The cannabis industry feels like an unstoppable locomotive right now. Business is growing and scaling all over the country, and there are extraordinary opportunities to build businesses within the industry. But when a cannabis brand needs help, who can they turn to for resources and guidance?
Meet George Jage. He’s a leading cannabis executive with over two decades experience launching, building, and leading media companies at Jage Media. He leads summits like MJ Unpacked, where he helps cannabis brands and retail executives foster community and thrive.
Today, George joins the podcast to share how he’s successfully developed his unique events and the role they play as the industry continues to gain momentum.
- How George entered the trade show space in anticipation of the cannabis industry’s massive growth.
- What early cannabis trade shows looked like.
- What George sees cannabis brands needing right now.
- Why George started Jage Media and what he’s doing to make his next event so unique.
- How George is working to make structural change to criminal justice.
- Why George thinks we could see federal legalization as soon as 2022.
“I think there’s plenty of room in this industry for companies to operate and work collaboratively instead of competitively.” – George Jage
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Rick Kiley: Okay. Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. My name is Rick Kiley. I am joined once again by my co-host, Jeffrey Boedges. It is humid in the Northeast.
Jeffrey Boedges: It is stormy in the Northeast. It won’t be humid much longer when that thunderstorm hits you.
Rick Kiley: So, if you hear either backhoe diggers in my yard or thunderstorms in Jeff’s, you know what’s going on. Today, we are welcoming George Jage, a leading cannabis media executive who comes to us with over two decades of experience launching, building, and leading media companies including his current endeavor that bears his own name, Jage Media. Through summits such as MJ Unpacked, designed exclusively for cannabis brands and retail executives, Jage Media acts on its mission to foster a growing cannabis community and provide professionals the space and resources to thrive. George has a ton of trade show leadership experience and is joining us today to share how he’s been able to successfully develop these unique events and how they’re going to play a role as the industry continues to gain momentum. It’s like an unstoppable locomotive right now.
Rick Kiley: George, welcome to The Green Repeal.
George Jage: Rick and Jeff, thank you so much for having me here today. I’m very excited.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. So, you’re an events guy, which I like because we’re events people and I think we’ll get to talk about that a lot today. And I think what would help ground everybody in understanding where you come from, could you just tell us a little bit about your experience in the space and how it led you? How you ended up working in cannabis, frankly? Because I think you were doing trade shows before cannabis unless my research is way off
George Jage: Your research is fine as far as trade shows and cannabis but I was certainly involved with cannabis much more earlier than I was involved with trade shows.
Jeffrey Boedges: On the legacy front?
George Jage: Yes. We called it an herbal distribution business back then.
Rick Kiley: Nice.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I was in sales.
George Jage: You know, I got into the trade show space really by accident. I think a lot of people did. And after graduating college, I was helping my dad through a difficult time in his business and we ended up starting a trade show for the off-price apparel industry. These were guys that liquidated excess manufacturers apparel, and they all showed independently and kind of booked rooms in Las Vegas during the big manufacturer show. And as that manufacturer show grew, they were all going to get kind of tossed out in the streets. We ended up starting a trade show called the OFFPRICE Show back in 1993 with 20 exhibitors at the Debbie Reynolds Hotel, Casino, and Movie Museum. Debbie did perform nightly. And I think that eventually became the WWF hotel actually. So, it’s a pretty legacy place in Las Vegas.
Jeffrey Boedges: Man, that’s class with a capital K right across the board.
George Jage: So, very, very humble beginnings. But we were able to scale that in from doing a show in hotel rooms to by the time we sold it, I was setting up a 185,000-square-foot tent structure in a parking lot at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas and had close to 800 exhibiting companies. We exited that to a company in London. I ran it for two years and then I moved to Vegas and I started a number of different businesses but the one that I really ended up staying with was a trade show for the tea industry called World Tea Expo, and we had World Tea Championships and World Tea Academy and World Tea News. And it’s a very rewarding business to be able to kind of be able to create that commercial opportunity for so many small independent operators and really help support their businesses and then create a successful business around it. So, after I exited that business in 2012 with a couple of year earn-out was when I started getting back into the cannabis industry.
Rick Kiley: That’s cool.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. So, that’s a short trip from tea to cannabis, is that that the lesson here?
George Jage: More so than you know, Jeff. It’s fascinating though because it was almost very serendipitous. I helped somebody that was in the tea industry get a book published around tea, and I got a copy of the book as I was jumping on a plane. I literally flipped open to a page and never knew this about tea but tea was discovered, well, of cannabis, I should say. Tea was discovered by Emperor Shennong some 5,000 years ago who is the father of modern herbal medicine, and he’s also credited for discovering cannabis. And it was at that time I was talking to some people about starting a cannabis trade show or possibly working for somebody in a cannabis trade show space.
Jeffrey Boedges: He also discovered jambands, if I ever done my research correctly.
George Jage: I think you’re right. But what is interesting is that from a kind of botanical standpoint, I mean, he’s got all of these wonderful they’re called flavonoids and catechins that cross over your blood-brain barrier and create a kind of psychological or psychotropic experience on a much calmer level than the cannabis but obviously, cannabinoids and the ability for them to cross the blood-brain barrier. But also, from a commercial standpoint, I mean, the tea industry was so new and novel at the time when we started that show and people didn’t really understand what retail was. They had a super big need to find other people in their industry that they could connect with to learn from. And it just really created kind of that perfect storm to create a trade show for the tea industry the same way that it did for the cannabis industry back in 2014.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. And how many players are in tea, just like who would come to a show like that? Because it’s like in coffee, you kind of have more at your fingertips you seem like you have or I would have…
Rick Kiley: Mr. Tetley.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Mr. Tetley and Mr. Lipton. Yeah. Exactly.
