Blazing new pathways | AspenTimes.com

Blazing new pathways

Katie Shapiro
The Cannabist

Steve DeAngelo delivers his keynote address opening the inaugural Aspen High Summit.

"Connection, connection, connection," Steve DeAngelo stressed to the collection of 150 cannabis and music industry insiders gathered in the Colorado mountains for the inaugural Aspen High Summit.

The first-of-its-kind conference held last week at Aspen's Limelight Hotel connected two of the legendary cannabis activist and entrepreneur's biggest passions in life: music and cannabis.

"It's pretty obvious that there's been a connection between music and cannabis for a very long time," DeAngelo continued during his keynote address, "but what is the nature of that connection? What lies underneath it? I think that it's in the singularity of the experience — good music and good cannabis can really make me feel the same way — they both activate the brain-heart connection, they stimulate each other and put one in touch with the other."

That connection was further examined over three days during nine high-profile panels. Among the most compelling conversations:

• Rick Mueller, president of AEG Presents, and Primary Wave manager Deb Klein (who counts Melissa Etheridge and Cypress Hill as clients) sparred over the future of cannabis consumption onsite at mainstream events.

• Ricardo Baca, founding editor of The Cannabist and founder of Grasslands: A Content Agency, talked about the influence of media on the cannabis industry with Scott Tobias, CEO of Voice Media Group.

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• Lee Trink, founder of Dare Mighty Entertainment, and Jeanne Sullivan, director of capital formation at Arcview, shared pro tips on the future of investing in cannabis.

• Nikki Lastreto, co-founder of Swami Select (and self-proclaimed flower child), asserted the importance of the underground scene versus selling out with Don Strasburg, co-president of AEG Presents.

• Andrew Kline, president of the National Association of Cannabis Businesses, and Betty Aldworth, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, discussed cannabis' position in the country's current political landscape.

Outside of panel discussions, attendees spent down time skiing, eating, drinking, and of course, sharing cannabis, which is "where the real magic happens," according to Jim Lewi, founder of Aspen Live, the long-running music conference that inspired the first-of-its-kind Aspen High Summit.

"This is the anti-conference," he said.

Lewi, a music industry heavyweight who heads both Goldstar and Red Light Management in Los Angeles, recently entered the cannabis space as a co-producer of the Emerald Cup, the long-running celebration of NorCal organic, sun-grown marijuana. That's where he first crossed paths with DeAngleo in his role as president of The Arcview Group, a leading members-only marijuana investor network.

"Steve started talking to Jim and they realized that Aspen Live and Arcview's programs perfectly aligned and it was the perfect time to collaborate in such a unique way," recalled Troy Dayton, Arcview CEO.

With a year-round schedule of investor forums across the country, Arcview also entered the film world earlier this year with its first "Future of Cannabis Summit" held in Park City, Utah, during January's Sundance Film Festival.

"Cannabis and entertainment just makes sense. By bringing what we do with our investors and present that opportunity to these other industries is really exciting," Dayton said.

During the breakout session featuring Arcview exec Sullivan, the venture capitalist veteran quipped that, "If you think you're in on the ground floor, you're in the basement."

Still, the opportunity for financial gain in cannabis is only going to continue to explode, said Dayton, who also serves on the boards of the Marijuana Policy Project and the National Cannabis Industry Association.

"The market grew 33 percent last year and it's going to grow 27 percent a year on average for the next five years to about a $24 billion market by 2021," he said. "That's not even counting the federal government changing its policies. If that happens, we're going to see those numbers go through the roof.

"That being said, I get up every day and make sure to fight to end the war on marijuana users as soon as possible because that's far more important than the short-term business concept."

So, how soon we can start to see a real connection of cannabis and music?

Lewi is hopeful: "Music will have a hard time embracing cannabis until the federal laws change. In California, there's more opportunity for collaboration based on the new regulations that allow for open consumption at state and county fairgrounds. That gives us a legal footing."

As for the stability of that foothold, NACB president Klein painted a bleak picture in the summit's final session.

There's no indication that the Justice Department is going to do anything anytime soon to clarify its position on the Cole Memo, said Klein, himself a former senior advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden and former assistant U.S. attorney.

His advice?

"We could do a better job of galvanizing support — not only support around jobs but around tax revenue that's coming into states from recreational and medical programs that are helping lots of people," he said. "And the fact that 90 percent of the population now is in support of medicinal use — my sense of the industry is that we've had a very traditional approach. We've hired lobbyists who are on Capitol Hill … we've got co-sponsors for bills … but this industry needs to take control of its destiny and people need to rise up."

The 2nd annual Aspen High Summit will commence in late 2018. For more information and date announcements, visit aspenhighsummit.com.