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CannaCon Offers a Sober Vision for Marijuana Shows


Tacoma, WA – The age of trade shows for the marijuana industry appears to be dawning, but it won’t arrive in a cloud of smoke.

The August 14-17 launch of CannaCon, billed as an exhibition for budding entrepreneurs in the increasingly liberalized world of commercial cannabis, was noted in the mainstream media with the ironic note that smoking would not be allowed inside Washington’s Tacoma Dome during the show.

The ban on smoking at the show may have generated some laughs and even some criticism from aficionados who were comparing it to the more raucous pot festivals held around the U.S., including the fifth annual Hempfest, which takes place up Interstate 5 in Seattle on the same dates as CannaCon.

But that was beside the point to Bob Smart, former corporate exhibitor and past owner of a home and garden show in the Pacific Northwest, who wants his new show to follow the classic exhibition formula. “I felt the marijuana industry needed something more professional,” Smart told Trade Show Executive. “They need to ‘business up,’ so to speak.”

Not only will CannaCon be smoke-free in keeping with Tacoma Dome rules, there won’t even be any marijuana on site. The exhibits will be limited to products and services that will help attendees grow their own. “We want people to come here and see a group of professionals doing business, and not a bunch of stoners.”

So the goal is to bring the serious buyers and sellers together at CannaCon while the end users and tire kickers kick back at Hempfest.

Smart has taken space for 700 booths that will display everything from lighting equipment to legal services – and won’t require an extra-large candy dish. Smart and his 12-person team were putting together about 60 educational sessions on the growing and marketing of pot, which has become virtually decriminalized in Washington.

The new legal environment in Washington opened the door to CannaCon and its mix of B-to-B and consumer show strategy. The exhibitors, which were identified largely through their advertising in marijuana lifestyle publications and websites, offer the equipment and professional services needed for aspiring growers and retailers to establish themselves in what used to be an underground market. “There are local companies out there that want to go nationwide,” Smart said. “CannaCon is about growing their businesses.”

Consumers may also attend CannaCon and look over products for their own little pot patches, or peruse the head shop component for the latest in what used to be known as paraphernalia.

Colorado this year enacted its own measure decriminalized recreational marijuana use, leading to a flurry of small business activity and the announcement that Denver would host a B-to-B event for the new industry.

The Denver-based trade group National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) based in Denver said the NCIA Cannabis Business Summit, taking place June 24-25 in the 47,700-square foot ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center, would draw more than 800 attendees and 30 exhibitors. The program is heavy on education with an emphasis on dispensary operations and the changing legal and regulatory environment.

Meanwhile, CannaCon is expected to host 30,000 to 50,000 visitors. The vast majority will no doubt be drawn from the consumer side, but Smart told TSE those folks were expected to spend about $200,000 with the show’s vendors, and that doesn’t include potential orders written by the B-to-B crowd.

A solid showing at the gate and in exhibitor ROI could not only set CannaCon on the same path that Comic-Con in San Diego took toward becoming a pop culture event, Smart said, but also open the door for similar launches in other cities.

And future success may be credited to the businesslike and non-smoky atmosphere at the Tacoma Dome, which helps keep critics and fears of legal snags at bay. “We want the next city to gladly open their doors to us,” Smart said. “No one has been bugging us because there is nothing to bug us about; we’re not selling cannabis, we’re selling booth space.”

Reach Bob Smart at (206) 941-0951 or; Brooke Gilbert, NCIA events director, at (888) 683-5650 or

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