George Jage: Yeah. Well, David and Ruth Bigelow did attend our show regularly. I think Mr. Lipton has long since passed and I’m not sure about Mr. and Mrs. Tetley or Professor Plum, but relatively speaking, I mean, it was a lot of small independent retailers. We hosted exhibitors from around the world, from Sri Lanka and Japan and Kenya and China and Malawi and places where tea is grown that would try to get their tea sold in the United States. But it’s really focused on that kind of specialty tea segment of the industry, kind of like specialty coffee where people could make a premium product and get a premium price on it.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, were you just really prescient? You just got in the right time? Because tea obviously has exploded in the US I feel like in the last 10 or 15 years. Or did you create that explosion? Which is it?
George Jage: To some extent, I think we would be best described as a catalyst to that explosion because when we started the event, I went and talked to the Liptons and the Tetleys and all the big players in the industry, and they controlled 80% of the market. They didn’t want things to change. We realized that really supporting those independent retailers and those specialty importers and kind of specialty tea, I mean, we could talk for two hours on tea. I mean, most of the tea that goes into the products that you buy kind of a commercial like teabag are swept off the shop floor. They’re referred to as Fannings, but really the whole leaf product and being able to kind of get that whole-plant experience, so to speak, as it’s kind of correlated to cannabis, provides a lot better experience both from a taste standpoint and a health benefit standpoint.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, then let’s add the H and the C to the end of the T there, and let’s talk about how you transitioned from tea to cannabis. Like, was there like just one moment where it’s sort of like, “I’m going to do this in cannabis now,” or how long did that sort of process take?
George Jage: You know, as I mentioned, I had several herbal distribution businesses when I was younger and I certainly fought and participate as part of the normal to try to change laws back when I was in college. But I really kind of stepped away from my relationship with the plan as I kind of entered mainstream society because you don’t smoke pot at work technically.
Rick Kiley: Technically speaking.
Jeffrey Boedges: There was a lot of things going on…
George Jage: Don’t miss the air quotes. But as I was exiting World Tea Media, I got a call from a friend of a friend and he’s like, “George, I heard you’re wrapping things up the World Tea Expo. Let’s start a pot shop,” and I said, “Okay. What you got in mind?”
Rick Kiley: Flowers or…
George Jage: Yeah. I was like, “What you got in mind?” and he said, “Well, you can run it and we’ll be partners.” I said, “So, are you going to put up the money?” and he says, “Well, I don’t have any.” So, like I scratch my head and say, “Well, I’m not sure if this is the right thing,” but it kind of piqued my interest and everything else. And actually, he talked to a lot of people, was kind of exploring the space and the producers of at that time, MMJ Business Daily, had done a couple of small conferences like 20 tabletops outside of a single conference room at a racetrack, and they had one full-time employee.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s not the Debbie Reynolds Hotel.
George Jage: It wasn’t the Debbie Reynolds. All look classy compared to that.
Rick Kiley: But what kind of racing? Was it a dog track, a horse track?
George Jage: I think it was a dog track up here in the Seattle area where I’m living now.
Rick Kiley: I got it. Now, I have the image.
George Jage: Yeah. And so, I mean, there wasn’t a lot of places that were open to hosting cannabis trade show. So, they were looking for somebody to come on board.
Jeffrey Boedges: We’re making a movie. We’re making a movie, I think, right now.
George Jage: All right. So, I get to pick who stars as me or no?
Jeffrey Boedges: No. But we want you to run it and we don’t have any money.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We don’t have any money. Sorry. So, keep going. We’re just throwing you off track.
George Jage: Well, anyway, the owners of MJ, at the time MMJ Business Daily, reached out to me and they were looking for somebody that could really help them understand and get their head around how to scale the events business as well as the media assets around it. Chris Wallace was the only full-time employee who’s now the CEO over at MJ Business Daily and MJBizCon now. But they really were just at the kind of precipice of the opportunity and I think certainly ahead of the curve and they just didn’t really have the experience to how to build and scale events. I’m very proud of my work over there. I was able to take that show to well over 1,000 booth show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it served a very important purpose in our industry for many years. And still does.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. So, I’m curious. So, in your opinion well, first, before I get into your opinions about what a successful event looks like, when you’re setting these up, who are the primary participants in it? Was it mostly entrepreneurs starting brands? Is it people trying to…
Jeffrey Boedges: Who exhibited and who came to see these exhibitors?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And I’m sure who are the different parties and what value they got out of it too? Let’s just run through it.
George Jage: That’s somewhat of a kaleidoscope experience because it changed so quickly. And just the sheer momentum behind cannabis legalization, the excitement, the exuberance, the capital kind of taking the industry that existed for a long time in our country, just obviously in illicit markets or the unregulated market. So, it exploded very quickly. And I took over in 2014 the first show that we did at the Rio. It was a mix. It was plenty of dreads and some tie dyes and people just kind of wandering around companies that weren’t really fully licensed out of California that were exhibiting and people that were early-stage pioneers in the space like MJ Freeway and companies that were trying to provide the systems and solutions. But really at the very onset of almost any industry and certainly for cannabis, you’re looking at people who are, one, trying to connect with other people because they don’t know what they’re doing yet, and two, they don’t know what they need yet. So, there’s an opportunity to sell a lot of supplies, software systems, and other solutions in the industry, which ultimately kind of comprise the supply side show, plus the fact that we are still in a very kind of hairy situation as far as cannabis legalization. So, it was a sell to the ancillary guys, picks and shovels, picks and shovels, right?
And so, the show really started out as kind of as a supply side show and then we saw a lot of other shows into the market doing the exact same thing, ancillary products, services and technologies as we kind of grouped them as. And over those first couple of years, you started seeing the show evolve where it was you started seeing a lot more business attire and professional people coming into the space. I mean, even to this day, I think we all know that there’s this kind of dichotomy between the suits and the stoners in the industry and there’s some of us I like to consider myself in the middle ground of that, that I can put on a suit and I like to smoke weed.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We’ll call you the translator.
