Unpacking MJ Unpacked and Other Nugs of Information
See what I did there?
Stop the presses! Everything But The Girl released a new album last week after TWENTY-SIX years and it is coming in HOT.
Sending my condolences to any other albums that came out that week for getting properly buried under this instant hit. I don’t remember how Pitchfork rates their albums, but this is a solid 10/10 for me. Also, check out Tracey Thorn’s proto-EBTG/delightfully twee acoustic band, Marine Girls. Here, I’ve included it so you can stream “Nothing Left To Lose” while you read this newsletter. It’s great, right?
While I’m catching up on condolences from last week, I’d also like to hold a brief moment of silence for the death of PAPER Magazine—a legendary cultural publication started by Pipe Dreams friend David Hershkovits and Kim Hastreiter in 1984 turned over to publisher Tom Florio’s ENTech Media Group in 2017 (after Kim Kardashian broke the internet with her ass). The magazine only had like 30 employees and all of them are gone now because of “economic headwinds” or whatever. Between this and the WGA Writers Strike, this is not an awesome time to be a writer. But as my aunt always said, “Who ever told you that you could make money being a writer?” Touche!
Hershkovits, for his part, had been running a pretty cool podcast called Light Culture and is now co-hosting a delightfully exclusive salon with Mark Jacobsen called Meeting of the Mind(s)—a new series of happenings that brings musicians, writers, artists, and other interesting literati together at Nublu in the East Village. At a time when culture continues to be crushed when it does not fit or fulfill a brand marketing objective, it was very refreshing to go to an event where I get to hear insights about moon conspiracy theorists and the relevancy of NASA versus insane billionaires before writer Robert Burke Warren jumped on the guitar to regale the crowd with his encyclopedic knowledge of Johnny Cash facts from his book, Cash on Cash. (Thanks, David!)
What else? Ah yes, apparently May is Mental Health Awareness Month and AAPI/Jewish Heritage Month, so I’ve been leaning into my heritage as a neurotic Jewess to completely inundate myself into a panic attack, then using excessive noshing to nourish my self-care (shout out to TSUMo Snacks and Roi Choi for the dope collab btw). Truly my month!
No, but really, there are just so many things to remember these days (National Life Insurance Day? Nationally Lumpy Rug Day? National Day of Reason?) and I’ve been failing miserably. It started a few weeks ago when I felt so inundated by 4/20 that I completely overlooked Bicycle Day, Indie Book Day, and Earth Day—the latter of those four being incredibly important to remember how much greenwashing is in basically every industry. It bummed me out thinking about how 4/20 has clouded “green week” when Earth Day is arguably so much more important (you know, because we won’t have any cannabis or anything nice if our planet is a garbage dump)—particularly as the symbolic political undertones of this annual celebration have mostly given way to large-scale marketing initiatives as the biggest CPG event of the year.
That said, 4/20 has become quite the spectacle in New York City, so I spent the day people-watching, wandering through the hazy circus of Washington Square and the LES where I swung by High Mi Madre—host of Tha People’s Weed Festival and NYC Weed Market—then headed home to finish off the rest of “The X-Files” (spoiler alert: the final two seasons were not that great!). Fast forward to the following week and I was bouncing from MJ Unpacked to the kitschiest MTV Spring Break-esque party at Watermark Bar to a completely packed rooftop party with Fernway then straight into 12 hours of intensive Pilates training. Then, you get a gentle nudge asking when you’re going to write about all of it, so here I am!
First, let me make it clear that I am mostly indifferent about large-scale showcases. After years of going to food and hospitality trade shows, I typically only find about 2% of things worth following up on and never quite get the inspiration to go full Hunter S. Thompson about the mundane. And with the cannabis industry, well, doing business is…weird. I don’t want to made wide-sweeping generalizations about people who are stoned out of their minds with zero filter or sterile opportunists, but the reality is that these are the people frequently at professional cannabis events. Still, the things I did find at MJ Unpacked were total gems.
Now that the West Coast has been forced to start making face on the East Coast after years and years of insisting on these expensive conferences and events being held in California and Vegas, I’ve been feeling a little smug about the recent limelight returning to New York (though, to be fair, I did skip out on MJ Unpacked in NYC last year, too) and even venturing into Detroit (a place no one ever talks about, but I’d really like to know what’s going on there). As a B2B conference, MJ Unpacked tends to attract the cannabis industry’s heavy hitters, which means you’ll see everyone from flower and vape brands to financial services, interior designers, and technology. The breakout panels were also pretty insightful—with a blend of experienced legacy, MSO, and other vested businesses who have seen it all.
What was interesting about MJ Unpacked this year was not only the spotlight on East Coast brands, but a showcase of BIPOC and justice-impacted cannabis entrepreneurs participating with Our Academy, a 501(3)c accelerator. This was the first time I heard about the project, which offers “non-profit workshop, mentorship program, and open education resource for cannabis equity applicants, legacy operators, and others impacted by the War on Drugs.” MJ Unpacked has also teamed up with Our Academy to offer a Social Impact Scholarship, which helps reduce the burden of those aforementioned travel costs, provide administrative support, fundraising opportunities, and other means of tangible support.
Because of this initiative, I was pleased to meet the folks at High Priestess Herbal Wellness (who make a fab lube), Stash Queens, and Dose of Saucy (whose infused sauces are vegan, gluten- and sugar-free!) among the line-up of ambitious newcomers. And mostly, it was great to have a resource to pass along to individuals who are interested in getting involved in various aspects of the business, but feeling overwhelmed. Our Academy even has free resources and tools to get started.
A few familiar faces were also at the show—Lex Corwin and Sabrina Wheeler of Stone Road, Michael Kusek of Different Leaf magazine, and I finally got to meet the legendary Kristi Palmer of Kiva Confections, the brand that single-handedly set the gold standard of what cannabis edibles should be. Display cases also featured products from Sackville & Co. (that makes one of my favorite keychain accessories on the planet), some new wares from Lobo, Fruit Slabs, and more.
Other new-to-me (and maybe you) things I loved:
The Metaphysical Cannabis Oracle Deck: A weed tarot deck written by the first Black female cannabis sommelier, Maggie Wilson, with gorgeous illustrations from artist Ejiwa Ebenebe. Honestly, I am appalled none of you told me about this one sooner. This was the weed witchiest thing at the whole show, hands down.
Squier’s Edibles: A huge apology is in order to Chef Zack Squires as poor reception and timing meant I didn’t get to meet and thank him for this wonderful edibles brand! When I first started covering cannabis in 2018, I was writing for trade and consumer food magazines where I instantly thought about how amazing the edibles category was going to be once professional chefs started getting into the mix—especially after consuming so many trash products made with trash ingredients. And that time is finally here. The Maine-based brand uses real fruit juices for its full spectrum cannabis elixirs and ready-to-drink cocktails, such as strawberry rhubarb, blueberry lemon, and pineapple ginger lemonade.
Aster Farms: Aster Farms is actually not new to me, but they are new to New York! A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting publicist Zoe Wilder during a trip to L.A. where she slipped me an Aster nug and I was blown away. The sustainable NorCal brand embodies the type of ethics-driven quality that I both appreciate and demand from producers of all types. In fact, they even publish an annual sustainability report, which I think is so valuable. Really excited to see what they’ll be bringing to the table here in New York!
And that’s all folks!
A sit-down with Lulu Tsui of On The Revel
Talking edibles and social justice with writer Chala June
The wellness journey you never asked for
The pros and cons of a pot-induced nervous breakdown
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Thanks for the shoutout and the link. Much obliged!