On the day before Donald Trump took the oath of office, David Bienenstock, a senior editor at High Times, asked a question of an audience of marijuana entrepreneurs and consumers at the Convention Center: “How many people feel a creeping oppression?”
Trump’s election has inspired fear among millions of Americans, but Bienenstock said the notion that the U.S. government, or other powerful institutions, can be irrational, menacing and cruel is “no secret to anyone who’s lived through the drug war.” The cannabis world has its reasons to fear Trump and his nominee for U.S. attorney general but the predominant moods at last week’s High Times Business Summit was optimism. In November, eight of nine states voted for legal medical or recreational pot, including California, which has finally rolled out the green carpet. And this month, High Times announced that after decades in New York, it's moving to friendlier climes in L.A.
Bienenstock, while openly distressed about Trump, was triumphant about pot’s march toward legalization and mainstream acceptance. “Any reasonable sentient being” agrees on legalization, he said.
At the trade show next to the summit, companies also maintained a strained optimism. Dave Sanders with Stag Vapor Co. said that for Trump to target cannabis, “He’d have to go back on his word.” Like others, Sanders pointed out that Trump is a businessman and so he’ll understand that marijuana is first and foremost a business.
Sure, Trump could come after the federally illegal industry, but it would be a political risk for an issue that doesn’t seem to interest him much. This kind of calculus, likely informed by the cannabis industry’s largest lobby, presupposes that businesses will not risk Trumpian ire by protesting his pick of anti-pot Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general. (During recent confirmation hearings, Sessions made no promises about maintaining the Obama administration’s hands-off policy with the legal states.)
Sanders, clean-cut in a black suit, pointed out a few Hempcon awards Stag’s vaporizers have won. “The people have spoken. Trump is president; we have the best vape.” Dozens of companies had bought booths on the convention center floor to make similarly unprovable claims. They’re on a brutally even playing field, and that may cause bigger problems for companies than whoever occupies the Oval Office. The same logic applies to companies that grow weed, bake it into cookies or make nutrients.
There was even steep competition for product categories that do not yet have a substantial following. A few companies sold water infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive chemical found in cannabis, which proponents believe has healthful properties.
Companies grasped for ways to define their brands. At one booth, rapper 2 Chainz smoked a joint at a microphone surrounded by onlookers, phones aloft.
The venerable rolling paper brand OCB had commissioned Washington state artist Sean Dietrich to illustrate its merch in his mythological Gothic style. A rolling tray featured a drawing of a “forest deity.” A woman stood next to him dressed as the deity, horns and all.
Bienenstock’s talk actually focused on the theme that with the green rush underway, opportunistic “greedheads” posed the real threat to the industry’s future now that a movement nurtured by outsiders who risked their lives was about to be overtaken by hedge-funders who only risked other people’s money.
His talk was called “Cannabis Should Transform Capitalism, Not the Other Way Around,” expressing a sentiment little in evidence on the convention floor. Cannabis will be a “little Trojan horse to upend their capitalist system,” he said to mild applause.