George Jage: All right.
Rick Kiley: I’ll come up with a better name. Just give me the title of our movie, so let’s…
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Exactly. The go-between.
George Jage: And I’m still funding that somehow?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Well, yeah. I mean, if The Rock’s got a lot of coin, maybe he’ll just play the role and fund the movie, become exec…
George Jage: I was thinking more George Clooney.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You want to go Clooney? All right.
George Jage: Yeah. Clooney.
Rick Kiley: That’s fine.
Jeffrey Boedges: Brad Pitt will play you, Rick.
Rick Kiley: That’s perfect for me.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Unfortunately, I think I’m looking at Seth Rogen. I got no one.
George Jage: it’s the guy that plays on The Walking Dead that plays the really evil character on Walking Dead.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I don’t watch that show but if he’s like evil.
Rick Kiley: I don’t watch that show but he loves zombies too, so that’s good. All right. See, we keep getting thrown off track. We’re trying to make movies in our head. So, I guess it’s changed. I mean, it’s fairly recent history. It’s 2014. We’re only talking about seven years ago but it’s changed a lot. Jeff and I, we work a lot in the alcohol beverage industry and the big trade shows there, WSWA, which is the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, also in Las Vegas I think like every two years, it’s just floors and floors and floors of booths of different brands, the big ones that have relationships with distribution all over the country, and they’re just having meetings and then there’s all these like new brands that are trying to find distribution. Have we grown to the point with these trade shows now that it’s people who I’ve created this product, I’m looking for distribution, we’re like going the same direction?
George Jage: Absolutely. That’s one of the key things and kind of getting into what we’re doing now at Jage Media. We really base this business on the belief that I knew back in 2014 that cannabis is a consumer packaged goods industry and the most important trade show or trade events for CPG industries are brand and retail focus. So, the retailers are the attendees. The brands are the exhibiting companies. It’s an opportunity for those large brands at the alcohol shows, whether it’s a Budweiser or Seagram to set up a big posh booth and invite their best customers and take them out to fancy dinners and really schmooze them and thank them for their business. And for people that are looking to kind of carve out a niche to launch a new product that can kind of catch some eyes and maybe get some distribution. And that’s ultimately where we’re going. And so, when we started this business back in 2019, it was based on a very kind of simple tenets that cannabis is a CPG industry, that the most important trade show is going to be brand and retail-focused, and that doesn’t exist because we don’t have a national market yet that we just have these 36 individual state markets, but that’s going to change. So, we believe that in the future that there already exists this event and so we want to be the ones that manifest and steward it responsibly and for the best interests of the industry as opposed to approaching it from a profiteering standpoint.
Rick Kiley: Right. And I must imagine when people have new products that they’re looking to ask people to sell in their store or in their bar, in their restaurant or whatever, sort of trying the product is usually important. So, I’m curious about within this sort of tradeshow environment, how that happens, whether there’s like is there a legal methodology in some states? Like, if you’re in California or Washington or an adult-use state where it’s legal, can you facilitate that within the trade show environment, or does it all have to be kind of on the sly under the radar, grayish, what have you?
George Jage: Yeah. I mean, every state has some methodology for being able to get samples from a brand to produce a process or a manufacturer to a retailer in a legally recorded transactable way. Now, California has certainly pioneered this by allowing events held at state fairgrounds to allow sampling that as long as they were set up and complied with the metric regulations and everything else but that’s going to change in these other states as well. So, it’s just really kind of a matter of time and let’s go back to the kind of alcohol wine thing. I mean, if I’m out selling wine like who do I want to have to sample that? I want to have the sommelier at a restaurant sample it. So, I’m going to bring by the product and drop it off and have them sample it because they’re the ones who are going to recommend it to consumers. And in our industry, those are budtenders. So, there’s a need for getting products into the hands of budtenders and all the brands have programs to do that. But what brands need right now? It’s a little bit premature for them to think that they’re going to go to a national trade show and meet with retailers but the brands have other needs right now. One is to meet with other brands so that they can partner and export their product or license their product in another state, possibly acquire another state operator so that they can expand their footprint in anticipation of federal legalization. They need access to capital. And they need peer-to-peer learning. I mean, that’s really the most effective source of learning. Either we make our own mistakes or we learn from other people who do the same thing as us, their mistakes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Does it have to be peer-to-peer, though? That would be my question because I would think there’s a lot of brand marketers out there that they know what they’re doing already from different, but maybe particularly similar industries that could teach these folks something as well.
George Jage: Absolutely. There is something called CPG discipline that people that I’ve talked to that worked for Coach and big companies and Wrigley’s that have that type of approach to it. I think that there are nuances that the cannabis industry that you have to be prepared for because of that kind of dichotomy between state and federal legalization. There’s tremendous restrictions on advertising for cannabis companies as well. So, there’s a lot of very weird kind of situations that you have to navigate around cannabis. But, yes, at the end of the day, I mean, I would say that that is somebody that’s a peer. If you’re a brand marketer and you’re trying to market your cannabis brand, yes, you want to learn from other peers and that might be a brand marketer for a consumer electronics product.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. So, are you trying to recruit those types of people to come to the event?
George Jage: We’ve got some really interesting speakers that we’ll be announcing here for our October event here in the next 30 days, but absolutely. As I mentioned, a very good friend of mine that has four years’ experience working in CPG, most recently at Coach, and we’re going to be talking about when cannabis goes corporate and kind of being able to have somebody from his side of the table. He studied cannabis very intensely for the last couple of years. And compare that to somebody who’s on the other side of the table and really have a meaningful discussion about what to anticipate there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Do you see some of these brands like Coach in more mainstream CPG companies? Are they attending? Are they shopping not for product but for companies for when it goes?
