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CannaBiz Gold Rush

The 420 Games concluded on April 1 at Santa Monica Pier’s Parking Lot 1. This event’s mission is to break down stereotypes about marijuana by showcasing its connections to those who engage in athletics, fitness and healthy lifestyles. A 4.2-mile run/walk/skate bike competition, yoga, jiu-jitsu, arm wrestling, and basketball were among the featured activities.

And while I expected to walk into a fog of pot smoke (it was, indeed, a foggy morning), on-site imbibing (with one exception, inside a trailer) was prohibited, as were direct sales.

Dozens of booths touted spin-the-wheel and raffle giveaways, such as packaged samples of CBD and THC edibles. Showcased were vape pens, extracts, tinctures and oil concentrates, DIY equipment such as a tincture/butter making machine, bongs and beauty products designed by and for women, framed vintage posters (Reefer Madness!), leafy clothing, fertilizers for the home grower, CBD and hemp pain relief balms, lots of new apps including a self-proclaimed Cannabis Concierge, a testing lab and an educational website.

Oh sure, there was the expected crop of stoners (pre-vaping while walking down the pier), people with multi-hued hair (myself included!), Dogtown-style skateboarders, Rastafarians, and the occasional aroma of pot smoke wafting in the air…But truth to tell, this is one hell of a burgeoning small business marketplace. One young concentrate producer described it as the new Gold Rush.


There are deep pocket investors, like those behind MedMen, a chain of dispensaries. But there are plenty of individual entrepreneurs.

At the “AfterParty” curated by GrassFed Cannabis Events, something akin to a wine tasting took place. Attendees inhaled puffs of concentrates created by different makers and methods (heat, Co2, flower), using high-tech table and portable vaporizers, lending credence to news site GreenState’s contention that California is “becoming an oil state.”

That’s in part due to restrictive new regulations tamping down the supply of edibles to dispensaries. But the goal here seemed to be boasting rights to the purest method of manufacturing the strongest concentrates, with dosages as high as 70 mg of THC per puff…a joint in a single toke.


Recent news includes alarming stories about the rise in plastic pollution due to baggies and prescription bottles used by dispensaries. Lola Lola, the first company whose booth I saw, provided a trailer for people to try their vape pens, proudly touting their biodegradable packaging. But their giant marketing poster concludes with the sentence, “Just throw it away when you’re done.”

That irked me. What are vape pens and cartridges made of? We’re at the early stages of a new industry – why isn’t there be a more conscious effort to use sustainable materials? Why encourage waste? And who knows what the manufacturing processes are creating by way of waste or pollution at this point.

We already know that the plastic patch in the Pacific has multiplied in size (visit to get the lowdown) and China is now refusing to accept recycled materials from the West ( 


 I met Ryan Miller of Oakland’s OMG Farms, which prides itself on its organic and sustainable practices, but whose product is still considered disposable. Ryan is an Iraq vet and amputee who’s worked in tech and health care and moved into the cannabis sphere after seeing vets’ lives destroyed by opiates, while others were saved by cannabis. And he’s actually trying to do something.

He’s helping to craft legislation to encourage recycling; of course, we’re in the earliest stages so it isn’t easy. He told me, “The Bureau of Cannabis Control is open about wanting to get things right. If they don’t, the black market will undermine the business, and communities dependent on cannabis for their economic base could collapse, like Humboldt.

“Right now, products aren’t allowed to come directly back into the system. The problem with recycling is that one-off programs for small items don’t work. You have to get up to scale. Most of the products that wind up in the trash are vape cartridges and batteries. If we could bring them back to the stores in large enough numbers and in a controlled environment, then we could work with companies that remove the batteries and separate the plastic to go back into the recycling system.”


The canna-biz field is wide open and there’s already a professional organization called “Women Grow,” based in Denver, for female CEOs starting cannabis businesses.

One female entrepreneur, Krystal Kitahara and her sister, have 12 full-time female employees working with them as they move into a brand-new, licensed Costa Mesa manufacturing facility.

Yummi Karma makes snacky edibles, tinctures and a line of body products. It began with a tincture they created to help their mother get off sleeping pills – and they succeeded. Now they’ve created a beauty line, “High Gorgeous,” featuring moisturizers, lip balms, sunscreen and other personal care products geared to women, along with their infused popcorn and chip snacks.

I will keep an eye out for them as they continue to expand. It’s a whole new world out there. We’re just at the beginning.

Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.