Smoking out SXSW: Welcome to the Future of Cannabis

Adriana Kertzer
7 min readMar 20, 2018

Rebranding Pot is a series about the changing aesthetics of the cannabis industry.

Official logo of SXSW 2018.

Afamiliar scent in the air during SXSW 2018 led many of us to believe — even if just for a split second — that cannabis is legal in Texas. But those of us who attended the panel discussion “Welcome to the Future of Cannabis” on March 15, 2018 were reminded that just ain’t yet the case.

Michael Ford, Anasa Troutman, Adriana Kertzer, and Katerina Ivanova at the “Music Urbanism” SXSW 2018 panel (March 12, 2018, Austin, TX, Conference room C/D, Four Seasons Hotel,).

I flew to Austin speak on the Music Urbanism panel curated by the Sound Diplomacy, a London-based consultancy that helps governments and businesses unlock the benefits of music. Yet nothing makes me happier than surfing a conference with dual objectives: sniffing out the latest trends at the intersection of real estate and culture, and charting cannabis-related conversations for Rebranding Pot (a research project about the changing aesthetics of the cannabis industry).

Here are my main take aways from the “Welcome to the Future of Cannabis” discussion:

  • The tide is changing on a GLOBAL scale. Numerous countries have decriminalized cannabis and while laws vary considerably, the momentum of international legalization clearly indicates this is not just a national (American) story.
  • NATIONAL attitudes in favor of legalization are at an all time high. According to a Gallup 2017 survey, 64% of Americans believe cannabis should be legal. This percentage is up from 60% in 2016.

“Gallup first asked national adults about their views on the topic in 1969, when 12% supported legalization. Support had more than doubled by the end of the next decade but changed little throughout the 1980s and 1990s. By 2001, however, about a third of Americans favored legalizing marijuana, and support has steadily increased since. A majority of Americans have consistently supported legalizing marijuana since 2013.” — Gallup, “Record-High Support for Legalizing Marijuana Use in U.S.” (October 25, 2017)

“As more states legalize marijuana, the question of whether the drug should be legal may become when it will be legal.” — Gallup, “Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S.” (October 19, 2016)

  • MAINSTREAMING is the future. The biggest shift during the next five years will be the “mainstreaming” of cannabis products (the process through which something becomes accepted as normal by most people). We will also see the invention of new ways of consuming cannabis. The inherent complexity of the plant lends itself to a wide range of products. In short, a much wider consumer base will experiment with a broader range of products in the near future.
  • MEDIA companies are changing the conversation around cannabis. Companies like Herb are democratizing the conversation about cannabis, moving it out of “niche” media environments by showing how the plant has a healing power that can elevate the human experience and provide relief (not just enable recreation). However, media outlets often struggle to work around the regulations that constrict their activities given cannabis is still listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 drug.
  • INTERSTATE commerce is still limited. The number of cannabis companies “touching the plant” that operate on a multi-state level is still very limited.
  • TRANSPARENCY and SAFETY are key. Technology is now available to test cannabis products and certain states, in order to ensure a safe cannabis market develops, have created testing requirements (producers must send their products to certain labs before they can be sold to the public).
  • Limitations on MARKETING language. It will be interesting to see how limitations on the words that can be used to market cannabis products change. For example, words like “candies” and “cookies” are prohibited in certain jurisdictions in order to prevent products from appealing to children.
Photo by Robert Nelson on Unsplash

Panel Overview

Here is the description of “Welcome to the Future of Cannabis” panel on SXSW’s website:

“60% of Americans support legalization of cannabis and 100m people in the US have used it at least once. There’s a huge market “budding” for tech innovation. Hear how some of the first tech companies and investors on the scene are shaping the industry: From data, licensing and infrastructure, to genetics and cultivation, to consumer education, protection and on demand delivery. We’ll discuss trends, identify gaps and opportunities, and how to secure funding to enter this burgeoning market.”