George Jage: When we say Coach, I mean, they’re basically in the business of selling dead cowskin, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. You can probably make really good leather out of hemp, though. I’m just saying. It makes everything else
George Jage: True that but we’re focused on stuff that gets you high at our show. Not so much the wonderful industrial commercial applications of hemp, but certainly they’re already attending. The people from Coke, Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Big Pharma, a lot of these CPG industries are already attending. I mean, I’ve had friends that worked at one of the biggest liquor distributors in the United States and they’ve had marketing plans around cannabis for the better part of a decade. We all know the story that Marlboro has got plans and product design around their cannabis cigarettes that they’ve been sitting on probably for the better part of four years. So, we know that there’s interest. All of these companies are still kind of at bay until they see some type of federal legalization.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, they haven’t shown their cards yet. They’re not like, “Oh, this is the Philip Morris booth at the show.”
George Jage: They’re there and one of our strategic partners for our business is BDSA. I mean, they know these people. They’re buying the data right now from BDSA. They’re paying attention to the market conditions. They’re looking at their point of entry. And I think we all know that somewhere probably in that three to five-year time frame that we’re going to see all of these major players come in and they’re going to go on an acquisition spree. They’re going to try to take their infrastructure and their economies of scale to be able to leverage this. And I think we’ll see the development of kind of these mainstream brands, but I think we’re also going to see the maintenance of a healthy and robust kind of specialty and localized market. I mean, going back to that CPG thing, I mean, we’re also kind of talking about a consumable product that people put into their bodies like food. I like to buy food from local farmers as opposed to buy mass shipment stuff. I like to buy beer from my local breweries. I like to buy bourbon from the local distillery.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. The local movement has permeated a lot of these places. I imagine that’ll still stay strong. It does strike me as this because there’s such a strong what are we referring to, legacy or traditional market? I wonder if that how fast consumers are going to be to adopt the very corporate mass-market approach that some of these companies that you’re mentioned might come in with.
Jeffrey Boedges: Some of them will be sophisticated, though. I would think.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: I mean, some are going to be like big giant but they’re going to look tiny.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Or you’ll be like MillerCoors which owns, of course, those big brands but a ton of like local brands as well and they’ll just keep that brand aesthetic alive.
Jeffrey Boedges: I would own the Bud Light of weed. I’m just saying. I know that sounds evil.
Rick Kiley: Right. So, George, we’re going to ask you we can be your partner when you acquire the Bud Light of weed. You put up the money in that part.
George Jage: I always like to tell people that say they’re going to be something of weed to be yourself. Everybody else is taken and Bud Light will be the Bud Light of weed when they want to. But I mean, you can go and buy a 12-pack of Budweiser for probably the same price you could buy a six-pack of finely crafted premium beer from your local brewery. And I’d rather keep that money in my local economy and I think it just depends on the consumer. There’s going to be a market for both ends of the spectrum.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. So, let’s talk about the founding of your most recent endeavors. So, what led you to start Jage Media? And then I’d love to just hear a little bit about the event that you planned for this fall and how that might be unique.
George Jage: Fantastic. As I mentioned, we have always kind of felt that there was this opportunity and that there was a need for a national platform for brands and retailers to get together. I had actually run three other cannabis companies for other investors and people in this industry. And it was really the first time I had taken a job since I got out of college when I got into the cannabis industry and I realized that I’d rather have nobody to blame but myself if I’m not happy with the way things are going. So, my wife, Kim, ran World Tea Media with me. She’s my business partner and our CMO for this business. We’re at a point where it’s like do we want to go back into business for ourselves or do we want to go work at another company? And I think that’s a pretty easy answer for most people. We are in a position to raise the capital, and our original plan was to launch a series of state-focused events that actually qualify every attendee coming in so that only brand and retail executives. A title manager hire would be allowed into the room to really elevate the conversation to macro industry issues instead of people kind of competing on a sales front. And we were able to raise the capital for our business in February of 2020 and we all know what happened in March.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: I’m trying to forget but yeah.
George Jage: We are all going to be able to block that out of our memory soon. The cat’s out of the bag and the walls of wearing masks and social distancing are all coming down. They’re going to go down fast and they’re not coming back.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Hopefully, not for a while.
Rick Kiley: Fingers crossed until next time.
George Jage: Knock on wood.
Rick Kiley: It’s funny because people are saying, “Hey, you remember when that thing happened last year?” and you’re like, “That was two years ago, man,” like that is going to be just a lost year. So, you had plans to start and launch this event, and COVID hit and you couldn’t do it, presumably, at least in the way that you wanted. What did you do with your time now when it was supposed to be happening? And then take us to the event coming out in the fall.
George Jage: And so, and really just with the premise of kind of focusing on meeting the needs of what we considered an underserved segment, being the brands and the retailers in the space. But when COVID hit, we were in a position where we weren’t trying to chase losing 90% to 100% of our revenues from the year prior but really focused on our objectives, which were to engage with the community and provide a solution in the service. And so, we were actually the first to market with a virtual trade show in May. We did for the Colorado market. We felt it was very successful. We had a tremendous amount of interactions. There was a lot of connectivity, great content, tons of downloads, a lot of exchange of information between buyers and sellers. We went to California in July. That got delayed a little bit because of the riots. It was a very unstable time in the California market. And then we went to the Midwest in September. And I’m proud of what we were able to do from an engagement standpoint and really helping connect people in the market with our virtual events but it’s kind of like being the smartest kid in the remedial class like nobody was really going to move on to college. And I hope I don’t offend anybody that was in the remedial class.
Jeffrey Boedges: Hey, you’re talking to him.
George Jage: Yeah. All right. Good. Three birds of a feather. All right. So, we had an opportunity to really kind of retool what we thought would work from a virtual event standpoint but then we want to wait until the election. We saw Biden get elected and then we saw the Senate flip in Georgia. And we’re at a point where there is a strong belief in the system and in the industry that we are going to see progressive cannabis legislation on a federal level. It probably will start with Safe Banking and the Moore Act. And there’s a lot of trepidation about how effective our government is handling these issues but at the end of the day we’re in a better spot than we’ve ever been before to see the movement towards federal legalization. And that’s really a math problem around money when it comes down to it.
