Cassandra Farrington, the CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, seeks to grow her already impressive marijuana media empire. Marijuana Business Daily, or MJBiz Daily, will be hosting an extensive trade conference that is expected to draw in over 14,000 attendees in Las Vegas next month. The Marijuana Business Conference & Expo will be the largest business-to-business gathering in the ever expanding business of legal weed. It has been named to Trade Show Executive’s “Fastest 50” over the past two years, with over 840% growth across its verticals in 2016. Do you expect that the significant growth in the number of of attendees to these types of trade shows will continue?
When the federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011 began to scare off would-be entrepreneurs, Cassandra Farrington, CEO and co-founder of a brand new marijuana trade newsletter didn’t blink. She and her business partner “kept the lights on” in their small Denver publishing house while their only competitor went dark. They ended up building what they hoped would be “The Wall Street Journal” of legal cannabis.
“It always made sense to keep going,” says the former Citigroup exec who helms the website, print and email publication Marijuana Business Daily, a.k.a., MJBiz Daily, plus its mega trade conference that will draw more than 14,000 attendees next month in Las Vegas. The Marijuana Business Conference & Expo is the largest B2B gathering in the burgeoning landscape of legal weed and was named to Trade Show Executive’s “Fastest 50” the last two years. With 843% overall growth across its verticals in 2016, MJBiz Daily won accolades as a top media company by Inc., landing on its Inc 5000 list.
“We’re not a lifestyle publication or a culture magazine or a celebration of the plant type publication. We are truly all about the dollars, cents, actions, partnerships: the business side of the industry,” Farrington explains of her company’s position in a market that has seen an explosion of media startups devoted to covering all aspects of legal weed like Merry Jane, Weed Week, Green Rush Daily, and Marijuana Investors News. With some form of pot legalized in 29 states plus the District of Columbia and consumer spending across North America projected to jump from $6.7 billion to $20.2 billion in 2021, the race is on to cash in on cannabis.
“It is a huge industry, not just in the United States, but globally and getting bigger every day,” says the mom of two who laughs that she was “outed” to her neighbors and friends as a cannabis entrepreneur one evening as she was co-leading her daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting. It was November 2012, in the days following Colorado’s historic vote to end pot prohibition and after the local media covered MJBiz Daily’s very first conference in her hometown. That night, curious parents recognized her from the news. One dad shyly asked if he could take her to coffee to learn more about the industry. Another parent wanted advice on where to buy a joint.
“Between those two interactions, I was like, ‘This is going to be just fine,” she recalls.
In the years since, the legal market has swelled and so has the appetite for business content. Farrington saw early on that founders and investors venturing into the new terrain of legal marijuana needed news and timely information to navigate the changing scene. When a 2011 article in The Atlantic reported there were more marijuana dispensaries in Denver than Starbucks, she and her partner knew they were on to something big.
“We had a set of criteria that we judged everything against. Is [an industry] growing at a certain pace, at least 7% a year? Does it have a certain number of actual businesses with actual employees, not solo entrepreneurs or consultants or individuals, but people who actually have to make payroll every two weeks or every month? Pay rent on a facility that sort of thing that shows their level of investment,” she explains of the metrics they used to measure the market. What they discovered was a demand for unbiased news affecting the practical aspects of running a business, including tax policy, licensing and regulation.
“Having that focused business content where people can turn to for reliable data, facts, figures, analysis of the latest activity on the business side of the industry has been really critical to helping the industry find its footing, and chart its path forward,” Farrington underscores. Despite its growth, the future of the industry in U.S. remains uncertain given the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed concerns about decriminalizing recreational use.
Farrington says she never dreamed she would be running a company, let alone one in this new field. She grew up in a conservative home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the daughter of a military doctor and the fourth of six children in her family. Although she earned an MBA, Farrington says she didn’t itch to start a business and went on to drink the “corporate Kool-Aid” as a management associate until she bumped up against a “buzz saw of a boss.” She left her job and eventually reconnected with her very first manager who had also ditched corporate life. The two joined forces to start their newsletter business. Cannabis was the third industry they tackled after starting publications that covered the ins and outs of subscription-model businesses and behavior-based marketing. The two initial newsletters were sold once MJBiz took off.
And they haven’t looked back.
Their initial goal was to help professionalize a sector as it was being born. And according to the venture capitalist Jeanne Sullivan, that’s what MJBiz Daily has achieved.
“If you want your PhD in cannabis, this is the go-to conference and publication to understand the business,” says Sullivan, who will be delivering the opening keynote address at the upcoming MJ Biz Conference.