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Cannabis Means Business: Behind the Scenes at CWCBExpo with Greg Marco

By Lola Kelleher

The Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBE) is one of the largest and longest-running cannabis industry trade shows in the United States. Every year they host expos in New York, Los Angeles and Boston which feature incredible speakers from all sectors of the business, from media personalities like Montel Williams and Whoopi Goldberg to executives like George Allen of Acreage Holdings and legendary hemp advocates like Joy Beckerman.

This year Honeysuckle is proud to be a media sponsor of CWCBE New York and speaking about cannabis journalism and advertising. In advance of the show, Lola Kelleher spoke with Greg Marco, president of Leading Edge Expositions, the company that produces CWCBE. He gave her the inside scoop on the expo’s origins and what we can look forward to this season.

According to Lola, “Greg’s affability caught me off guard as he displayed entrepreneurial prowess when speaking of the upcoming conference. Not only was Greg an encyclopedia when it came to Cannabis legislation and business ventures, but was also a natural teacher, helping me grasp the ins and outs of the industry of which I was a novice.”

LOLA KELLEHER: How did Leading Edge develop the CWCBE? What was your entryway to the cannabis industry?

GREG MARCO: I could tell you the people behind Leading Edge have a plethora of trade show experience. So as we always say, this is not our first rodeo, with roots [going] back 50-plus years. We’ve produced beauty expos, franchising expos, computer expos, the whole gamut of different events. The CWCBE NY expo was created six years ago. L.A. will also be our sixth year. And our baby is the Boston show, going into its third year. We have CWCBE at the Javits Center May 29-June 1. We have three shows every year. We have the NY show in May, the L.A. show at the L.A. Convention Center September 25-28, and the Boston show is at the Hynes Center October 23-26.

Leading Edge has a long history of business-to-business and business-to-consumer events. Our cannabis-related events are more B2B focused, we do have a canna-curious day on Saturday. Last year was the first time we had it; it was added for canna-curious people maybe in corporate America, or who have a full time job [where] it’s a little less accepted to say they are going to a cannabis event. It was well received, which is why we added it to the event.

Los Angeles Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo 2018

My entryway into cannabis happened a year ago. I’ve been with the ownership group a very long time, for a decade and a half in the trade show business. In the cannabis industry I’ve been with CWCBE for a year, saw three shows, learned the industry, met the players. I became the president the next month. I got an MBA in cannabis in a year from the exhibitors, from being at three different events. You have a New York market which is expanding every year, you have an L.A. market which is mature, and you have a Boston market which is finding its way. I’ve seen all the different markets and I’ve seen how digital media works in the cannabis industry.

How has CWCBE evolved from its initial start and how does each conference differ from city to city (NYC, Boston, LA)?

The biggest part of our program in our events is the educational component. We always look at it like the computer shows we used to do. We used to produce one of the largest computer conferences in the late 1980s and early 1990s. How do you lasso the momentum? And with that, it’s an evolving process and in our business now the conference component is a crucial element because things are changing every day. If you flip back to December, there was the Farm Bill in New York and New Jersey where the governors spoke about legalizing cannabis. Just in the last 45 days, the momentum has to be a mirror image of what you produce. In L.A. a “Cannabis 101” conference may not make sense; in the Northeast it’s so progressive it might work there. We need to mirror the place they are serving. That differentiates us from other conferences. We want to create the meeting spot of these markets; we want to be able to provide the [resources] for investing as well. If you come to New York, you find a lot of people interested in investing; it is the hotbed of business. A lot of people [are] interested. I just got off the phone with a hedge fund [that] is interested in investing. If you think about it, when you have a fund by cannabis, they want to see what’s going on. We have a great business going on right now. The conference program and curriculum to rotate the market. L.A. might be our advanced market because it is a mature market. New York is a meeting ground where canna-companies can gather information, law firms that exhibit with us, insurance businesses that exhibit with us. We gear toward each market and the progressiveness of that market.

In Boston last year, we had a lot of government officials… there are elements of that market for that space. We put together that specific program and then we have speaker submissions. I was shocked this year to find how many submissions I received. 

