With cannabis fully legalized in Illinois and indoor venues reopening, the excitement in the air at Chicago’s first CannaCon, held on August 6-7, 2021, was distinct. CannaCon provided an opportunity to re-engage like-minded professionals, cultivators, genetic specialists, and cannabis-related ancillary business experts in one location. As I walked through rows of exhibitors at the Donald Stevenson center in Rosemont, IL, I remembered attending my first cannabis summit.
In 2019, Illinois was solely a medicinal marijuana state. Full cannabis legalization wouldn’t take effect until January 1, 2020. Many of the attendees at the 2019 Cannabusiness Industrial Marketplace Chicago Summit & Expo, were hopeful prospects who dreamt of being part of the budding industry which reported over a billion dollars in combined medical and recreational sales. Many of the conference rooms were standing room only, as individuals listened to the myriad of educational speakers and frivolously wrote in their notepads. Everyone coveted the magic formula required to secure one of the limited Illinois cannabis licenses, with the adult-use dispensary license being the scarcest and most sought out.
As an impact of the pandemic, Illinois delayed the cannabis license awarding process. When the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) finally awarded the adult-use dispensary licenses in September 2020, the results were marred with controversy, leading to multiple lawsuits and additional delays. Finally, in July 2021, the IDFPR conducted the first of three adult-dispensary lotteries.
With CannaCon 2021 coming on the heels of the IDFPR announcing the 55 Adult-Use Cannabis Dispensing Organization Qualifying Applicant winners, there was a different atmosphere among the audience and exhibitors. There were no Multi-State Operator booths, as these companies solidified their footprint in the Illinois cannabis market over the previous 18 months, stemming from the delays in the licensing process. The crowds were smaller as people continue to adjust to the current guidelines and regulations.
However, individuals from all walks of life attended; cannabis and hemp enthusiasts looking at the latest technology and genetics, exhibitors educating and incentivizing individuals who recently won licenses, and professionals networking within the space.
As a representative for AeroPay, I had the opportunity to speak with some of these professionals in the space, including Dan Roda, CEO of Abaca. This comprehensive banking platform provides businesses with cannabis-compliant banking services. Like AeroPay, Abaca understands the value of delivering compliant services for cannabis when there are limited available options in the space due to its federal illegality and the status of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act of 1971. While Illinois continues its licensing process and solidifying its footprint in the national cannabis space, companies like AeroPay and Abaca offer their partnerships to help alleviate some of the burdens of our highly regulated industry.
As the country continues to legalize cannabis state to state and its stigma gradually subsides, having cannabis trade shows provides a professional environment to an industry that has long been forced to lurk in the shadows. Providing education and cannabis-compliant solutions at these venues will continue to benefit enthusiasts and aspiring entrepreneurs while promoting the normalcy of cannabis utilization in the United States.