August 15, 2014 in City, Region

Canna Con caters to Washington state’s blossoming marijuana business

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jim Camden photo

Lori Sullivan of Diamond Direct LED adjusts a low-energy LED fixture that emits a special spectrum plants need. She was setting up for Canna Con on Thursday in the Tacoma Dome.
(Full-size photo)

TACOMA – A person could find just about anything related to a marijuana business at an event inside the Tacoma Dome this weekend.

Canna Con, which bills itself as the nation’s largest business-to-business exhibition for the marijuana entrepreneurs, has the dirt to grow the plant in. Low-energy high-intensity lights to grow it faster and cheaper. Elaborate pipes to smoke it in. Containers to keep it moist. Shrink-wrappers to condense and preserve it. Confections to infuse with it. Magazines to read about it. Legal, financial and security consultants to help set up a business. Pictures of it to hang on the store walls.

Just about anything in the 180 booths, except the plant itself. Canna Con is cannabis free – an effort, organizers said, to show the public that marijuana isn’t just in the realm of hippies who play loud music and to bring businesses together without problems from law enforcement or smoke.

“Think of this as the home and garden show for cannabis, with no cannabis here,” organizer Bob Smart said.

It’s something Washington’s fledgling recreational marijuana businesses need, said Jerry McDonald, of Vancouver, as he walked between booths. He helped open that city’s first retail outlet, Mainstreet Marijuana, and it was harder than anyone thought. “We need to get together as an industry and talk about which way we’re going to go.”

And if a marijuana convention without marijuana seems, as one exhibitor put it, “Kind of like a condom convention for eunuchs,” there will be shuttle buses to Seattle’s Hempfest over the weekend, an event so synonymous with pot consumption that Dope Magazine is distributing its Hempfest 2014 edition at its booth.

Some vendors had to improvise. Lori Sullivan, who was showing off new designs in LED lighting in a 10-foot-by-10-foot tent, had sunflowers under the grow lights instead of cannabis. The lamps have special lenses to spread the light, which is produced in a special spectrum that plants need, produces less heat and uses about half the energy of other types of lighting, she said.

Innovations large and small are on display at Canna Con. There’s the Toker Poker, which McDonald was checking out as an item to stock at the Vancouver store. It wraps around a butane lighter with a thin stainless steel rod that folds out to free the gunk clogging up the intake of a pipe. Matt Bodenchuck of Denver said he thought it up about three years ago after one night at a concert at Red Rocks where he and friends had a clogged pipe and nothing to clear it with. The design was helped along when he discovered a layer of acrylic paint left out overnight was pliable enough the next morning to wrap around a lighter, and if you put a steel wire in it – voila, Toker Poker, your smoking sidekick. Patent pending.

Retails for $7.95, and they’ve sold about 20,000 of them to everything from head shops to gas stations that do a good business in tobacco products. Bodenchuck is hoping for a call from “Shark Tank.”

On the other end of the scale are Pharm-Pods, shipping containers like those used in national and international cargo operations that have been converted into 8-foot-by-20-foot growing operations. It’s turnkey: The eight grow lights and ventilation system are already installed and wired in. All you need is a 50-amp electrical service to plug it into and you can set up a grow operation in just about any empty building, said Bill Sears.

“It’s all about efficiency,” Sears said. “They’re customizable. We haven’t built any two the same.”

The pods have sold in Colorado, California, Arizona and Canada. Canna Con is their debut in Washington, although the company is opening an outlet in Seattle. They retail for $25,000 and Sears said by noon Thursday he’d already had a grower offer to buy the floor model, as is.

Paul Bonham was showing off custom glass waterpipes from Blackmarket Glass out of Portland that retail between $30 and $360. The company makes about 200 a week, he said, although he doesn’t think there’s been a big jump in sales yet because of Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana use in Washington. Folks who will spend that amount on a bong probably weren’t waiting for the law to change.

Brian and Suzanne Dervaes had one of the more frequently visited booths, where they were giving away samples of chocolates and pastries that could be used by processors to infuse with marijuana extracts. (The samples were not so infused.) A pair of classically trained French pastry chefs, the Dervaeses rep for Peterson, which imports chocolates, pastries and cheeses that are wholesaled to restaurants, hotels and stores. They had a connection who handles the packaging and labeling that meet strict state requirements.

For years, Thom Dolder has been selling vacuum packing systems to fishermen and restaurants to keep meat and fish preserved. Lately he’s sold one or two a month to marijuana growers or producers and got a booth at Canna Con where he demonstrated how they can shrink and package marijuana – using paper shavings instead of pot.

“I sell more of these to Canada for growing pot than to the U.S. Fishermen are still my biggest customers here. There are more fishermen than pot smokers. Although … .” Dolder’s sentence trailed off as he looked around at the crowd.

Evan Twede was passing out information on a new marijuana lozenge that will use a patented strain of marijuana being developed in Nevada and designed to mellow people out. To be sold in Washington they’ll have to open an operation to produce them in this state, and Twede was set to interview a producer on Friday.

The trademarked name of the lozenge? Hi. It’s funny, Twede acknowledged, that no one had thought to claim it previously.


There are 30 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email