What better way to ring in the New Year than with an enormous cannabis conference and expo in Vancouver, British Columbia? I recently had the pleasure of gaining access to the Lift & Co. 2020 Cannabis Expo right on the water at the Vancouver Convention Centre. I’m no stranger to conducting cannabis business in Washington. So, I was naturally excited to see what I could learn in Canada.
Lift & Co. throw some of Canada’s largest cannabis expos in Vancouver and Toronto. This one ran for three days; Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The first day is the business conference, then the industry day, ending with the consumer day. I came for the last two days to soak up everything the expo had to offer. I was curious to find out how cannabis is marketed in Canada. As well as what companies are doing to stand out through content creation.
When I was going into the convention center I could already tell it was a huge space. I then went through the convention center’s mezzanine to the attractive orange Lift & Co. arches. While descending the escalator to the showroom floor you could feel the size of it all creep up on you.
There were over 280 exhibitors showcasing various technologies, brands, and products. Looking around you could also see a bevy of Canadian cannabis industry influencers. This truly is an event that brings out tens of thousands of attendees.
The Cannabis Expo
When I came in on Friday I was ready to see what business could be had in Canada’s cannabis market. On my first day at a convention or expo, I try to talk to everyone. My goal is always to kick-start conversation and to try and end up in as many meaningful conversations as possible. It was hit-or-miss the first day. I went to talk to a lot of the producers and processors and found out they were either not looking for marketing or had it completely under control. Either way, I was learning a tremendous amount with each conversation.
Friday was the industry-only portion of the trade show so everyone came ready to talk turkey. The energy in the expo hall was buzzing and everyone was in bubbling professional exchanges. After sitting in on a few speakers and making the rounds of shop talk and business card exchanges, I found my rhythm by the end of the day. I left on Friday knowing who I wanted to come back and talk more extensively to on Saturday.
On Saturday, I was joined by the cannabis consumers of Vancouver alongside the other cannabis professionals and influencers. Friday taught me what kind of companies are looking for marketing exposure in the states, as well as what companies are based in the U.S. versus Canada. My conversations on Saturday were much more productive because I found what I was looking for.
There were plenty of vape tech and smoking accessory companies that can easily do business in the states. Most, if not all of them already have a business they’re doing there. Some of them were also from my side of the border like Florida and Colorado. I made several solid connections for potential strategic partnerships and product reviews. I left on Saturday feeling accomplished.
What I Learned…
About Marketing Cannabis In Canada
This was the tricky part. I came to learn after several conversations that cannabis is extremely difficult to market in Canada at present. The parameters that came with their federal Cannabis Act are outrageously restrictive. So, companies with big investors have an in-house marketing team toeing the line of restrictions. The rest told me that they aren’t able to work with US companies at this time due to federal marketing laws.
Getting pages shut down and shadow-banning is nothing new to me. But to be unable to market cannabis products with testimonials or endorsements is rough. I still talked to everyone. I learned Respect My Region is valuable because we support cannabis as part of our lifestyle brand. Our company doesn’t have “cannabis” or “weed” in its name. This became my golden goose. Many cannabis technologies and smoking accessory companies were looking for shareable content across borders to their US clients.
About Vancouver’s Cannabis Community
To say the scene for smoking weed is palpable in Vancouver is a vast understatement—it’s literally thriving. In the heart of downtown Vancouver, you can find several recreational shops, as well as lounges that you can purchase and consume your goodies in. One spot in particular, aptly named “Cannabis Culture” has walls lined with old propaganda and history of the herb. My friend and I also stopped in at the Bulldog Cafe and played some Mario Kart amidst taking dabs off the house rig. Every lounge had house rigs with e-nails hot and ready; I was in heaven.
Craig Ex & Studio 710
My friend Jarett Lopez from the Daily Hive who I met at Shambhala last year brought me to a local figure in the cannabis community’s spot, Craig Ex, and his Studio 710 media hub. It was here I met many other OG’s from the local scene, and fully came to grasp the longevity of the culture in Vancouver, from the legacy market to the recreational market.
Cannabis culture is thriving, but there’s a tangible disconnect between a lot of the recreational brands and the actual Canadian cannabis consumer. One of my new goals from the trip is to keep doing research and keep an eye on Canadian cannabis brands and the progression of the recreational industry. I know that opportunities for business across the borders will only increase in the next few years.
The Cannabis Sommelier
I was able to link up with our mutual friend and Canadian collaborator, the Cannabis Sommelier (@thecannabissomm,) who does cannabis and alcohol pairings. He gave me his own insight on the impact Lift & Co’s expos have had on the cannabis community in Vancouver. As this was his second year in a row attending the expo he had ample insight to give. When asking him how Lift & Co’s efforts have been received by the local cannabis community he had this to say:
“The expo is somewhat received by the cannabis culture in Vancouver. A lot of the cannabis crusaders who fought for legalization who are getting left behind see big business glorifying something they were thought of as outlaws for, for years. On the other hand I see a lot of optimism.-@thecannabissomm
“Lift & Co. is an opportunity to rub shoulders with the who’s who of the industry. It is truly the best networking experience in Canada. A friend Hart Steinfeld called it ‘camp cannabis.’ I’d love to see more consumption at the cannabis expo though. I noticed an absence of any sort of cannabis consumption this year.”-@thecannabissomm
Concluding, he said that “the best part of Lift is connecting with everyone from across Canada that’s changing the landscape of cannabis. Almost everyone I’ve ever wanted to meet in Canadian cannabis attends the expo.”
There’s a new cannabis consumer culture in Canada since legalization, but he believes there’s still a “clear disconnect between the legacy market and the recreational market based on price and quality.” Lift & Co. is doing an admirable job of providing a place to connect the existing and emerging cannabis consumers.
Thank you to the Lift & Co. team for inviting Respect My Region out to network and learn. Lift & Co. is the Canadian destination for the discovery of cannabis reviews, products, producers, and retailers. As a company, they’re truly going the extra mile to unite all cannabis lovers in Canada.