Rick Kiley: Sure. Yeah. Cool. So, you’re going to get to put on a big live event soon, though. Yeah?
George Jage: Yes. So, we decided that, sorry, I almost forgot the most important part.
Rick Kiley: No, absolutely.
George Jage: This is the whole reason for my existence on this planet is to create this event and with my team and we’re doing this event in October in Las Vegas. We’re actually doing it at the same time as MJBizCon week. We feel that there are a lot of retailers and brands and investors that are heading into that market, not to go to MJBiz per se, but because that’s when most of the industry gets there. That was my number one objective when I took over that show was to make it about this event. And all of the events in this industry and every other industry are getting compressed into a really about a three-month window from mid-August to mid-November. So, people aren’t going to be able to go to an event every two months and maybe go to four or five events this year. We’re really going to go to once. We see it as an opportunity to kind of put our foot into the ring, let people know who we are. We obviously got a pretty big database already of companies that we’re marketing to and we’re very specifically targeting that audience that I mentioned before. And we’re doing things a little bit different and we really spend a lot of time over the pandemic thinking about what creates success at a trade event. And some of the most valuable events that I’ve been to tend to be more of an executive conference approach where you have very senior-level people in the room.
You have a lot of meeting space, you have very thought leadership from the stage, and you really have the opportunity to sit down and have a quiet conversation with somebody that can lead to a transactional event. And when you go to a typical trade show, that’s just kind of this very bland kind of rows and rows of booths. You’re handing out business cards and meeting kinds of people but maybe 5% of those people are relevant to you and you’re really only generating leads and unfortunately, 70% of trade show leads you’re going to follow up on so you might not even get anything out of that. But again, if we can put people in a room in a comfortable situation and they’re the right people in the room so they’re all relevant to each other, we can facilitate a lot more meaningful conversations, and again, that can help support the industry in a transactional way.
Jeffrey Boedges: You feel like you’re kind of trading people up and skimming the cream off the top of that?
George Jage: Sure. I like that. And being from Wisconsin, I’m a big fan of any dairy products.
Rick Kiley: So, then you’re talking about this setting people up for meaningful conversations. I don’t think I’m asking you to give away the secret sauce here but like can you give an example of the type of opportunity you’re going to be able to foster in that environment?
George Jage: So, the first thing that we’re doing is, I shouldn’t say the first thing you’re doing, but kind of first thing you’ll see when you walk into our van is we have a massive lounge area and kind of think of it as like walking into a nice business hotel. There’s going to be a bar. It’ll be open at 10 a.m. because it’s Vegas and we don’t judge. We’re going to have a 40-foot foosball table but there’s going to be a lot of soft seating. There’s going to be a piano player. And then the immediate space in that registration area are small meeting rooms and board rooms. So, what we’re doing is creating VC Central. And I’ve already signed up a number of the top VCs in the space like Poseidon, Panther Capital, Arcadia, and Entourage Effect, and a number of other VCs that are going to be basically setting up shop at our show and they’ve typically kind of holed up in some hotel suite somewhere so people end up wasting half their time at a cab line in Las Vegas during that week. But this way they have access to deal flow. They can kind of move in and out of the room, et cetera.
So, as you move through our event and we have a money stage and this is an opportunity, this is kind of like a microcap event where companies can pitch from stage in front of an audience of accredited investors that we’re marketing to. We have our main stage, which is really focused on retail content and really supporting kind of the needs, objectives, and growth of the retailers, which is important to the brands as well. And then when we create our trade show floor, rather than kind of force companies to pay $5,000 or $6,000 for a 10×10 booth and then spend another $5,000 to $10,000 building and designing and shipping and paying union labor to set that up and then paying somebody to store it and eventually having to throw in the trash we’re creating these product showcases, these brand showcases that create much more of a retail type of environment on our show floor for brands to be able to display their product, but not have to be stuck in their booth for three days. We’re using technology so people can scan the QR code, download product information, message the brand reps throughout the show and say, “Hey, I want to meet with you right now,” or even access a calendar and say, “I want to meet with you at 3:30 this afternoon,” and this will keep showing.
Then we have a lot of meeting space throughout the event. Now, we have a number of micro-events that are happening during that. We’re doing a retail-only mixer so the retailers can get together with the other retailers that are looking for access to capital as well as partnerships across state lines. And then we’re doing the same thing with the brands and the brands are desperately looking to expand their footprint by partnering up with other license holders in other states.
Rick Kiley: Got it. Wow. Cool.
George Jage: It’s kind of like an onion. There’s a lot of layers.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: It doesn’t sound like you got a lot of boondoggle time scheduled in.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, but I think that’s good, right?
George Jage: They do. There’s boondoggle time. You can come in, sit down, have a drink. You can sing songs, lay it like sideways on the piano, Jeff, and maybe throw out a few Billy Joel songs or something.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sure. I’m a Debbie Reynolds fan myself but I get you.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. All right. That’s cool. So, is there a limited number of people coming to this? Like, you talked about curating that list of some of the earlier shows. Are you trying to sort of keep a certain balance so it’s not overwhelming?
George Jage: Yeah. And at this point, I mean, we’re looking at around 3,000 total delegates at our show, about 2,000 attendees, and then probably about 1,000 exhibitors and sponsors, staff, personnel, speakers, et cetera, and investors and whatnot. And we’re not looking to build out a 30,000-person event. Those can be a little bit overwhelming, especially when there’s this kind of pan-industry approach where they’re trying to be everything to everybody. We think that really hyper-focusing on this subsegment is more important. So, we have a database of known retailers and brands we’re marketing to. If somebody registers and they’re not already on our pre-approved list, we gather some information from them and we’ll approve them or deny them within 24 hours. But unless you’re a licensed operator in those capacities or a credit investor investing in cannabis, we’re not going to let you in the show.
