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At Cannabis Trade Show, Vendors Tread a Careful Line

Exhibitor at NYC Cannabis Trade Show
Exhibitors at  cannabis expo in New York City 'play the game' when it comes to displaying their wares
Exhibitor at NYC Cannabis Trade Show
A question hung in the air at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Thursday: How do you show off your wares in a place where actually using them would be illegal?
The sales pitches were carefully honed.
“These are for tobacco only,” Raj Tiwary, a vice president for the vaping accessory maker Ultimate Vapor Source, said repeatedly, while demonstrating a line of pipes and pens. “Tobacco and dry herbs.”
Nearby, a set of self-watering pots housed several thriving tomato plants — “the pots work well for all kinds of plants,” Marc Lippman, the co-owner of Aqua Camel, emphasized — and a $2,000 vacuum sealing machine showed off its power by endlessly reinflating and resealing a pouch stuffed with spinach. One row over, Vaughn Fitzgerald, a representative of Desiccare, illustrated his company’s packaging system for preserving organic matter.
“You put your weed in here — in theory — and seal it up, and it’ll stay pristine for the next 15 years.” Asked about the sample “weed,” which looked like florists’ moss, Mr. Fitzgerald laughed and replied, “It’s New York, hon. We all gotta play the game a little bit.”
The mood was light, but for many in the room, the gathering was serious business. Marijuana is now legal in some form in more than 20 states, and next year, New York will join the list, with the state’s first medical marijuana dispensaries scheduled to open in January. Entrepreneurs in a wide range of industries see a rare window of opportunity. About 2,000 attendees, many in suits and ties, came to the show to network and to check out new products.
The goods ranged from the offbeat, like hemp chews for dogs, to pharmaceutical-grade equipment, drawing attention from those planning to invest millions in their marijuana ventures. A carbon-dioxide extraction system from Apeks Supercritical drew admiring looks from Andrei Bogolubov, the executive vice president for PalliaTech, a medical technology company that has applied for one of the five state dispensary licenses New York plans to grant.
Mr. Bogolubov’s company, based in Sea Cliff, N.Y., has leased a former Pfizer plant to use for its operations, and it is eyeing a 3,000-square-foot space in Downtown Brooklyn. He likes how wide open the industry is: “Anyone who is nationally or federally regulated can’t play, and the institutional money has to stay on the sidelines. That’s a rare opportunity for small businesses to be at the forefront of a vast new market.”
Many aspiring entrepreneurs are laying the foundations for their businesses and waiting for the law to catch up. Jill Alikas St. Thomas, the founder of the Mad Hatter Coffee and Tea Company in Colorado, came to the show to find a New York licenser for her beverage line, which is available in six states. New York’s strict medical marijuana law does not permit the kind of edible products she makes, but she is optimistic that will change.
New York trade shows are a bit different from those in Colorado. “There, we have trays of samples — light doses, obviously,” she said. “Our infusion is really clean and pure. People ask, ‘Is there really THC in here?’ Ten minutes later, they wander back past looking spacey and go, ‘Oh yeah, it’s definitely in here.’ ”
Bridging the East and West Coast business cultures was one of the goals in bringing the Cannabis World show to New York, according to Dan Humiston, the president of the International Cannabis Association, an industry trade group.
“This business thrives in places like Colorado and Washington, but it doesn’t have footholds here,” he said. “New York is the center of the business world. People here need to understand this industry. There are so many ancillary businesses, and so much market potential.”
The show was full of small signs that the industry is becoming a mainstream one. Lawyers, consultants and a smattering of financial services companies — a crucial missing link in an industry that most banks won’t touch — roamed the floor and staffed exhibit booths. The industry even has a new, Washington-based trade research firm, New Frontier, which produces reports for business owners and investors.
But even the most button-down businesses couldn’t resist a few nods to the market’s more countercultural past. A display of free brownies drew a steady stream of curious attendees to the booth of Medbox, a medical technology company that makes dispensing systems and other devices.
“We didn’t want to give away pens,” Evan Forsythe said. Informed that the brownies were “regular and traditional,” a few people wandered off, grumbling.
“We need to put up a sign,” Mr. Forsythe said. “One that says, ‘Come see us in two weeks in Denver.’ ”
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