In a packed ballroom in the bowels of the Telus Convention Centre, would-be cannabis entrepreneurs rubbed shoulders with well-experienced cannabis experts as the inaugural CannabisCon educational conference got underway Friday.
“Conferences like this are just such a leading indicator of the economic activity that’s going to be happening within a marketplace,” said Cassandra Farrington, co-founder and CEO of the online news site Marijuana Business Daily.
“There are really interested, fully-respectable and fully-experienced business people here walking the floor and attending the sessions today to learn more about how they’re going to engage with this market.”
LISTEN: John Himpe talks to Andrea Montgomery about his experience at CannabisCon
A mix of vendors filled the show floor. Some, like Airdrie-based Sundial Growers and Ontario-based Tweed, featured large, bright, lifestyle-focused exhibits. Other companies focused on cannabis-adjacent products and accessories.
Also on offer, the chance to buy into a national chain of cannabis retail outlets.
Calgary-based Spiritleaf offers entrepreneurs a franchise system they can buy into. The chain’s mission is to create a network of stores which will appeal to a wide range of consumers.
“We thought it’d be a great opportunity for a bunch of independent entrepreneurs to collaborate and work together to build this iconic Canadian brand,” said president and CEO Darren Bodnar.
Bodnar said he has nearly sold out of stores in the Alberta market with more than 100 people buying into the concept. Those looking to get in the retail game include aspiring entrepreneurs, professionals, seniors, and those looking to get out of the oil and gas sector.
“This is one of the biggest opportunities we’ve seen in 20 years – since tech.”
WATCH BELOW: The medical marijuana firm Aurora Cannabis is building a major facility at the Edmonton International Airport and is making Alberta’s capital its international headquarters. Tom Vernon reports.
LISTEN: Geoff Thompson of Sundial Growers explains how to invest in the cannabis business
As entrepreneurs searched the convention floor for advice and information entry-points into the cannabis game, some of the industry’s biggest players also converged to talk about what life will look like after legalization.
“We are not inventing cannabis use here,” said Cam Battley, chief corporate officer for major player Aurora Cannabis. “We are replacing a vast and extremely sophisticated black market in cannabis with a legal, regulated and safer one.”
“All the things we can be allowed to do in the legal cannabis sector to compete effectively with the black market, that supports the public policy objective of reducing the illegal market and reducing youth access.”
While Friday’s agenda focused on the business of legal weed, consumers will get their first sneak peek as to what the industry will look like when the convention opens its doors Saturday to a wider audience.