Rick Kiley: All right.
George Jage: Except for you, Rick and Jeff.
Rick Kiley: Thank you. Thank you. Well, we have that idea that we want you to fund so about that movie.
George Jage: Movie, right.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, can I ask a question? What does MJBizCon think about you being there at the same time?
George Jage: Well, that’s a good question. You know, that’s a question you can ask them.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, they haven’t expressed themselves to you yet? I’m sure you know some people over there.
George Jage: Of course. Of course. You know, I’m still good friends with Chris Walsh and a number of the people that were there when I was running the company. Unfortunately, we had an executive divorce over some promises made by the owners to me that we had to resolve legally and obviously, I stepped away. So, they’re probably not excited about it but again, we’re not trying to be MJBizCon. I’m very proud of what I created over there for that company and I wish them nothing but success. We’re really trying to cater to a completely separate segment of the audience that doesn’t really attend that show in any significant capacity and whose needs aren’t being met there.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. And I would have to think there’s probably some cross-pollination that they will benefit from as much as anything. I mean, it would be at least that’s my conjecture.
George Jage: I would hope so and, listen, I think there’s plenty of room in this industry for companies to operate and work collaboratively instead of competitively.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s the sense that I also have with all the interviews you’ve done and the people you’ve talked to. There seems to be a lot more collaboration and cooperation than I think hardcore competitiveness at this stage and the saying of all ships rise on the rising tide. I think we’re at such an early stage here in this industry that everyone’s going to benefit just by the continued growth of the categories and the continued march of legalization.
Jeffrey Boedges: I’ve seen that.
George Jage: There’s a lot of lip service to that, that kind of kumbaya type of spirit, but I do think that there is a lot of kind of tear-down kind of mentality that some people have in this industry. And certain segments of the industry get very competitive. There are tremendous redundancy of POS solutions that are out on the market right now and they’re competing for a very finite number of retail dollars. But again, when you’re talking about creating an experience, is there a capacity for somebody to have multiple experiences in their day, their week, or in their month or visiting a town at a particular time?
Rick Kiley: Got it. So, dealer’s choice here. I got two questions for you, both different directions. But I’m curious about the non-event work you’re doing with your media company and see if you want to talk about that. And then also you really mentioned being close on the legalization side of things and I’m curious if you’re engaged in the policy side of business at all.
Jeffrey Boedges: Are you lobbying?
George Jage: So, as far as the other kind of aspects of our business, right now we have MJ Unpacked, which is our event series. We did virtually last year. We’re bringing live this year, which was always our intent. And we also have a content platform called MJ Brand Insights. We have a phenomenal managing editor, Felisa Rogers. She’s been published in The Guardian. Actually, there’s a great story about her childhood growing up with some hippies in Oregon that The Guardian published on 4-20 this year, if you have a chance to dig that up. But that’s really kind of an opportunity for us to be of service to the industry, provide some insights, and meaningful insights to the industry. We’re partnering with BDSA on our content platform as well. I do the video blog with BDSA periodically on-air talking about some of their new data. So, there’s a number of different resources that we want to provide as a service to the industry at no charge other than asking for your email so we can send you an email newsletter when we have news to talk about. And that’s what we have for now. I mean, there’s certainly plenty of opportunities to expand our offerings as we grow but the event is really kind of the central kind of core focus of what we’re doing and really how we build community.
As to policy work, certainly, I pay very close attention to what’s happening on the policy front as part of my needs for my business. But we also realize like we’re really good at building events, creating events that are fun, dynamic, that actually help people and create value. And we aren’t as good at maybe legislation or policy or anything along that capacity so we leave that to the people that do it. We do make it a priority, and Kim and I have always done this, is to support those organizations. When I was running MJBiz, I did a number of charity benefit events, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for some of the top advocacy groups in our space. And then for this event that we’re doing in Las Vegas and this is probably going to be announced mid-July so depending on when this airs, we are literally putting the band back together. Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd have agreed to perform live at the House of Blues and we are donating 100% of the net proceeds to Last Prisoner Project to make structural change to criminal justice.
Rick Kiley: That’s great. That’s great.
George Jage: That’ll get people out of jail that are selling weed and have herbal distribution businesses.
Rick Kiley: Okay. Hello, everyone. We are back after a lightning strike took down our podcast recording 85% of the way through. So, we’re picking it up here again. We have George Jage back on the microphone. Hello, Jeff. Hello, George.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s good to be back.
George Jage: Good to be back. And glad to see your hair’s finally not standing up anymore.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Not smoking.
Rick Kiley: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. That was bizarre. We’re all good now. So, I think where we left off is we were talking about, I was trying to get around to asking you about what you might tell somebody who is looking to get involved in this industry at this stage. And I don’t know if you have these conversations already. I imagine people come to you and they say, “Oh, I’ve got this idea or I want to start this brand.” Do you have those conversations? And what are you telling people when they come to you?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Run? To run?
George Jage: Yeah. Run.
Jeffrey Boedges: Run fast?
George Jage: Run and don’t carry a metal pole like Rick did.
Jeffrey Boedges: Exactly.
Rick Kiley: All these lightning jokes.