Boston expo 2018

We produce the most professional conferences, in the look, the feel, and the speakers we assemble. Last year we had former Governor Bill Weld; we had Bruce Linton, who is the Canopy Growth Corp CEO, who right after the show got the Constellation Brands’ $5 million investment. So those are the type of level people. And the media coverage of our events, such as Honeysuckle not only covering the show but also on the floor. Another difference in the show floor is where you can meet the CEO of Canopy like Bruce Linton. Participants were ecstatic about that.

Where did CWCBE begin?

It began in New York and blossomed to L.A. next and then to Boston with possibly more cities to come.

NYC is about to have adult-use cannabis legalized, and we are also the number-one cannabis consuming city in the world. How do those factors impact the CWCBE conference here?

Impacts in so many different ways. The three components of a show are last year’s growth, the momentum, [which] impacts attendance, the size of event and growth. When you talk about the growth of a trade show, especially an industry that’s evolving this fast, we are in the captain’s seat. For many years we didn’t have so much stimulation and progressive influence. The legalization comments are coming out so we’re getting lucky now! We always knew this; we always knew New York was a great market and now the regulation is starting to follow.

Whoopi Goldberg and Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld on the Surprise Speakers panel, New York expo 2018

How do you traverse the red tape that exists, because NY has not legalized recreational cannabis use?

The big thing is there are no laws against a conference on a topic. No laws against free speech. On the show floor we adhere to state law; we have no product at our trade show. There are no plants whatsoever. We are just a medium of information for products and services in the industry.

What new programming is on the horizon for this year’s CWCBE NY? What are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about the new faces participating in the space. The evolution of cannabis in the market place. Marketing is a big thing. We are going to have some marketing panels. Investment is not just investment 101 anymore. There will be advanced programming. You talk about cultivation and those types of things, now you’re evolving in terms of a marketplace; it’s no longer just an idea. These people are going to have cultivation farms in the Northeast. So all these changes are very exciting. I’m excited to see the fruits of the labor of the people in our industry reaping rewards. The Farm Bill and hemp is a monstrous[ly exciting] thing for us. We will have hemp-focused tracks and some things I cannot go into. We will announce it [later] in February. There will be very exciting hemp-related events happening.

How does the new federal legalization of hemp affect the conference programming?

We have advisory members that are very hemp-focused. In two of the events we had a vehicle that was 13% hemp. We’re all for these hemp oils and hemp CBD. The hemp component was really helped by the Farm Bill [which] was very impactful for us. A lot of companies now too have hemp and CBD cosmetic lines.

Every year CWCBE offers amazing surprise speakers. While we don’t expect you to spoil the surprise, can you give us any info on dynamic topics that speakers might address, or anyone on the schedule that we just can’t miss?

The biggest thing about the event is not just the expo, but from a trade show planning perspective, the biggest topic is who’s going to headline. That’s the biggest, biggest topic among a management perspective. Obviously I can’t reveal too much.

[So] I can’t disclose that, but the keynotes from NY, LA and Boston—the letters are out, the conversations have happened, and they’re not a one-call conversation to get them to speak. I can tell you in 2019 we will deliver and we appreciate everyone keynoting. But let’s get back to the goal, to get the most relevant content to our audience that we are serving. So think about that. From a keynote perspective, you want relevant speakers from relevant decision makers. I don’t mean to be evasive, but that’s all I can disclose.

The New York show is well under way. We have a lot of new faces as employees that have joined our company right after Boston, from our marketing director to our conference director to our operations and administration people, our CFO. We have 100 years of trade show experience, so we are poised for significant growth in 2019.

For more information about the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBE), visit cwcbexpo.com or follow on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. You can book tickets now for CWCBExpo New York, May 29-June 1, 2019.

Lola Kelleher was born in New York City, from a young age she discovered art and writing as means of expression. Studying at ICP and Cooper Union as an adolescent, she then earned her Bachelor’s degree at Barnard College with a degree in Art History and a minor in Psychology. She continues to live in New York and enjoys underground music, contemporary art, and critical theory. 

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