Top 5 Highlights of the Second Annual Southwest Cannabis Conference + Expo

To put it blunt-ly (see what we did there?), the second annual Southwest Cannabis Conference + Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center this past weekend was a hit. Roughly 7,000 people blew through the vendor hall (packed with more than 200 exhibitors) and attended any number of the 37 panels and talks on topics ranging from "Proposition 205: An Economic Opportunity for Arizona" to "Cannabis Could Have Saved the King: What Really Happened to Elvis."

Here are five "high"lights (we're here all week!) of the two-day conference:

1. The exhibitionist exhibitors: If you think the vendor booths at comic conventions are colorful, you should have seen — nay, experienced — the groovy displays at the Southwest Cannabis Conference. The booth for AOW Management, a dispensary management company, included an old orange tractor and a big, sweet dog wearing a referee's shirt. Open Vape's presentation included a custom mini Volkswagen van painted black with bright green pot-leaf trim, while Vapen (a co-sponsor of the conference with Phoenix New Times and Tucson Weekly) parked a sharp, mustard-yellow Ferrari at its booth, which also featured a friendly bearded dude walking around in a giant pot-leaf costume.

2. Education and conversations about Prop 205: SWCC organizer Demetri Downing called this event an education summit on Proposition 205, the initiative to decriminalize recreational marijuana in Arizona that voters will decide in November. Many of the panels addressed aspects of Prop 205, from a two-hour panel with attorney Sonia Martinez, Ryan Hurley from Rose Law Group, and State Representative Mark Cardenas explaining the bill to "Why Moms Should Vote Yes on Proposition 205" with Kathy Inman (MomForce AZ), teacher Lisa Olson, attorney Sonia Martinez, and Parisa Rad (Yazzy's Mom).

Most of the attendees and vendors New Times spoke with were in favor of Prop 205. Phoenix-based artist Jesse Perry, who was painting pot-leaf-inspired works at the entrance to the events (for sale and for charity auction), says he plans to vote yes: "It's a God-given right." But some Phoenicians, including Herb 'N Legend head shop owner Tim Martin, don't want to see the bill pass. Martin, a card-carrying medical marijuana patient, says, "Prop 205 is super-vague. If you just play devil's advocate here, every business I've worked for over the past 20 years is in jeopardy. They're trying to regulate marijuana accessories and paraphernalia … This is all about money to them — millions and millions of dollars."

Click here to see a slideshow from the second annual Southwest Cannabis Conference + Expo

3. The carnival-style atmosphere: Seriously, walking the vendor hall stimulated the senses as much as meandering the midway at the Arizona State Fair, minus the smell of deep-fried Snickers and the terrified screams of teenagers on the Zipper. Downtown Phoenix sports bar Coach's Bar & Grill set up a section filled with mini-basketball-hoop games, air-hockey tables, leather couches, and large flat-screen TV sets showing football games. Other booths offered giant Jenga, mini-golf games, cornhole, "spin the wheel" games, and a "Dope Game" that involved fishing for balls with a little plastic top hat emblazoned with the U.S. flag and attached to the end of a pole. Prizes included weed-themed art by local artists and artisanal roach clips made from cannabis plant stems. Also, a handful of bar islands were set up throughout the convention center to dispense alcohol.

4. Panels and cooking demos: Everything anybody ever wanted to know about cannabis or the cannabis industry — including, yes, that burning question, "Anybody got any weed?" (or dab, or wax, or "live resin," or whatever) — could be found here. "Veterans and Cannabis." "Cannabis Nurses Panel." "Native American Culture and Cannabis." Some of the panels we attended over the two-day expo included "Social Media in the Cannabis Industry: Compliance and Building Relationships for Your CannaBrand" with Amy Donohue of Hybrid Social ("It's a lifestyle job," she said. "You'll never work 9 to 5."); the Saturday "Cannabis Addresses Opioid Dependence and Addiction" panel, which included physician David Tonkin, who said, "There are no studies that show opiates are a good treatment for pain, long-term. Right now, we have some products that actually work, with CBD [cannabidiol]." Behind the panel hung banners for CBD Naturals, Isodiol, and Heneplex — all alternatives to pharmaceutical pain treatments.

The "Diversity in Cannabis" panel on Sunday — which included former NFL player Marvin Washington and Bonita "Bo" Money, founder of Women Abuv Ground, a support net for female-founded or -fronted cannabis businesses — was one of the more quotable panels. "This [medical/decriminalized cannabis] is going to be a $25 billion industry in five years, and women and people of color are underrepresented," Washington said.

Money wants to "take away the stigma" around marijuana. Before she says, "We would like to see people of color take advantage of this opportunity," she clarifies: "Just so we're clear, when we say, 'people of color,' white is a color."

Cooking demos — how to make cannabis butter, marijuana smoothies, et cetera — added a delightful epicurean dimension to the event, especially the demonstrations from Phoenix-based edibles company Flourish and Chef Payton Curry (ooh, macarons!).

5. The swag and merch: Branded beer koozies, baseball caps proclaiming "Get America Stoned Again," T-shirts, lip balm, stickers, pens, Mardi Gras-style marijuana bud beads, (THC-free) lollipops, blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers — all the crap you never needed (but take anyway) — and more.

Click here to see a slideshow from the second annual Southwest Cannabis Conference + Expo.
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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea