PACK EXPO Las Vegas: Cannabis Expert Chris Walsh Shares Insights

The cannabis industry is large and growing. Who are the players? What’s the potential for federal legalization? And, what’s the global outlook? Learn more from MJBiz’s Chris Walsh in this exclusive interview on Take Five with Packaging World.


Quick hits:

  • For the first time, some of the small startups that pioneered the cannabis industry are looking at an exit strategy, ideally selling to a larger brand. At the same time, there is still a big community of entrepreneurs who want to keep the mom-and-pop feel of the industry.
  • The cannabis industry is becoming a global one, particularly in the area of medical marijuana. While there are not currently cross-border sales, the groundwork is being laid for this to be an international industry.
  • While hopes were high that the Biden Administration might legalize federal sales of cannabis, Biden himself has not been supportive thus far of more legalization. 

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Listen to the story here:

   Read the transcript below:

Anne Marie Mohan: Hello, this is Anne Marie Mohan, Senior Editor of Packaging World Magazine, with Take Five.

At September’s PACK EXPO Las Vegas event, there was definitely some buzz — pun intended — around the opportunities and challenges for brand owners and packaging suppliers in the cannabis industry.

One person exceptionally qualified to lend his perspective on this topic was Chris Walsh, CEO and founding Editor of MJBiz, the premier magazine and event organizer for the cannabis industry. Walsh shared his knowledge during a presentation on the Pack to the Future Stage.

According to Walsh, the cannabis industry is very big, although he noted there’s quite a range of estimates on its actual size. Some, he said, have estimated the market at $0.5 million to $1 billion in 2020, with potential growth by 2026 of $1.8 to $3 billion.

Find out what else Walsh shared in this exclusive post-presentation interview by our very own Jim Chrzan, Vice President of Content for PMMI Media Group. 

Jim Chrzan: Hi, this is Jim Chrzan and I'm the vice president of content for PMMI Media Group. And I'm here with Chris Walsh, who is the CEO and founding editor of MJBiz, which is I think the country's premier cannabis magazine trade show.

Chris Walsh: The world's.

Jim Chrzan: The world's right. And so Chris just presented to a standing room only house here at the PACK to the Future stage. There's a couple of things I wanted to ask you. And one was, when I first started researching cannabis two or three years ago, it seemed like I met a lot of small farmers, people who were pouring their life savings into trying to make it and sustain the business. Are they still trying to do that or is really the end game trying to sell to constellation brands someday?

Chris Walsh: Yeah, there's definitely people who are trying to sell into the bigger companies into the space companies coming in from mainstream too. I think now for the first time you're seeing people actually consider what an exit looks like. That wasn't even in the thought process before. So people are actually starting to look into that, but, there's plenty of people who don't want to do that. And they actually don't want to see the industry get too big or too mainstream, but they want to keep that mom and pop feel. So, you've got some people that are absolutely building their businesses to hopefully exit in that way. And you've got a big community of entrepreneurs and business owners who are really in it for the plant and to help people, and they're not going to go that route.

Jim Chrzan: And you did talk about the international market, which I never really looked at, but you said it's actually burgeoning, but all in medical right now.

Chris Walsh: Yeah, that's something that most people don't even think of when they look at the cannabis industry is this isn't just a United States sector, right? You've got Canada, you've got more than two dozen countries that have legalized mostly medical cannabis around the world. So it truly is becoming a global industry. There's a lot of challenges in that. And some of these countries are moving really slow. There's not a lot of commerce between the countries, but the groundwork is being laid for this to be a truly international global industry.

Jim Chrzan: And, I for one thought with the last election that Biden would go ahead and make federal legal and still not happening. And you said you don't see it coming yet, right?

Chris Walsh: I don't see it coming yet. It's disappointing. Biden has not been particularly optimistic or really supportive of marijuana legalization, but his vice president has. In terms of Paris wants to decriminalize it. So right now, I think in Washington, you just have a lot going on. And so cannabis, there's just still disagreement on what it should look like. So I don't think we're going to see legalization very soon, but I think we could have some fundamental changes to marijuana laws that really support and prop up the industry. What I call kind of a pseudo legalization. If they fix things like banking and taxes-

Jim Chrzan: As you said, it's so hard to scale when you're scaling in three different states with three different regs and things. And finally, you are having your big event here in just three weeks in Vegas, right? Do you want to go a little bit into things?

Chris Walsh: Yeah. We have MJBizCon in this very area of the convention center the week of October 18th. And for those who haven't seen it, you're probably picturing hippies walking around in sandals coming in on a $5 pass. This is the business conference. It looks like this. I actually wear a full suit. It's a professional business show. It's about the size of this too. That shows you where this industry is. And it's exciting. We're glad to be back. Love being in this event. And I'll tell you, I saw some cannabis packaging here. People after my session came up and talked from the industry. So, it's here.

Jim Chrzan: That's why we had this interview because they were really in line to talk to you.

Chris Walsh: It's becoming mainstream now. Absolutely.

Jim Chrzan: Well, thanks for joining us at PACK Expo Las Vegas. And I'll be seeing you in three more weeks here.

Chris Walsh: Yes. And you'll be speaking at our event.

Jim Chrzan: Exactly right. Great partnership. Thanks so much.

Chris Walsh: Thank you.

Jim Chrzan: Take care.

Anne Marie Mohan: A big thank you to Chris Walsh for sharing his insights and to Jim Chrzan for his excellent reporting. That’s all for this edition of Take Five with Packaging World.


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