Q&A with Cassandra Farrington: Co-Founder of MJBizDaily
The Cannabis 50 highlights the pioneers and innovators helping push the cannabis, hemp and CBD industries forward. In addition to the 2019 Cannabis 50 Impact Review, we are also sharing interviews with our honorees to help spread their message of positivity and growth.
When Cassandra Farrington co-founded MJBizDaily, the longest-running business publication focused on the cannabis industry, she couldn’t imagine the incredible progress the industry would make less than ten years later. MGO talked with Farrington to discuss the past, present and future of cannabis and the foundational role MJBizDaily has played in helping to shape a responsible, sustainable industry.
MGO: What about the cannabis industry drew you to it initially?
Cassandra Farrington: Initially, my business partner and I had a criteria for launching a new trade magazine: we sought B2B audiences with hard-to-find analysis on their industries, at least 1,000 companies currently in the space, in an industry growing at a positive rate. At the time the medical cannabis industry in Colorado was growing quickly and momentum was headed toward recreational legalization.
What really drew us in is that the cannabis industry was created by people that don’t necessarily have traditional business acumen. Nearly all founders come from a different background than business, whether its cultivation, research, etcetera. My partner and I know business and we’d helped industries figure that out in the past.
If you had asked us in 2010, if cannabis would have gotten this far in 2019, no one would have predicted it. But we did know that good information and data can empower an industry and help it grow.
MGO: How important is the role of an unbiased press for an emerging industry like cannabis?
Farrington: What is the role of the press in any community or society? There is no question that an unbiased platform, that everyone can trust to be neutral to all players, is essential in an emerging industry. It helps create a level playing field, where everyone has access to the same market and industry information.
We try to educate the industry without playing favorites. When you have someone playing that role while involved with specific business interests, it creates a conflict of interest. You cannot serve both masters. Our master was supporting the industry, not hyping certain companies or advocating for specific legislation. We give professionals the information, and let them make their own decisions.
MGO: What are the advantages a dedicated industry media outlet brings, as opposed to coverage from mainstream business and investing outlets?
Farrington: I cannot tell you how many times we’ve seen things in the mainstream press that are flat out wrong. Too often companies are highlighted for things they are not the first or best at. It is only when you have boots on the ground that you really gain perspective. Our editorial team covers their beats in the industry and they know when they hear something that’s right. That’s the benefit of being immersed. We provide not just a neutral view but an accurate view.
MGO: In a year like 2019, with major ups and downs, what was your editorial direction? How do you navigate support for the industry versus diving in and exposing things going wrong?
Farrington: In every scenario, up or down, there is opportunity. Maybe to mitigate loss, maybe to hedge, there are still opportunities. We saw the corrections of 2019 because the cannabis industry got ahead of itself. It pushed beyond its fundamentals.
It is okay to be all in on the industry, you just have to be able to see past the “green rush” and understand the fundamentals. It is not all doom and gloom; the industry is not going to go away. The industry is already a juggernaut in spite of the non-normalized business environment. I can’t imagine what it will be like once we have a normalized business environment. People who try to get rich sometimes get burned, so don’t be that guy. MJBizDaily’s role is in helping people understand how to do their job better.
MGO: Having been on the frontlines since the start. What is your sense of where the industry stands today? Is it moving in the direction you’ve imagined or are we off-course?
Farrington: I think every step toward a normalized business environment is a step for the better. There will always be debates about the path we take at micro levels, but we just need to continue moving forward.
The whole social justice question hanging over the legalization in states like New York, Illinois and Connecticut is something that will have to be addressed to get legalization over the line. What is the right way to proceed? I am proud of how so many people in cannabis have made social diversity and justice a major element of what they see as the path forward.
At MJBizDaily, we won’t say “this is the right or wrong way to do social justice.” The reality is people of diverse backgrounds have been hurt by the War on Drugs. As the industry advances, it is important from a moral, ethical, and business perspective, to give back to those communities so they can participate as the industry grows. We will report on what is working and what isn’t and who is involved and represent their perspectives. We are the mirror for the industry, helping it decide which way to go.
MGO: At what point did you realize the trade show part of the business would be so influential?
Farrington: We really realized we had a tiger by the tail after our second show, when we grew from 400 to 700 attendees and sold out 2-3 months before the event. After the Cole Memo was announced we moved the conference to Las Vegas and into a conventional trade show and conference setting. That move was incredible, as going from a racetrack to a conference hotel is a 10X magnitude change, but we felt good because we felt that energy and excitement.
When we made the move to the Rio, the people that joined us understood that the industry was at another level. The conference, attendees, and the industry have grown up together. Attendees come their first year and get a crash course in cannabis. The next year they return with a business plan, meet, organize, and find funding. The following year they have a 10X10 booth and are on the way to being industry leaders. We’ve seen it over and over. It’s a symbiotic, virtuous cycle where what happens at MJBizCon drives the industry for the next year.
MGO: In what ways do you work to engender and support responsible business practices, through event programming or reporting?
Farrington: Everyone has different opinion on responsible business practices. We have always taken the perspective that this industry must look and behave professionally to go anywhere. We have taken a hard line against sexualized imagery and “booth babes” on the floor. If someone wouldn’t behave that way in an office environment, then it shouldn’t be on the trade show floor. We aim to create a space where anyone would feel comfortable coming in and making a deal.
Simply from the reporting perspective, we report on what you do in an unbiased, verified way. We are an Associated Press news organization, so we hold to those standards. We provide the news and let the industry decide what is or isn’t “responsible.”
MGO: As a female founder and business leader, how have you seen opportunities for women in cannabis evolve over the years?
Farrington: There is a sense, and it varies at times, that there are a ton of opportunities since the industry is in need of talent at all levels. There have also been phases where even I felt that a group of guys that did their thing in tech have come in and are off to the races. Much like with social justice, the conversations around gender opportunities in cannabis are healthy. There is a consistent undertone and drumbeat that our organizations must reflect our consumer base, and you are putting yourself at risk if you aren’t embracing those perspectives.
MGO: What should the cannabis industry focus on to move forward in 2020?
Farrington: I think that social justice element of legalization, and regulation at state and federal levels, must get fixed and figured out before more legalization happens. Even though they passed the SAFE Act, there has been push back because the legislation doesn’t include those elements.
We need to figure out what to do about those elements to make legalization palatable to a wider audience. The fastest way to lose a Republican’s interest is to tell them we are clearing criminal records. But that’s the foundation for a Democrat. How can we find a middle ground?