Below are the biographies of each of the panelists as listed on SXSW’s website:

James Conlon, Partner, Bullpen Capital. James joined Bullpen Capital in 2012. He is leading Bullpen’s efforts in the rapidly growing LA startup ecosystem and has led investments in Lawn Love, Saucey, HERB, Confident Cannabis, and Hairdoo among others. He is the co-founder of start-up intelligence firm Venture Scanner. From 2000–2004 James conducted independent research in the fields of materials science and particle physics. In 2001 he was recognized for his work on thin film polymers with a 1st Place award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and he was selected to represent the United States at the MILSET International Sciences-Expo in Grenoble, France. In 2003 he worked on the fabrication of the calorimeter cooling systems for the ATLAS particle collider at CERN, which eventually proved the existence of the Higgs Boson. From 2005–2008 James was a professional poker player, building his analytical skill-set on over 1,000,000 hands of experience in risk assessment, financial modeling, and pattern recognition. In 2011 James joined RPX Corporation (Kleiner-backed, IPO in under 3 years) as a legal analyst. His research on patent troll activity at the International Trade Commission was presented at the White House and cited by leading IP law scholars including the Director of the Stanford Law School Program in Law, Science, and Tech. James was later retained by a national non-profit as part of a team to write an Amicus Brief to the United States Supreme Court in the Myriad Genetics v. ACLU patent case in 2012. He received his B.A. from Bucknell University in 2006 and his J.D. from the American University, Washington College of Law in 2009.

Tony Lewis, Pres & Co-Founder, Confident Cannabis. Tony is President and Cofounder of Confident Cannabis, an online B2B platform powered by the largest real-time database of legal cannabis in the world. Confident Cannabis serves thousands of cannabis producers, retailers and laboratories across the country with operations in all major and many minor cannabis markets. Prior to founding Confident Cannabis, Tony was Senior Vice President and founding member of the principal investing team at Macquarie Bank in London. He was also a founding member of Park Street Partners hedge fund, and worked in investment banking advisory at Merrill Lynch and Lazard. Tony and his wife Jacquie who are both British live with their son, Archer, who is the first US citizen in our family, in the SF Bay Area.

Sami Promisloff, Head of Dev & Creative Programming, Herb. Sami Promisloff is Head of Development + Creative Programming at HERB, where she oversees the creation of unique and compelling content that’ll inspire and drive the curiosity of HERB’s growing audience, on a mission to smash the stigma surrounding cannabis. Prior to joining HERB, Sami held multiple leadership roles at BuzzFeed for nearly five years in New York and Los Angeles — highlights of which include Managing Creative Producer for franchises Tasty + Nifty + Goodful, and Creative Strategy Director for the West Coast, where she implemented thought leadership workshops and speaking engagements for iconic brands including Amazon, Nike, Disney, Apple, Netflix, and NBC Universal. Her passion and background are rooted in music and the entertainment industry, where in agency roles she previously led creative tune-in campaigns for award-winning programs on HBO, MTV, AMC, and The Discovery Channel. She is also a freelance editorial writer whose bylines have been published in national publications including Spin, Billboard, Relix, and Paste. She regularly covers music and culture independently on Medium, and in a weekly newsletter run with her best friend based in NYC.

Karan Wadhera, Managing Partner, Casa Verde Capital. Karan is Managing Partner at Casa Verde Capital, the leading VC in the cannabis space. Karan is responsible for deal sourcing, due diligence, investment structuring, and portfolio management. He’s an experienced finance professional and investor with significant international experience. He is also an active private investor and advisor to a number of companies. Karan began his career on the Goldman Sachs Equities desk in San Francisco. He moved to Hong Kong with the firm in 2005, then Mumbai in 2006 to help begin the firm’s first trading desk in India. Following Goldman, Karan moved to Nomura, Japan’s largest investment bank, to help establish their Indian Equities business. While in India, Karan got involved in the local startup community and co-founded, one of the country’s most well known digital media and entertainment brands. He was also an early investor in Steadview, one of the largest India dedicated hedge funds in the world. Following India, Karan returned to Hong Kong as Head of Asia-Ex Japan Sales Trading for Instinet (a Nomura company).

Adriana Kertzer is a NY-based design entrepreneur, lawyer, and author. A leading expert on the use of references to the Brazilian slums in the branding of luxury items, Adriana is the author of Favelization: The Imaginary Brazil in Contemporary Film, Fashion, and Design, a book originally published by the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum (Smithsonian Institution). She is currently working on a new book, Rebranding Pot, about the changing aesthetics of the cannabis industry.