Previous cannabis-related conventions and trade shows in Washington have lacked only one thing: cannabis.
That is about to change.
Given what he’s about to bring to Tacoma, the “M” in Cory Wray’s MBA might well stand for marijuana, a substance of which he claims to be a longtime consumer.
The Bethel High School and University of Washington Tacoma graduate, 32, has inked an agreement and begun promotion for the Northwest Cannabis Classic, a three-day event featuring speakers, seminars, a trade show with vendors and, again, cannabis itself.
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Previous organizers have discovered that state law prohibits actual marijuana being present or being consumed at venues that hold a license allowing the consumption of alcohol.
The historic century-old Tacoma Armory — where Wray will hold the NWCC on Aug. 28-30 — has no such license.
So vendors who sell grinders will be grinding true bud rather than oregano, and lighting specialists will be showing their wares as they illuminate actual pot sprouts, and the winners of the NWCC Classic trophies will be able to display the actual winning products. Given state licensing laws, no cannabis will be offered for sale.
The News Tribune recently spoke with Wray about the event and about the event management company, Pacific Sun West, he co-owns with his wife.
Q. You have Northwest roots, but tell us a little about your business background.
A. I was director of media relations at Emerald Downs in 2007, and a mortgage banker in 2011. I’m still licensed in Washington, California and Hawaii. What I know is real estate, and I love event management.
Q. Is this your first cannabis show?
A. No. We started in Alaska with the Alaska Cannabis Institute. We had speakers — accountants, doctors, Ph.D.s. There was a small trade show. We were like, “Whoa! There’s a lot of opportunity to bring more education to a lot more people.” There was so much demand. We sold admission tickets for $420. We had to turn people away. There was such an opportunity for learning how to run a cannabis business, to get into the marketplace.
Q. What can people expect in Tacoma?
A. We’ll have 25,000 square feet of vendor space, maybe 80 vendors. We’ll have microlounges where people can hang out, and a video game lounge, and we’ll show the Seahawks’ preseason game. We’ll have seminars and speakers discussing growing cannabis organically, indoor growing tips, managing ancillary businesses and information on opportunities in Alaska and Oregon for those who may have been shut out in Washington. We’ll have entertainment, music, and giveaways just like at any other trade show.
Q. Did everything go smoothly when you brought the NWCC to Alaska?
A. The surprise is that Alaska is a conservative state, and it was fairly easy to bring the event together.
Q. And when you bring the NWCC to Tacoma, how is it that people will be able to publicly partake the product?
A. We are able to have marijuana on site because the facility doesn’t have a liquor license. We tried the (Washington State) Fairgrounds first, and that didn’t work out. That’s a great location. We thought about the LeMay Museum, and there was a conflict. We got the Armory through the Broadway Center. My first time inside, it was just amazing. I liked the history of the building — then to think we’re making history again.
Q. How many people are you expecting?
A. I’m taking a huge risk. If 5,000 people don’t show up, we’re looking like a fool.
Q. It’s been a year since recreational cannabis was legalized. How’s the business evolving?
A. What’s hot now are concentrates and edibles. With edibles, there a lot of medical patients who can’t smoke. With younger people, “dabbing” is popular, using the concentrate. People only have to take a small hit, either by smoking it or using vape pens.
With technology, extraction machines are more nuanced. I talked to one company in Ohio that said they usually sold machines to lavender growers. A couple of years ago they started getting orders from the West Coast, specific to cannabis.
Q. What about job opportunities in the industry?
A. Wages are up because those businesses are competing for labor. Microsoft is cutting jobs. The military is cutting jobs. The marijuana industry is hiring. People are leaving white-collar jobs to go into the industry.
Q. I see where you’ve been recruiting judges for the competition, and that there’s a fee to judge. How’s that going to work?
A. The judges will critique samples before the event and we’ll aggregate the scores. The categories are Best Indica, Best Sativa, Best Hybrid, Best Concentrate and Best Edible. In Alaska, we had 45 dry samples, eight concentrates and seven edibles.
Q. And the fee?
Q. Will you be advertising the show?
A. In Alaska, we were able to air our commercial on ABC and Fox. Here we’ve been rejected by every broadcaster in the region. They say it’s an FCC issue, that they’re federally licensed. We will be on one radio station, KISW.
Q. Where do you go next?
A. We go to Portland in November. The show is getting booked up.
Q. Where do you go in terms of the business?
A. We gauge the market. We’re thinking about health and wellness, and maybe a gaming convention.
Q. Where’s the job satisfaction?
A. I’m a Republican because of my business background, but I’m a social liberal. I’m more of a libertarian. I enjoy being able to help other businesses. I like to make people happy. Ultimately, for me, I think this industry can cause the rebirth of the American entrepreneur and the American farmer.
C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535
Northwest Cannabis Classic
When: Public sessions Aug. 29 and 30.
Where: Tacoma Armory, 1001 S. Yakima Ave.
Admission: $40 Saturday, $35 Sunday; or $70 both days.
More information: nwcannabisclassic.com