Q&A with Chris Walsh of MJBizCon

Oct 14, 2021 | Blog, News

Chris Walsh, President & CEO of MJBiz Daily

Chris Walsh, President & CEO of MJBiz Daily

Oaksterdam University has a long-standing relationship with MJBizCon, one of the largest cannabis conferences in the country. As the OU Team gears up to attend the event on its 10th anniversary Oct. 19-22 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, we caught up with Chris Walsh, President and CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, to talk about the return of trade shows to Las Vegas, the importance of education in the cannabis space, and why people are sometimes surprised by the professionalism of MJBizCon.  

Do you have COVID-19 safety protocols in place for this year’s expo?

Our entire company is focused on making sure we’re doing this safely and successfully. We’re excited. There’s an indoor mask mandate across Vegas but that was enacted to stop the further spread of COVID and prevent other types of shutdowns and restrictions. It seems to be going well. Big events are back in Vegas. I was just there for one in another industry and there were 20,000 people.

Did COVID put things on hold the past couple of years?

Last year was a very difficult year. We had a half dozen events planned across 2020. We really had no insight into how it would play out, no one did. We ended up switching MJBizCon to virtual-only. Our experience, what we’re seeing, is people are very eager to get back around each other. That’s how this industry was built. It’s even more important in cannabis for people starting or running businesses to get together face to face and network. You can’t replicate that virtually.

Looking down from above at the expansive floor of MJBizCon

The floor of MJBizCon.

Why do you feel networking is so important?

Cannabis is so different than other industries. There’s been a culture around it for many, many years. It’s a more social industry. People want to get together. If you think about the end product it makes sense. You’re not talking about computer chips or software. You’ve also seen this industry crop up out of nowhere, out of the shadows and underground. As people are trying to establish foundations of the state-legalized industry they have to get together to learn from each other and support each other and figure out a path forward. Plus the industry changes very quickly. There are unexpected developments, many of them positive, some negative, from new industry regulations and new states legalizing to new approaches by the federal government.

Networking at MJBizCon

Networking at MJBizCon.

How did MJBizCon get started?

Ten years ago, spring of 2011, the two co-founders of the company were looking to launch MJBizCon to provide business intelligence, data, and information to people pioneering this brand new industry that had cropped up very, very quickly. Along the way, we added news and analysis, and started events. At that time there weren’t any serious events or trade shows. There wasn’t a professional forum to get together, meet new people, network, educate themselves on how to run their business better, and also get their products and services out there in a trade show format.

What is your background?

I was a business journalist working at mainstream newspapers and saw the opportunity to help this nascent industry find its footing. We built MJBizDaily and I did market research, moved to the business side, then became CEO in January of last year. I started a podcast for MJBiz, Seed to CEO. I hadn’t done content creation for years. With the podcast, it has been fun scheduling and conducting interviews. Dale Sky Jones was on an episode recently, interviewed by Omar Sacirbey, who serves as a guest host.  

How did you connect with Oaksterdam?

Oaksterdam is a leader in its area of the industry. I met people from Oaksterdam when I first started and was and trying to understand this industry. It’s an institution that has absolutely helped fuel its growth. Oaksterdam has educated professionals across the spectrum to enter cannabis and grow within the industry. It’s served a vital role along the way in helping professionalize the industry and bring it more into the mainstream. There weren’t textbooks on how to make a career in cannabis. Oaksterdam has pioneered education for professionals trying to chart a course in the profession. Education is absolutely important to what we do at MJBizCon.

The crowd at MJBizCon.

A crowded booth at MJBizCon.

Can you believe it’s the 10th annual MJBizCon?

It’s simply amazing to reflect and look back on what the industry has done over the past decade. It’s been reflected in our own event and the growth we’ve seen — it goes hand and hand. When we started there were a dozen states that had legalized just medical cannabis. We didn’t know if the industry would be around in six months. There were fears the federal government would shut the whole thing down. To see us here 10 years later, not that long a period of time, considering the views and stigmas and laws around marijuana, it’s just amazing. More states legalized in November than in the past couple of years put together. The industry went far, far beyond our expectations of what it could be.

So what would you tell people who picture MJBizCon as a big party?

People are surprised when they come to MJBizCon. It looks and feels like a mainstream business trade show and that’s what we’re all about. It’s professional, with an intense focus on helping businesses and industry professionals. We’re about having fun, but at our show, there’s no marijuana allowed. Those are the rules and regulations. You have a massive trade show with lighting companies, tech companies, consultants, lawyers, retail, brands, and the list goes on and on.

Panelists on stage at MJBizCon

Panelists on stage at MJBizCon.

Are people surprised by MJBizCon?

The mainstream media would come and be shocked. They would set up to do their live reports from the show, reporters or hosts, and they’re like ‘hey, this is pretty normal,’ and that’s good. We want to retain the culture of cannabis absolutely, but it also needed to professionalize, mature, and grow up and I think that’s what you see on display wherever you go at MJBizCon. This is a legit field, people are finding jobs, establishing careers, starting companies, and that still surprises people.

Oaksterdam University will join GrowGeneration, its new Industry Educational Partner, in booth #5935 at 2021 MJBizCon, Oct. 19-22 in Las Vegas. Join Chris Walsh virtually or in-person as he speaks about the State of the Industry and Predictions at the MJBizCon kick-off event 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20.