Yes, a couple of exhibitors were selling pipes and bongs. And a few showgoers looked like they had dressed in the dark.
But they were a small minority at CannaCon on Thursday when the annual marijuana industry trade show opened its three-day run at Seattle’s Pier 91.
The rapidly growing and changing marijuana business is attracting big money.
Out with the stoners, in with the suits.
“Our industry is growing so amazingly fast it’s ridiculous,” said show founder Bob Smart. “When we did the first show there were three retail stores open. The second show last February there were 34. This year there’s 200.”
When CannaCon was at the Tacoma Dome in 2014 it attracted 6,000 people. This weekend Smart expects attendance to be around 15,000.
It’s not just the numbers of businesses but their quality that has changed, Smart said.
“National companies are all of a sudden getting into the business. They’ve pulled everyone else’s game up. That first show we did in Tacoma, half the booths — all they did was put some product on the table and maybe put a banner behind them.”
At this year’s CannaCon, the amateur displays are gone. In their place are slick booths with lighting, video screens, photo panels and other features one would see at a trade show.
CannaCon exhibitors include legal firms, insurance companies, chocolate makers and several companies selling fertilizers, some with hyperbolic claims of efficacy.
There was one thing missing though.
Like at a UFO convention the main topic was nowhere to be seen. Not even a whiff.
Pier 91 is federal property and thus marijuana, still illegal at the federal level, is forbidden. And that’s fine with Smart.
“Probably 30 percent of our exhibitors aren’t in this industry,” Smart said. “And not allowing cannabis in the show or cannabis smoking is what gets them here.”
Smart tosses out anyone caught using marijuana at the show. One showgoer got a talking to by police officers Thursday, Smart said.
“This is a business show. If you can’t conduct business for eight hours without having to be stoned, don’t come to my show,” he said.
Grow lights are big business at CannaCon. Industry numbers estimate growth/production accounts for 1 percent of total U.S. electricity use.
Over at the Gorilla Grow Tents display, Justin Hall was impressing passers-by with feats of strength. His pullups from the tents’ armature demonstrated their sturdiness. But Hall also was annoying his fellow exhibitors by blowing electrical fuses. The multicolored glow lights he was selling with his other business, Kind LED Grow Lights, were drawing too much power.
When they were on, the colorful lighting inside the metallic-lined tents gave Hall’s display a lively nightclub-in-outer space atmosphere.
The emphasis on grow products is where the industry is now, said Garrett Rudolph, editor of Renton-based Marijuana Venture magazine.
“You don’t have to hide in a warehouse anymore,” Rudolph said. He thinks the industry is turning toward more use of greenhouses and becoming less dependent on grow lights.
He’s so bullish on it that he’s about to launch a second marijuana magazine, Sungrower.
Next to Rudolph’s booth was Mike Long, the owner of Indoor Garden and Lighting on Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue.
The former chef started his business in 1995 to grow culinary herbs and other edible or ornamental plants. It wasn’t to grow marijuana.
“If you mentioned marijuana, I would escort you to the door,” Long said.
But he started helping medical marijuana growers after it was legalized.
On Thursday, Long launched a new business, thegrowexpert.com, where he and his fellow consultants will guide marijuana growers.
“Everybody’s mind has changed,” Long said. “But we still primarily deal with greenhouse people and medical (marijuana) people.”
He was still getting used to appearing at a marijuana trade show, something he would never have imagined doing in 1995.
“Not in a heartbeat,” Long said.
San Francisco-based Cloudponics was demonstrating a self-contained grow box the size of a refrigerator. It can grow up to six marijuana plants.
“All you have to do is fill up the water tank and put in the seed,” said Cloudponics’ Pepijn van der Krogt.
The system can be operated by a smartphone and automatically controls water, pH, nutrients, temperature, humidity and other factors.
The Cloudponics systems sell for $2,000, but van der Krogt was offering a show special of $1,500.
Equipment and the marijuana itself are valuable commodities.
At the CannaGuard exhibit from Portland, Kieran Morgan was selling security systems.
High-definition cameras, such as what his company installs, are required by the state of Washington at every level of cannabis production and retail.
“They want to know where the product is — seed to sale,” Morgan said.
One infrared camera was displaying thermal images of expo visitors. Another offered a fish-eye view.
The company uses a 4-inch square cube to test coverage of its installed cameras. If an employee can hide the cube somewhere a camera can’t see it’s considered not up to compliance.
CannaGuard has installed as many as 130 cameras at one location, Morgan said. Video must be stored for 45 days before it can be erased.
The cameras aren’t just helpful to the state, they’re also needed to combat growers’ No. 1 security concern: “Product walking out the door,” Morgan said.
Sonia Leyva was offering candy samples — minus the cannabis ingredients — at her Leaf Chews booth. The candy comes in five flavors, including a raspberry-lime version in swirling Seahawks colors. It’s a Seattle-based company.
The candy is a medicinal marijuana product. Each serving has 33 milligrams of hash oil.
“You only get a little of that green (marijuana) taste,” Leyva said.
Leaf Chews sells its product at a weekly cannabis farmers market for medical marijuana in Tacoma — until July when it must be closed for good.
Smart is hoping that people who have a negative image of the marijuana industry will come to CannaCon.
Like his daughter.
“My daughter had never been to one of my shows. She doesn’t smoke pot. She didn’t want to come near it,” Smart said. “She came out today to bring me a shirt for tonight’s party and she ended walking through and by the time she left she said, ‘This is awesome.’ ”
When: Through Saturday. Seminars start at 9 a.m., Expo opens at 10 a.m.
Where: Pier 91, 2001 West Garfield Street, Seattle
Tickets: $20 for expo, $75 for expo and seminars (one day pass)
Information: 425-791-4467, cannacon.org