Everything but Marijuana at MJBizCon Show
There were plenty of large companies and big money on display at the MJBizCon show in Las Vegas, but only pictures of the actual product like this King Kola booth.
Weed, weed everywhere but not a bud to smoke. That could have been the Samuel Taylor Coleridge-paraphrased description of the buttoned-down MJBizCon in Las Vegas last week.
Billed as the largest marijuana business show in the world and presented by Marijuana Business Daily, MJBizCon came with prominently placed, stern warnings against any use of cannabis products on the premises. Even the samples of CBD oil-laced coffee contained only coffee and the CBD gummies were sans CBD.
Outside of the show was a different story, with the sweet smell of marijuana packing its punch in the surrounding streets. Nevada legalized recreational marijuana in 2017.
But there were plenty of large corporations and big money on display at the show, where I was a guest of Unity Rd, the new name for the retail marijuana dispensary franchise under the One Cannabis umbrella.
Case in point: Hawthorne Gardening Co. for cannabis growers, a subsidiary of Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. (Scotts posted $3.15 billion in annual revenue in 2019.) Other fun names at the show: LuvBuds, selling fancy bongs like a bright red number made of silicone and stamped with a “420 Hot Chili Sauce” logo; Emerald Harvest, grower of King Kola and touting its king-sized buds; and Hypur, providing financial services so growers and retailers can “pay and get paid without cash.”
Michael Sinnwell is president and COO of Hypur, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he was among those manning the booth at MJBizCon. “There are 21 financial institutions running on our network,” he said, and they solve one of the biggest problems in the marijuana business, which in the past was un-bankable because cannabis is illegal on the federal level.
Sinnwell said he was working in the legal fintech business, otherwise known as technology-enabled banking and finance, when the founder of Hypur asked him to join. “I chuckled and said I don’t look good in stripes,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to take the risk.”
But then he sat down with an attorney. The attorney said, “I need to tell you a story,” Sinnwell recalls. His son had seizures and was helped by medical marijuana, which cut the number of episodes and allowed the young boy to go to school. The attorney said, “Someone needs to look at this industry. Something needs to change,” and Sinnwell decided to sign on.
Hypur went to market in 2016. “We’ve got 500 merchants on it. We’re kind of alone because we have compliance tools”as well as financial institutions on the platform.
MJBizCon was said to attract 35,000 people from 75 countries in the 250,000 square feet of the Las Vegas Convention Center. To explain all the interest, Unity Rd’s VP of franchise development had a simple answer. “There’s been nothing this massive in franchising,” said Justin Livingston, who formerly led franchise sales for Coyote Ugly and Maui Wowi, among others. “This is new, scratch new, with numbers that are so far above” other industries. He cites “the enormous potential for generational wealth” that he believes will come from franchising marijuana retail shops.
Unity Rd has signed 16 operators, he said, the latest in Illinois and Massachusetts, none of whom have opened their stores yet as most are still trying to obtain licenses from their respective states. “It’s hard,” said Livingston, because Unity Rd is a pioneer. He believes Unity’s combo of cannabis and franchising knowledge will help operators succeed. “We have that drawbridge to get people across the moat—or moats.”