weather icon Mostly Cloudy

Las Vegas marijuana conference embracing innovation, professionalism

To some, the marijuana industry still evokes images of grungy dreadlocks, Rastafarian symbols and shady underground markets.

But as more states look to legalize either medical or recreational marijuana, many in the industry are looking to replace those stereotypes with a more clean-cut look in what has been a constant battle for legitimacy.

And for the nascent industry, the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo, which kicked off its three-day convention Wednesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center, brings just that sort of opportunity.

“This is just like any other trade show that you would see here in the North Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center,” Cassandra Farrington, CEO and co-founder of Marijuana Business Daily, the expo’s parent company, said in an interview Wednesday.

The annual convention, called MJBizCon for short, is now in its fourth year in Las Vegas and sixth overall, and expects about 18,000 attendees this year, up from the 10,881 who attended last year.

Replacing classic stoner motifs are massive steel machines that look like they belong in a science lab rather than on the floor of a marijuana convention, and tech companies hoping to emerge as the Apple of the marijuana industry. And walking through the nearly 700 vendor exhibits are not what most people would consider traditional stoners, but rather businessmen hoping to invest in the next big hit.

“When you walk around this show floor, it is undeniable that this is a place where massive business deals are going to happen,” Farrington said. “MjBizCon has year after year proven that this is an industry that is and will be focused on professionalism, on industry, on technology development and innovation.”

And as more mainstream investors eye the emergent industry, many within are trying to shed some of those stoner stereotypes.

That’s true for the California-based Lola Lola, run by father-son duo Mike Garganese and Mike Garganese Jr.

Garganese got into the industry three years ago in California’s enormous underground gray market. And he’s watched the industry evolve in that short amount of time from shady deals to a legitimate business, and he hopes his own brand will continue to “demystify and normalize retail cannabis.”

The company, which plans to expand soon to Las Vegas dispensaries, sells a full line of cannabis products, such as pre-rolled joints, vapes and dried flower. But you might not think that from the packaging.

No pot leaves or other traditional tropes adorn Lola Lola’s products, which instead look like something found in a beauty salon or cosmetics shop.

“I wanted to create a feeling that this is a normal product,” he said.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.