George Jage: It is something. I mean, listen, I’ve been in a couple of other industries. I’ve known a lot of people and a lot of different places. And certainly, the cannabis industry continues to expand as far as the total number of people employed in companies and everything else. I think it depends on what their big idea is. I mean, at this point, for a lot of the ancillary services and products and technologies, there’s not a tremendous amount of new ideas out there. I mean, I don’t think that the world in the cannabis industry needs somebody else to come out with a POS system. There’s nothing out there. Certainly, some of the ad tech companies that have really accelerated in the past couple of years, yeah, I heard James Spring Biggs and other companies I think have found a unique way to approach the market. And certainly, there are cases where the second mouse might get the cheese, and some of these businesses were coming in this late in the game. You can come in with a better and more refined product that could be competitive in the marketplace but there’s already a tremendous amount of redundancy of available products and services to support the industry. On the retail side of the business, it’s a really tough business and I warn anybody that’s thinking about going down that road, marginal tax rates that could be as high as 70%, 80%, constantly changing regulations, high employee turnover.
There’s a lot of challenges to that but I think that the reward is that eventually when we see the repeal of 280E and certainly access to safe banking, all of those businesses get a huge boost up. And so, there’s a lot of opportunities and states that’ll be coming online and there are arguments that it’ll be the big players, the MSOs are going to come in and kind of gobble up all or half of the licenses in those markets. But there’s still a lot of room for, I think, entrepreneurs to come in on the retail space. And on the brand side of the business, I mean, a lot of people will kind of make the argument that the biggest brands in cannabis haven’t yet been invented.
Rick Kiley: I want to ask you about retail in one second. What do you think about the on-premise retail space? I understand dispensaries and licenses and how they’re out there but one thing I don’t see a lot of are clubs and lounges, places that you can go that would operate the way a bar would. It seems like there’s room for that. Do you hear anything about that?
Jeffrey Boedges: At this point, we still have to go to Holland to do that.
George Jage: Yeah. Well, I don’t even think it’s technically legal there if I recall correctly but it’s just allowed. You know, I would almost argue that it’s not an opportunity but it’s almost essential, I think, for the full maturation of our industry and this is an argument I’ve been making for the last eight or nine years. I mean, we’re so ingrained in the social lubrication in and around beverage consumption. And there’s a lot of hot topics seems to be cannabis beverages and I think we were just talking with my team this morning, and there’s a company that just came out with a 24 case pack of beverages. They’re 100 milligrams apiece but it’s that…
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a sessionable cannabis beer.
George Jage: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: A hundred?
George Jage: I know. And that’s the thing. I mean, they need to make and there are companies that have been working on kind of developing the cannabinoid absorption process. You kind of have a similar uptime and downtime and buzz time of alcohol. And I think that there’s a lot of advantage to that and Scot Rutledge’s a good friend of mine down in Las Vegas, has been working on the front lines of opening up cannabis consumption lounges in Nevada as well. All right. So, the reality is, I mean, I think that it has to happen and that type of community around the plant needs to happen soon then we have community and social opportunity around alcohol for us to fully match the industry. I mean, right now, even if you go in Las Vegas as a tourist and you buy cannabis, really, there’s no way you’re legally allowed to smoke it because you’re not allowed to smoke in the casino rooms. Not allowed to smoke in public. It’s got to be in a private residence. So, I’m certainly hopeful that we’re going to see that advance very quickly here. And I think it’s going to be a huge boon to a lot of the kind of micro-dosed quick-ups, quick downtimes. I just had a conversation with another lady out in California that’s developing some really interesting products around coffee and other beverages as well. So, I think we’re going to see the beverage category definitely accelerate here in the next year.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. That’s exciting from my point of view but that sounds great. That sounds great.
George Jage: I think about all the big players, Rick, that are waiting to get into the industry, right, the Seagrams, the Southern Wine & Spirits from a distribution standpoint.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. No, they’re out there. Yeah. It’s big. I mean, there’s a lot of CBD beverages also already. So, I think, like the field is planted.
Jeffrey Boedges: I feel like a smoking lounge. I feel like there’s space for one, though. I mean, I feel like the old kind of hookah, the sort of communal thing around different beverages as well. There is, I think, an element to an old-fashioned smoke out that would be different but transferable to an on-premise experience.
Rick Kiley: What’s interesting is that places where you can actually smoke like cigarettes like there aren’t that many anymore and I wonder how much that would apply here. And you have to go to a special cigar lounge or as, yeah, there are places that have hookahs but very few.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Again, I just feel like it’s one of those things like if you are an entrepreneur looking for wide space, that would be an interesting place to explore. I guess that’s my only point.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
George Jage: But when you look at that, Jeff and Rick, I mean, so coming out of COVID I think people looking to kind of basically be a little bit more conscious of how they spread germs. The kind of idea of kind of sitting around and passing a joint, some people are uncomfortable with that anymore. Same thing with sucking off a hookah, yes, you have some type of cloth or you have your own mouthpiece or something but I think that you have to take those things into consideration. And again, if you have a single-serve beverage or a single-serve food item, I think that’s great. There’s a young lady that’s a chef out here in Seattle and she did a cannabis-infused dinner where they had a nano-emulsified liquid that she was infusing all of the sauces on all the dishes and you could basically pre-order how many milligrams you wanted to have with your meal and they would have vials for each guest there and then prepare the meals. It was absolutely one of the funnest nights I’ve ever had.
Rick Kiley: It sounds fun.
Jeffrey Boedges: What was it called Gets Sauced?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Did you consume 4,000 calories? I would just be like, “Where’s the ice cream course?”
George Jage: The final course was Doritos-flavored ice cream.
Jeffrey Boedges: That sounds delicious.
Rick Kiley: That sounds disgustingly amazing.
Jeffrey Boedges: Just depends.
Rick Kiley: You never know. I’ve never done them together, but back-to-back I’m sure.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. You’ve done the Doritos ice cream bang bang bang for sure.
Rick Kiley: You know ice cream bang bang.
George Jage: On the pretzel side, it’s great. Why wouldn’t Doritos be great?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. By the way, that’s a great name for a brand, Jeff, the whatever, whatever, bang bang.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I think we can’t say Doritos though.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Dorita. Okay. So, I think one other thing before we sort of get to our final question, which we ask everyone is just curious. Are you planning to launch any new companies in the future or are you thinking about getting involved in the beverage game, the retail game in the cannabis space?
