Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 2015
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2015 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Devin Kelly


 From the variety of specialized products to visitors eager to learn 
industry tips, the Northwest Cannabis Classic in Anchorage on 
Saturday looked like a typical trade show.

The obvious exceptions were the cannabis plants displayed in glass 
jars beneath LED lights, helping make what organizers said was the 
first event of its kind in Alaska since voters approved the 
legalization of marijuana more than six months ago.

Aimed at sharing information about the fledgling industry, the 
three-day show at the Dena'ina Center features panels, demonstrations 
and products that range from lighting technology to smoking 
instruments to flower enhancers and plant food. It generated a buzz, 
with about 700 people buying presale tickets and about as many day-of 
tickets bought on Saturday, said event organizer Cory Wray.

By Saturday afternoon, the third floor of the convention center was 
populated with dozens of booths and a steady flow of people. 
Twenty-somethings mingled with retirees. Some wore cowboy hats and 
tie-dyed T-shirts; others wore sport coats.

"It's a trade show, not a party," said Jason Brandeis, a University 
of Alaska Anchorage professor who has extensively researched 
marijuana and spoke on a morning panel at the trade show about the 
future of cannabis in Alaska.

Visitors weren't allowed to consume or buy marijuana at the show but 
some cannabis plants were on display, the result of a last-minute 
change in city policy allowing marijuana to be displayed inside the 
convention center. In the absence of state regulations, the Anchorage 
Assembly adopted a policy Tuesday that addressed issues like 
insurance, cannabis displays and even odors.

City officials said they planned to watch Saturday's show as a test 
run for similar events in the future.

"If this goes well, this could be the model," city attorney Dennis 
Wheeler said earlier in the week. "If we need to make changes and 
adjustments, we'll do that."

The excitement surrounding the event was dampened by legal quagmires 
confronting would-be marijuana cultivation businesses. One of the 
first booths many visitors encountered walking into the show was AK 
Hydro Gardens -- a company that shut down its medical marijuana 
cultivation business six days ago in the face of potential 
enforcement action by the state for operating without a license.

Owner Ryan Smith said his company, a sponsor of the show, had spent 
the last week revamping itself into a consulting firm. He said AK 
Hydro Gardens plans to advise people who want to grow their own 
plants and give away free cuttings of cannabis plants to anybody who 
signs up for a contract.

Smith also said foot traffic Saturday was "10 times" what he 
expected. His company had printed out 800 fliers, all of which were 
gone in two hours, he said.

Among the more eye-catching features of the show were the 
phone-booth-shaped tents with LED lights shining down on leafy green 
cannabis plants. Jim Farrell, 55, and MaryJo Langford, 51, listened 
with interest as Smith discussed the LED lighting techniques 
associated with the tent. Langford asked how much it cost, and how 
long it took to grow the plant.

Farrell and Langford said they attended the trade show hoping to 
learn as much as they could about new technologies. Both said they 
were interested in getting into the marijuana business in the future.

"I never thought I would see this in my lifetime," said Langford, an 
Anchorage resident. "I'm astounded."

Nearby, glass jars with dried green plants balled up inside were 
lined up on a table. Mane Bustamante unscrewed each lid, held it up 
and inhaled.

Bustamante, a 43-year-old journeyman painter, said a strain called 
Quantum Kush stood out to him as being the most potent. He said he's 
had a medical marijuana card for several years and wanted to learn 
more about the drug at the trade show.

Bustamante also said he'd hoped the show would feature opportunities 
to try out different strains, but the Anchorage Assembly voted 
against allowing consumption in the new policy. Vendors weren't 
allowed to remove plants from containers, but they could open 
containers to demonstrate differences in smell or sale techniques.

Jody Reynolds, a co-owner of Happy Skeeter, an Anchorage business 
that she said plans to sell edibles and other products once 
commercial regulations are in place, said the show was "great for a 
beginning," though she also hoped future events would allow consumption.

"It's one thing to come in and look at it and smell it; it's another 
thing to see how people are reacting to it," Reynolds said.

At another booth, Randy Larson displayed equipment for extracting 
butane oil. Larson, who represents Best Value Vacs and also runs a 
nonprofit called AK Trim 4 Vets, said he's working with the Girdwood 
fire chief on a pamphlet about safe extraction techniques after 
several explosions in the area. He said most people are "unaware, 
uneducated" about such systems.

Taylor Bickford, director of Alaska operations for the marketing and 
consulting firm Strategies 360, said the show combined national 
vendors with highly specialized products and local businesses simply 
looking for a foothold in an emerging state industry.

He said there's also a "gold rush" mentality among Alaska companies 
that don't directly handle cannabis products but provide related 
supplies, such as lighting equipment.

"There's a lot of excitement. I think you're seeing the emergence of 
a real Alaska industry," said Bickford, who worked on the marijuana 
legalization campaign for Strategies 360.

Beneath the general excitement, however, frustration brewed over the 
questions about legal framework. Jay Redbone, 58, said he came to 
learn about state regulations and found himself "a little irritated."

"Nobody knows what's going on," Redbone said.

At his booth on Saturday, Cy Scott, co-founder of the cannabis 
information site Leafly, said it's hard to tell what will happen in 
Alaska with regulations still in flux. But he said he's noticed a 
spike in visitors to his site since the drug became legal in Alaska.

Most were just taking the scene in. One young couple -- Haley 
Niederhauser, 25, and Michael Drobnick, 26 -- drove up from the Kenai 
Peninsula for the trade show.

They said they appreciated the open atmosphere.

"It's the first thing you can walk into and not feel ... sketch," 
Niederhauser said, glancing around. "It feels good."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom