The California Cannabis Awards started at 4:00 p.m. I screeched into a parking space five blocks away from the event at 4:10 p.m. Concerned I would miss some of the red carpet glam, I ran five blocks with the spikes of my heels echoing against the street. I hastily passed under the flickering blue and red fluorescent lights of the Microsoft Theater and arrived outside The Novo to the sight of two camera women setting up their equipment, four women in elegant gowns manning a table and a few security guards watching over an empty red carpet. I was late, but this is California. More specifically, this is the California Cannabis Awards. I was right on time.
An hour passed and, at the stroke of 5:00, the red carpet was flooded with light to display a collection of fashionable, vibrant and passionate cannabis entrepreneurs and their business partners.
The group on this CCA red carpet was different from those who gather at other industry summits. There were noticeably more women in leadership roles, more diverse people in leadership roles and more leaders who got into the industry before a path to legal business operation on all fronts was clear. That says something about this industry as a whole — its pioneers are risk-takers even more so than the typical entrepreneur, forward thinkers, rebels and people who live by their own rules and who actively work to create the reality they want to live in.
While observing CEOs, influencers and cannabis industry elite on the red carpet, I couldn’t help but realize the moment was historic. It was one that would shape the future of the industry. The 2018 California Cannabis Awards marked the first awards ceremony of its kind, created and hosted by the groundbreaking new software company WebJoint. Every business owner present that night was in the process of making history.
As I contemplated the gravity of the moment, several questions popped into my mind:
How will the personalities who are in the industry now shape the culture for future generations of cannabis business people?
What methods will the personalities present today use to solve the problems the industry faces?
How will early-to-market business owners treat each other and new business owners as competition gets steeper?
Every industry has a dark side. What is the dark side of the cannabis industry, and how are leaders in the industry working to combat it?
I took a moment to appreciate everyone in attendance and then made my attack on the red carpet.
I first spoke to Christopher Dell’Olio, the CEO of WebJoint and the brains and funding behind the first-ever California Cannabis Awards. WebJoint is a software company that helps dispensaries keep track of their inventory and stay within legal guidelines. Chris founded the company when he was only 18 and he’s grown with WebJoint and with the industry as it’s changed and as cannabis has become legal.
One of Chris’s primary missions is to help cannabis business owners unify to make the industry stronger as a whole. When I asked him why he wanted to create this event, he explained, “To get everyone in California together and to create a place for leaders to network.” Chris was a busy man, so I let him go, but not without gleaning that his perspective on what makes the industry stronger is just as much a matter of unification as it is a matter of individual triumphs.
Next I spoke with Erai Beckmann, whose interest in the industry is multi-faceted. He’s an investor associated with Humanity and worked with the Brazilian government to conduct studies that confirmed that cannabis alleviates some of the pain and symptoms that come with Parkinson’s, epilepsy and cancer.
I asked Erai, who calls himself “Mr. Cannabis,” why the industry should be taken seriously. He explained, “The only thing legalization does is to allow honest, tax paying, law-abiding citizens to have a legal cannabis business. It forces out and removes the illicit markets altogether by default. Keeping it illegal, however, allows the illicit markets to exist.”
Erai explained to me the chicken-and-egg element of destigmatizing cannabis and suggested that as good business people demonstrate their ethics, and that they can be taken seriously as leaders, then the element of the business world that has its doubts will put their concerns aside.
When I asked him what kinds of personalities are driving the industry right now, he asserted that it’s a unique crowd. “A ton of the people in this industry are the real pioneers that were either very passionate about the plant or had their own personal experience with it. They’re not your everyday degree in business administration business people. They’re the real pioneers who are super-passionate about it.”
That explains Erai’s next point — that the industry is now filled with a sincere desire to collaborate. It isn’t cut-throat. He elaborated, “Maybe it helps being high while we’re doing business. Maybe that’s why there’s a culture of collaboration.”
I let Erai go but waved down Sonia Luna, who was nominated for CPA of the year. Sonia is the CEO and president of the accounting firm Aviva Spectrum.
I asked Sonia what the biggest obstacle is when it comes to filing taxes for businesses that are not federally legal yet. Sonia was very clear. Banking is the number-one challenge her clients face. Some credit unions live in the gray area of the law and will do business with cannabis businesses, but the big banks don’t want to lose out on their banking charters.
Sonia clarified, “In terms of who really loses, it’s really the cannabis owners, because they have to get private lending, and those dollars are much more expensive. You go to a private lender, and those are going to be two or three points higher than a bank. The bank is regulated and has a little cap on it. The person that really loses isn’t the bank. It’s the consumer right now and the cannabis business owner.”
When I asked Sonia where businesses store their funds if they can’t use banks, she smiled and said, “In a vault.”
I probed Sonia as to why she got into the industry, despite the risks it poses, and she smiled again. She told me she doesn’t want to be an 80-year-old woman looking back on her life and wondering what she could have been if she had only grasped this huge opportunity to be a part of a groundbreaking industry.
I could see why Sonia was nominated for an award. It was clear that she loves what she does.
As Sonia disappeared down the red carpet, I waved down the Paper Planes Extracts team of Carter and Nika Vladamir. They’re husband and wife and have been working in the industry together for years with the aim of destigmatizing cannabis use. They were nominated for Best Cannabis Brand and have won numerous awards in the past year.
Carter explained to me that it’s his brand’s mission to break down the false assumption that cannabis users are druggies and losers. He aims to do it through the success of his business and through offering a truly superb product.
Nikka explained, “It’s really important to us to show people that it’s not a dangerous drug. It is medicine for people who have certain ailments that it can fix.” He added, “It doesn’t make you lazy. Here we are using it and running an incredible business.”
From backstage, I could hear Burner singing. So I headed out to check the ceremony’s final events.
The night transformed into a party as industry elites celebrated to the sounds of Burner and DJ Ivy.
Inspired by all I’d seen and heard, I headed back to my car. Thank you, California Cannabis Awards, for letting me peer into your collaborative, creative and innovative world.
To attend next year’s awards, or to learn more, visit CaliforniaCannabisAwards.com.
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