inflammation on localized areas and gives a numbing, tingling effect," Hunt said. "It works as a burn gel, or a scar gel. It's got a lot of regenerative qualities to it."
Workers for other companies promised to help keep pot fresh, or tote high-strength stuff while leaving no odor to give it away. Meanwhile, activists, promoters, and salespeople met the public and potential clients or members. (See our slideshow.)
Colby Ayres, co-founder of the cannabis-information site azmarijuana.com, said he thought the 2017 event turned out well. He manned a booth and was also a speaker for a panel called, "Arizona's Cannabis Rising Stars."
"It continues to expand," he said of the expo. "This year, there were a lot of out-of-state companies. Arizona's finally become a big player in the industry ... I've been meeting a lot of new industry people, and a lot of people who want to get into the industry."
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Attendees like Melissa Fils of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were enthusiastic about the range of industry wares at the event. She was in town for a friend's graduation and had planned to stop at the expo as part of her stay in Phoenix, she said.
"I think it's great and I think people should be more aware of the education on cannabis, because it doesn't have side effects," she said. "This helps with a lot of cancer patients and it helps with miscellaneous dysfunction."
Voters in her home state of Florida approved a medical-marijuana law last year, but it has restrictions for patients that are totally unlike the more liberal laws in western states like Arizona. Among those are the prohibition on smoking marijuana.
"But because it's legal," she said, "people are growing accustomed to it."