by Brandon Dunn
4 March 2021
To say that 2020 created new and lasting, obstacles for traditional businesses is an understatement. While much of the cannabis industry nation-wide saw significant increases in sales, employment, and acceptance; the Missouri market was in its infancy.
After licenses were awarded, but before the pandemic, delays, and crippling losses, the industry was set to explode. The first few days of March 2020, in St. Louis, Missouri’s medical marijuana industry was celebrating, blissfully unaware of what was to come.
“We are the bookends of the pandemic,” said Midwest Canna Expos founder Karin Chester. “We were the last big cannabis event most people went to before we really knew what COVID was, and we are going to be the first event they attend after vaccinations and with new safety restrictions.”
The event last year attracted thousands of industry professionals and onlookers, eager to engage and get their first glimpse of what was to come.
Over the last year, Chester and her team have hosted online events, created and adopted new safety protocols and training, and changed the way they operate on a day-to-day level to create a safety-conscious framework for live events, while diligently planning for the unexpected.
“Last year we were taking some payments a year in advance. For this event, we started taking deposits instead of having payment in full, and we pushed back the date for ticket sales because I didn’t feel comfortable taking someone’s money for something when so much was uncertain. Now we have everything in place, we are confident in our ability to have this event and host it safely. We expect to replicate and exceed the success of last year’s event.”
Tickets for the conference will go live Monday, March 8 with a limited number offered initially. “Ticket sales will launch with an initial cap and we will raise that number as we feel it’s safe. We will be providing and requiring masks, sanitizing stations, social distancing, seating will be spaced out, we will have instructions, and we will be following all recommendations and city requirements. We will also stagger check-ins and things like that if it’s needed,” Chester explained. “We don’t anticipate doing temperature checks right now, but if we see a need we will do that.”
Chester is confident that her team has created and trained for a safety-conscious event. “We are being thoughtful about this, we are being conscientious, we absolutely want to ensure that everyone is safe and stays healthy. The last thing I want is to find out someone came to the conference and got sick, so we are going to take extra precautions.”
“Our first priority is the safety of everyone. We are asking attendees to be mindful of others and follow all requests, and if you feel uncomfortable, or if you have a health condition that would prevent you from wearing a mask then we want you to participate virtually.”
Chester and her team have dedicated a large amount of time to the virtual aspect of this year’s conference. MOCannBizCon 2021 has a new virtual attendance option for industry-minded individuals who can purchase a virtual ticket and participate in live discussions, events, educational opportunities, and see and hear all the sights and sounds of the event live.
In a world where so many business interactions have turned virtual, it is this backbone functionality that creates a safety net for the event.
“We are confident that we will be able to have a safe in-person event, but in the worst-case scenario, we still have our entire conference available to proceed virtually. All of our sessions will stream virtually including live, interactive sessions. All of our exhibitors will have the opportunity for a virtual booth, and if we were to pivot each of our exhibitors and sponsors that signed up will have a virtual presence.”
But it’s the in-person interaction and the return to a feeling of normalcy that Chester is most excited for after dedicating the last year to planning, “There’s a lot of emphasis on the networking opportunities this year. For 2021 people really recognize the value of that opportunity to be in the same room. We will have a pre-conference VIP meet-up in the aquarium that includes our sponsors and speakers, our networking event on the showroom floor at the end of day 1, and then we have the Greenway awards that night in the grand hall. Then on day 2, we have the women’s breakfast, which is a great opportunity for women in the industry to meet and discuss resources and support.”
Chester is also focused on bringing attention to social equity, gender inclusion, and diversity issues within the industry. She aims to accomplish this goal with a Collaborative Conversations track that differentiates from the traditional education tracks most are accustomed to.
“The concept is to have the conversations that the industry needs to have to make the industry a better place,” Chester explained. “These aren’t educational sessions. You’re not going to walk into a room and listen to someone talk to you about diversity or social equity in the industry. We will have three moderators who will moderate a conversation with the room. The entire audience will be involved in the conversation, with moderators trained to focus on creating a solution-oriented discussion. The idea is to leave with actionable ideas and plans. We want to not just talk about problems, but talk about how to institute real and lasting change within a system that was inherently designed to be prejudiced.”
This year also marks a new addition to MOCannBizCon, “We are introducing a virtual patient track for the conference that is free to Missouri patients,” Chester explained. The track will include cannabis basics, patient education, benefits and instruction, and even cannabis for spiritual wellness. Chester, an advocate prior to legalization, speaks about the vulnerabilities of many patients and ensuring safety while offering educational opportunities and support for their cannabis journey.
“There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the industry and the community,” Chester said. “The industry needs the patients and the support of consumers; and the patients need a healthy, robust industry, that’s fair.”
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