George Jage: No.
Rick Kiley: No comment?
George Jage: Well, never say never but at this point, we’re really excited about being able to build this event platform, really kind of go to where the puck is as opposed to playing where it was, and really providing this exclusive forum and opportunity for cannabis brand, CPG brands, and retailers, and investors connect together in a very exclusive environment that’s designed to be fun. It’s not about just handing out business cards and never following up on those leads but actually having conversations with people. So, I’m going to keep pretty focused on this and until this is done, I’m not going to make any other plans.
Rick Kiley: All right. Let us know if you want to get on the Doritos bang bang theme.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Well, I think there could be a whole conference around that.
George Jage: After you guys settle the IPs too with the Doritos, let me know and I’d be happy to jump in.
Jeffrey Boedges: They get sensitive about that kind of thing.
Rick Kiley: Do they?
Jeffrey Boedges: Even though when you think about it like they really owe cannabis a great giant truckload of thanks.
Rick Kiley: Thank you? Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Rick Kiley: All right. That’s a good point. So, we come to the end. Our last question, of course, we do call this Green Repeal. We are talking about how legislation is advancing towards legalization. We’re curious if you want to put a wager out on the big board there. You have the thought as to when we might finally be living in a world where cannabis is legal all across this great nation.
George Jage: I’m almost thinking that you might have gotten hit by that lightning directly. It actually is legal. No, I’m just kidding. He’s like, “Really?”
Rick Kiley: Kind of wake up in the year 2029. What the heck?
George Jage: I’m an optimistic type of person and certainly, we collectively believe that we’re in a better spot to see progressive federal legislation around cannabis than we ever have before through the kind of modern cannabis era. I certainly hope that we will see the passage of some of the steps stones to federal legalization, which includes safe banking, repeal 280E, the Moore Act, and decriminalization. I believe that we could see it as early as 2022 and the latest I would say is 2023.
Rick Kiley: Bullish.
George Jage: I am very bullish and I think you’ve got to realize it’s going to happen quick. This really comes down to, I think, one of the most fundamental things that influences our government, which is money. And right now, on a state level, we know that there is tremendous amount of tax revenue being generated by these states. New York’s going to be a couple of billion dollars in tax revenue really quick. They’re talking about that market being active in September-ish of 2022. Why not get it going in May and really have six extra months of tax revenue ahead of that or four or five months of tax revenue? But New York’s a huge state. Florida is making some moves to legalize, obviously, recreationally. A lot of chatter in Texas, another huge state, huge populous state. I don’t think the federal government can ignore the opportunity to refill the coffers after all of the depletion of capital that we’ve gone through, through the pandemic, and continually inflating government budgets. I mean, cannabis can pay a lot of those bills.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. I agree.
Rick Kiley: Well, someone suggested that because of the way the taxation is set up, that the government’s making a decent amount of coin collecting everything because of the 280E. But that’s the federal government, right? So, I wonder if those incentives are similar but, I mean, the states need the money. Everyone’s going to get on board.
George Jage: Yeah. I mean, there’s a pretty strong argument, especially now that you’re starting to, I mean, some of these MSOs collectively I think have raised close to $2 billion of kind of war funds to go out on an acquisition spree or I see some mini mergers would truly even harvest. I do think that as an industry as a whole, we’ve done as good of a job as we could with the resources we’ve had to change laws in Washington but it costs a lot of money. Some of these big companies that have multibillion-dollar valuations on Wall Street have access to people and our government officials who are often for sale to make some of these changes.
Jeffrey Boedges: Often.
Rick Kiley: All right. That’s cool. Last question. On the capital side, is legalization being priced into the raises that people are asking for at this point? Like, do you get a sense that on the capital side that it’s just seen as an inevitability?
George Jage: I think, yes, to some extent with some of the larger institutional investors but they’re still very I think risk-averse on their investments. They’re primarily putting money into a handful of very large publicly traded MSOs with really some seasoned leadership in those teams. There’s a lot of, I mean, so many of these companies just rushed out into the public markets when the Canadian stock exchange up in Vancouver gave everybody the green light. And then they all rushed in there and they realized that there was no trading liquidity in that market and a lot of them struggle. So, I think that there’s still a huge bump, I mean, 20% or 50% bump from legalization for these valuations on both the public and private sector.
Jeffrey Boedges: How long will it take, do you think, from the time that’s legalized before it’s offered on the big American stock exchanges?
Rick Kiley: Immediate.
George Jage: Yeah. The next day. I think that every one of these companies are going to be moving to list on the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange. The day after, there’s a whisper that they’re passing a bill.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. There’s going to be a green IPO wave. It’s going to be great.
Jeffrey Boedges: And it’ll be awesome. I just can’t wait to see like Cheech Marin up there doing the ringing of the bell on the NYSE.
Rick Kiley: He’s probably the guy they’re going to get, right? That’s a question we should start asking. Who’s going to ring the bell the first day that they’re listed on the…
Jeffrey Boedges: Harold or Kumar.
George Jage: Steve D’Angelo.
Rick Kiley: Anthony D’Angelo is a good one. And if people do want to find out about Jage Media, about the upcoming event, where should they go?
George Jage: We certainly would encourage them to visit our event website, which is MJUnpacked.com, and sign up and subscribe for our online content platform, which is MJBrandInsights.com.
Rick Kiley: Sweet. Cool. Well, George, thank you so much for coming back and finishing this interview. We really like talking with you. Have a great time putting this event together. Wish you the best of luck and hope we can talk again soon.
George Jage: Look forward to seeing you guys there.
Rick Kiley: Absolutely.
George Jage: And thank you so much, Rick and Jeff. Really enjoyed it. Thanks again.
Rick Kiley: Cheers. Bye-bye.