Cannabis brand and retail conference MJ Unpacked concluded its first-ever New York-based event on Friday, even as the Empire State gears up to launch adult-use cannabis sales.
"MJ Unpacked's first time in NYC exceeded all expectations, gathering together the best of the best in cannabis and further establishing the show as the most comprehensive and top-tier CPG event in the industry," MJ Unpacked CEO and co-founder George Jage said in a statement.
With upwards of 2,000 attendees and about 140 exhibiting companies, MJ Unpacked is considerably smaller than MJBizCon, the oldest and largest business-to-business trade show of its kind in cannabis. But Jage, the former president and publisher of MJBiz, said MJ Unpacked isn't competing.
"We're not trying to be the biggest show. We're trying to be the most productive show," he said.
The MJ Unpacked conference focuses on consumer-facing brands and retail, rather than business-to-business solutions. Attendance at the conference is limited to cannabis consumer packaged goods brands and retail executives and accredited investors. Jage said the event is intentionally exclusive to bring together decision-makers from a variety of businesses.
Courtesy of MJ Unpacked
"How do we help that independent retailer in that brand navigate one of probably the most difficult businesses to operate in the United States? And so our goal here is to really lift them up, connect them with capital," Jage explained.
MJ Unpacked debuted in Las Vegas in October 2021. Moving forward, organizers plan to host two shows per year in the Big Apple and Las Vegas. New York City's promising cannabis market made it an attractive setting for the conference, as did its financial prominence.
"This is the financial capital of our country. We're a capitalist society. You can go in the beltway, and you can have all sorts of lobbyists and political rhetoric. But at the end of the day, most of these decisions move based on financial gain and opportunity," Jage said.
Conference organizers had hoped New York's adult-use cannabis sales would have kicked off in time for the May conference. In spite of delays, MJ Unpacked organizers are still very bullish on the opportunities in the market, which MJBiz projects could generate close to $3 billion in sales by 2026.
Plus, Jage's vision of the cannabis industry, one that has "thousands of millionaires, not a handful of billionaires," echoes the goals of New York lawmakers and regulators. New York's legalization bill contains provisions designed to hinder monopolies and encourage a wide array of businesses to succeed.
Courtesy of MJ Unpacked
A conversation with Tremaine Wright, the chair of New York's Cannabis Control Board, closed out the conference on Friday. In a wide-ranging discussion with moderator Leo Bridgewater, a New Jersey-based cannabis advocate and entrepreneur, Wright touched on everything from workers comp and insurance to accessibility and the many ways in which entrepreneurs can use state resources to their advantage.
"I think a large part of the work in this moment for our board … is to go out and educate people, generally, so they can shift the narrative," she said, eliciting applause from the audience.
New York State legalized cannabis in March 2021. Following a series of delays, licenses to sell adult-use cannabis are expected to go out by the end of 2022.