Walking into the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, you were greeted by a giant screen brightly showcasing a deep green sativa leaf, floating on a vibrant pink background This welcomed you to the Hemp, Health and Innovation Expo. There was a diverse stream of people meandering through the space. In its second year of operation, the crowds are more substantial than the 2017 Melbourne and Sydney expos. Upon entry, I was greeted by the Nimbin Ganja fairies who exhibited bright green colored glittery outfits and face paint. Though this didn’t necessarily set the tone for professionalism across the entire event, it gave a good indication of the diversity present.
The aisles were teaming with people and there was a lot to take in. Some attendees – established professionals in their areas of expertise – were assessing market opportunities, while potential patients were hungry for information. There were also plenty of families, farmers, and average Aussies, whose interest in this growing industry has been piqued.
A broad range of hemp applications was showcased with a marked increase in professionalism over last year’s event. Exhibitors came in a veritable rainbow of varieties, the presence of textiles and cosmetics stalls was equal to that of cultivation and ag-tech. With Australia’s strict regulations and security requirements surrounding medical cannabis cultivation, the market for indoor grow technology and equipment is blossoming. A large range of lighting companies were present, showcasing a plethora of LED and HPS lighting options. Hydroponic and grow room displays were shown in action, while nutrients and growth supplements were abundant; targeting both commercial and home-grow consumers.
The expo highlighted both the strength and diversity in the Australian hemp landscape today. Attendance increased by nearly double those of last year’s numbers, with around 80 exhibitors. Despite much of the expo having strong tones of adult use, at the foreground of every conversation, what I overheard was patient access, quality medicinal products, and the general well-being and nutrition that hemp can provide.
Such strong interest in expos in major cities around Australia, as well as the success of CannaTech Sydney in October 2018, indicates that when the country eventually decriminalizes or legalizes adult use, a plethora of local businesses will push to compete with big international businesses seeking to dominate the Australian market. With Australian’s patriotic nature in relation to locally produced products, Aussie entities have a fighting chance to find success in the Australian green rush. Despite the abundance of well-branded and quality products on display, it is clear that there are some strong leaders in cultivation, textiles, consulting and tech- emerging.
In addition to a large exhibition space, the HHI Expo had a few international speakers, as well as local activists and thought leaders presenting. This mix was curated appropriately given Australia’s strong grassroot push for legalization and patient access. It did, however, highlight the dramatic differences between the local slow and steady uptake of the cannabis conversation and the rapidly evolving global one.
The Australian government’s stance on medical cannabis is that of conservative medicalization and is relatively slow moving with regards to hemp. Despite changes in November 2017 allowing for hemp seeds to be used as a food source and less strictly regulated in relation to cultivation, products with CBD derived from hemp (or otherwise) are still illegal.
With the ganja fairies at the door and the expo name what it is, it’s clear pharmaceutical grade medical cannabis wasn’t the foreground of this event. But despite a melting pot of smoking merchandise stalls, medical cannabis access information providers, textiles sales, and cannabis consulting companies, at the heart of every conversation and transaction were patients and well-being.
What this says about the integration of Australia’s conservative medical cannabis program and the future of hemp and adult use, is difficult to say. But just like the Australian landscape and people, it will no doubt be diverse and colorful!