"We're building a plane while we're flying it."
That's how Shellene Suemori, head of science at Dixie Elixirs, a locally based enfused beverage maker, describes the cannabis industry in Colorado. Since recreational dispensaries first opened their doors in January, marijuana entrepreneurs have been exploring new ideas in business, technology and science -- and the first Colorado Cannabis Summit was created to bring together the numerous areas of the industry to discuss them.
More than 300 vendors, growers, lab directors, experts and entrepreneurs visited the Exdo Event Center during yesterday's summit. The panels and speaker presentations were broken up by short intervals for food and networking, and each attendee was given a goody bag, in a distinct shade of green, full of information about sponsors and presenters.
Stan Wagner, founder and director of outcomes for Red Thread creative group, started organizing the summit in January. "There seemed to be a lot of questions from dispensaries, and also from businesses that serve them," Wagner says. "We thought this would be a good opportunity, almost as a check-in, after retail went live."
To kick off the day-long summit, Brian Seifried, the mayor of Garden City, explained how the small population of his town was learning to not only adapt to the cannabis businesses that had moved in, but also thrive. Since MMJ dispensaries started opening there five years ago, they've become part of the community, Seifried said.
Presenters also offered practical advice. KC Stark, CEO of MMJ Business Academy, detailed the necessary steps for starting a serious marijuana business able to compete in the harsh market. Dedication and good planning were necessary for survival, he said, comparing starting a legitimate cannabis business to the popular yet bloody TV show Game of Thrones. In his words, "Tricky doesn't last. Smart does."
Continue for more about the first-ever Colorado Cannabis Summit. Other morning panels covered branding and marketing, including social media (six tweets a day is the recommended dose), plus testing and safety. With new laws surrounding edibles and other marijuana-infused products, the Q&A for the testing-and-safety panel was longer than most.
Cannabis Trainers, a business specializing in safe marijuana retail training, had a table at the event. Owner Maureen McNamara, who created the food-safety training course ServSafe specifically for cannabis businesses, has been active on the cannabis scene for a long time.
"ServSafe is essentially the same kind of training that you would get if you were a cupcake company or a restaurant," explained Katie Schmatz of Cannabis Trainers. "What it teaches you is the basics of food safety. That's how you know you would pass if an inspector were to come in."
Activ Snax, a start-up manufacturing business for marijuana-infused products, is expecting to launch this summer. "We are creating a consistency in the industry. If you were to have an edible product at a certain dispensary today, that edible product is going to have the same therapeutic effect seven days from now," said Brian Strain, head of sales and distribution. "That is not happening in the industry -- that consistency of product."
Strain says he's a fan of smart regulations, which will help lift the lazy stoner stereotype affiliated with cannabis.
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Throughout the summit, creating a safer and more reliable future for cannabis businesses remained a prominent theme -- which made the final presentation, "What's the Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana Future for Colorado?," a fitting end to the event.
Well, almost the end. After that final presentation, the bar opened. The laid-back networking party that followed put an appropriate cap on the first-ever Colorado Cannabis Summit.
From our archives: "Colorado could use a cannabis mascot: Little Buddy."