Hall of Flowers Season 3 —
Cannabis, Culture, and Community
Story by Alex Maeland
Photos by Alex Maeland
Story by Alex Maeland
Photos by Alex Maeland
This past September in Santa Rosa, California, a fusion of familiar and fresh faces collided as more than 200 brands gathered for Hall of Flowers, the industry’s leading cannabis tradeshow for businesses to connect.
The show spans the entirety of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds stringing together multiple exhibit halls with its outdoor common spaces. The show aims to curate the most innovative brands, retailers, and industry insiders into a sprawling two-day expo that facilitates collaboration, business development, and discussion over the future of a growing space.
Every industry of a given size has its trade shows and expos, so why not cannabis? At face value, Hall of Flowers is what you would expect: a tightly-woven environment hosted at a sprawling conference center complete with vendors filling rows of stalls, speakers and a lot of product.
And yet, now in its third year (its self-titled “Season 3”), Hall of Flowers offers a rare, concentrated window into the culture of legal cannabis in the U.S. It’s a merger of multiple industries, subcultures, personalities, and professions that make up the incredibly diverse and dynamic market. Three seasons in, it has matured into a multi-dimensional show that bridges a spectrum from culture to commerce, all under one figurative roof.
MAEKAN was on site for the two-day exhibition, documenting the places and faces of Hall of Flowers. This story’s goal is not to be an exhaustive piece that digs deep into the complexity of the cannabis industry or the changing “green rush.”
Rather, our goal was to explore three key facets of the industry: Cannabis, Culture, and Community.
Let’s start with the product. As the industry democratizes, so does the weed. Across the sprawling tradeshow, you’ll notice that at any given time, the legal cannabis companies’ product catalog is made up of a few broad categories.
This has become the catch all term for the actual weed bud. As cannabis has gone legal over the last few years, terminology in mainstream media has diverted from terminology with a tarnished history such as “marijuana” to the more universal “flower.” Practically speaking, as the types of cannabis products expand, this has become the de-facto nomenclature for easily identifying that you’re looking for actual bud at a dispensary.
Vaporizers and Concentrates
As the industry evolved, creating concentrate filled cartridges (or colloquially known as just ‘carts’) become a more easily accessible way of cannabis consumption. The options have become endless. And while the future of electronic vaporizers in America currently hangs in the balance, as of September 2019, any major, legal cannabis brand doing business in legal states was paying attention if not solely building their business off of electronic vapes.
From a supply chain perspective, this is also the most holistic way of minimizing waste from growers’ harvests. The weed flower “trims” are gathered and batched to allow for a THC crystal-striping process that turns the remaining terpenes and THC into concentrated oil that is used for, among other things, vaporizer cartridge oil.
If you can eat it, you can weed it. Gone are the days of ill-portioned weed brownies made in your parent’s oven. The edible industry is expected to reach nearly $4 billion in business by the year 2022.
As the race for people familiar with weed and those new customers who are trying it for the first time continues, accessible, flavorful, and approachable edibles are an easy inroad for many brands. A quick walkthrough of Hall of Flowers shows everything from chocolate candy bars, sugar-coated gummy candies, mints, ice cream, cookies, and more. The edible industry is quickly becoming an expert in precise dosage and serving size – a move that is affording much more consistent effects for users.
In the same vein as edibles, beverage consumables are seeing a major uptick across the industry. With a skew towards CBD-infused waters, juices, and coffees, the beverage industry within cannabis is estimated to become a $1.3 billion industry by the year 2023.
CBD, short for “cannabidiol” is a type of cannabinoid that makes up roughly 40% of a cannabis plant’s extract. It does not have the same psychoactive properties that come with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Due to its absence of psychoactive properties, CBD-infused beverages are becoming yet another entrant into the consumable and edible category of cannabis that is building a sea of new users, loyalists, and customers.
According to a report by A.T. Kearney, “more than half of the U.S. and Canadian respondents would try recreational cannabis if or when it becomes legal, mostly in smoking (39%), food (41%), and edible (28%) forms.”
Tinctures, in short, are an alcohol-extracted form of cannabis. Tinctures contain high levels of THC that have been extracted into the alcohol into a liquid form.
Generally served in a glass bottle with a dropper cap/lid, tinctures are similar to edibles in that they are consumed orally. Often times they can be consumed sublingually, orally, or to infuse a variety of other edibles.
As lanes for all types of users unfold – whether recreationally, medicinally, or even in avenues of food, beverage, and beyond, tinctures open up the cannabis plant as both a measured ingredient tool, medicinal treatment, or consuming directly.
One of the latest modes of consumption within cannabis are the rising trend of topicals. As the title would imply, topicals are cannabis-infused products that are absorbed through the skin. This category is fairly focused and covers everything from lip balms, sprays, lotions, and creams. Topicals began to grow in popularity based on their claims of localization and medicinal-style treatments of specific symptoms.
As the recreational side of legalization has started evolving, various new topical have entered the market with a decidedly less medicinal emphasis, in favor of general health, wellness, relaxation, or feeling and mood skew. For the new school of cannabis consumers, topicals are an easy entrant into experimenting with THC and CBD.
With many players diversifying their product catalogs at Hall of Flowers, brands are moving beyond just flower and other consumables to more accessible methods of cannabis consumption.
The culture around cannabis is arguably one of the most staggering changes. As often occurs when a subculture bubbles up into a mainstream culture frequency, drastic changes begin to take shape.
Hall of Flowers is inherently a great example of this shift in culture.
If you were entirely unaware of what Hall of Flowers was and you were to stumble across it, it would feel incredibly modern and familiar with any other industry’s 2019 exhibition or otherwise physical build-out. From a brand identity perspective, the visual identities have evolved to the point where many of the more established brands are aesthetically contending with the best of tech and fashion brands. And many of these brands have balanced the “old world” with the “new world” (a nod to wine culture). Elements of traditional cannabis culture remain, with playfulness, color, bold type, and patterns still very present – while still being elevated and matured for the modern-day consumer.
Hall of Flowers has done a great job of providing a vehicle to help interpret the culture into a modern vernacular that welcomes both old and new faces to the cannabis industry. There is a place for both commerce and culture to exist. Real business is being done on the tradeshow floor as retailers and dispensaries work through their meeting schedule opening up new accounts and forging new business partnerships all while a foundation of music, food, art, design, and camaraderie tangible pervades the energy of the whole show.
And this brings us to community.
The energy on the floor of Hall of Flowers Season 3 is noticeably different than your average trade show. The typical bravado or ego that characterizes other established industries doesn’t really exist to the same degree in cannabis. The winners, losers, and those in between are still yet to be defined. So, there still exists a tangible innocence where community is being forged out of a genuine passion and innovation that is driving the burgeoning industry.
Sure, there’s definitely “well known” brands and a wide range of players big and small. But, the sentiment amongst all exhibitors felt more like camaraderie than competition: There was a genuine feeling that they were united by the same blend of excitement and curiosity about the growing field, only just legalized in California in 2018.
The faces of the cannabis industry are as vast as the stories and individuals behind them. Green rush and financial boom aside, one of the things that is most noticeable as you walked the rows of Hall of Flowers was the diversity that is beginning to take shape in the industry. The cannabis community is a web of individuals that are finding new ways of reinventing their entrepreneurialism, creative and design sensibilities, as well as business acumen.