Why weed tech is missing from CES 2018, even as the budding industry booms


As marijuana legalization sweeps through North America and governments relax their rules on cannabis, the technologies used to grow, distribute, and consume it represent an increasingly large chunk of the consumer electronics industry.

In other words, weed tech is big business.

Over the past few years, investors have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into weed-related startups, resulting in a corresponding flood of weed gadgets aimed at medical and recreational users. Between all the vaporizers, oil pens, dab rigs, automatic grinders, butter makers, and other miscellaneous ganja gizmos; there’s no shortage of weed tech on the market right now.

But oddly enough, you’ll find almost none of it on the CES showfloor. Despite the fact that cannabis is one of hottest spaces in consumer tech right now, it’s practically nonexistent at the world’s largest consumer technology trade show. What gives?

Don’t blame the CTA

Surprisingly, this actually has nothing to do with rules and regulations.

“Recreational and medical use of marijuana are completely legal in Nevada”

The Consumer Technology Association (the organization that runs CES) has no rules on the books that prevent or discourage companies from exhibiting marijuana-related products at the show. In fact, weed-tech startups have held booths on the show floor numerous times in the past (although not in great numbers), and there’s even one this year. Buried deep inside the “Smart Home” section of the show, you’ll find a startup called Vapium Medical, which makes a metered dosing device for medical cannabis users, as well as an app that lets them keep track of their use. So weed tech companies definitely aren’t being barred by the CTA.

You can’t blame state or local marijuana laws, either. Recreational and medical use of marijuana are completely legal in Nevada, and while the state does have a few restrictions on where and how cannabis consumption devices can be sold, there are no regulations that prevent weed-tech startups from peddling their wares at trade shows. As with gambling and strip clubs, Las Vegas has a fairly laissez-faire approach to regulating trade shows that visit the city — presumably because every convention attendee is another person who will spend money at hotels, restaurants, and casinos.

What’s going on?

So if the cannabis tech sector is booming, and there are no rules or laws barring weed startups from attending CES, then why on Earth isn’t the show floor littered with pot-leaf logos and vaporizer startups? There are entire sections of the LVCC dedicated to things like “baby tech,” “sleep tech,” and even “smart cities,” so clearly there’s room for fringe tech at this convention. So where’s all the weed at?

To get an answer, we spoke with a handful of cannabis tech startups — including some that deliberately skipped the show; some that are here in Las Vegas, but don’t have booth space; and also the only one that’s actually exhibiting at the show this year.

Hazy answers

Broadly speaking, the consensus seems to be that cannabis tech just isn’t quite mainstream enough for CES.

“CES is a very mass-market trade show,” says Richard Huang, CEO of Cloudius9. Huang and his company don’t have a formal presence at the show (no booth), but he’s in Vegas to do business nonetheless.

“The buyers are all very mainstream merchants, and frankly the [marijuana] industry isn’t there yet.”

“It’s catered toward the entire electronics market,” he explains. “The buyers are all very mainstream merchants, and frankly the [marijuana] industry isn’t there yet. And it goes both ways. Generally, the big buyers [at CES] aren’t there to purchase, and eventually carry, any product related to the weed industry. So as a potential exhibitor, if you can’t find people who are interested in your product, it’s hard to justify going out and spending the marketing money on attending the show.”

Other weed-tech startups seemed to echo this sentiment. Chris Whitener, Executive Director of Magical Butter (a device for making your own weed butter) says that, “If you’re not a large-scale company that can afford the cost of having a full force on the tradeshow floor, it’s smarter to send a few scouts to Vegas so they can meet people and network and do business, but without buying exhibit space.”

This was a common theme. Most of the small handful of marijuana startups at CES this year aren’t running booths. They’ve deliberately opted out of getting formal exhibit space, and have instead chosen to do business on the periphery of the show — which is a fitting metaphor for how cannabis tech as a whole fits into the larger consumer technology industry. It’s here, but despite blistering growth and projected profits, weed tech isn’t ready for center stage. You and your friends might be into it, but won’t find vaporizers at Best Buy or Target anytime soon, and that’s presumably why CES isn’t the best venue for weed tech vendors to promote their products.

top tech stories ces

Even Vapium Medical, the only marijuana-related startup on the showfloor this year, seemed to underscore that it only made sense to attend CES because Vapium’s product is targeted at the medical cannabis community — a broader market with more potential buyers.

“Our product is a technology solution for medical users,” said Vapium COO Barry Fogarty. “It’s going to be available in every state in the United States where medical use of cannabis is legal, so it’s very much consistent with and in sync with the legal situation in the US. This is not a product that’s intended for recreational use. It’s specifically for medical users, and people in the medical community — so not just patients, but physicians and researchers as well.”

More time under the grow lamps

Weed tech will eventually have a big presence at CES, but before that happens, the cannabis industry needs to mature a bit.

First and foremost, legalization needs to happen on a broader scale. This is happening slowly across the U.S. right now, but until the majority of the world is OK with recreational pot use, weed tech simply won’t have a large enough consumer base. It just doesn’t make sense to hawk a product at CES if you can only sell it to customers in eight states.

Furthermore, society’s attitudes toward marijuana need to relax somewhat. Even after it’s legalized, pot consumption needs to be normalized so that marijuana-related products are no longer taboo to use or sell. When we reach that point, weed tech will likely be mainstream enough for CES — but unfortunately we’re not quite there yet.

Emerging Tech

It’s no flying car, but the e-scooter had a huge impact on city streets in 2018

Within just a year, electric scooters have fundamentally changed how we navigate cities. From San Francisco to Paris, commuters have a new option that’s more fun than mass transit, easier than a bike, and definitely not a car.
Press Releases

NFL’s Marshawn Lynch joins Digital Trends Live to raise awareness for his nonprofit

PORTLAND, Oregon, December 10, 2018 -- NFL running back Marshawn Lynch is coming to Digital Trends Live for a special Thursday morning segment. Coming on the heels of Lynch’s 2018 Man of the Year Award nomination, the segment will center…

The Galaxy S10 may be announced before MWC, sell for up to $1,750

While we still may be months away from an announcement, there's no doubt about it: Samsung is working hard on its successor to the Galaxy S9. Here's everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S10.
Emerging Tech

Warm ski beanie instantly hardens into a head-protecting helmet upon impact

Wool hats are way more comfortable than hard helmets. You know what they're not? Safer. That could soon change, thanks to an innovative new ski beanie which instantly hardens upon impact.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Twilight Zone’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Emerging Tech

Intel wants its fleet of drones to monitor America’s aging, unsafe bridges

Intel has signed a deal to use its Falcon 8+ drones to carry out bridge inspections. The hope is that these drones will be useful in spotting potential problems before they become serious.

Print your heart’s desire: Enter our giveaway to win a free Monoprice 3D printer

We’re giving away a $400 Monoprice MP Voxel 3D Printer. It's easy to use, especially for beginners, with its simple menu system and touchscreen display. It comes fully assembled so you can spend more time printing instead of setting up.
Emerging Tech

Transplanted pig hearts show promise in baboon trials. Are humans next?

Researchers in Germany have successfully transplanted modified pig hearts into baboons. The results take us one step closer to ending organ transplant waiting lists for good. Here's why.
Emerging Tech

An A.I. cracks the internet’s squiggly letter bot test in 0.5 seconds

How do you prove that you’re a human when communicating on the internet? The answer used to be by solving a CAPTCHA puzzle. But maybe not for too much longer. Here is the reason why.
Emerging Tech

Makerbot is back with a new 3D printer that’s faster and more precise than ever

MakerBot's new Method 3D printer aims to bridge the gap between home 3D printers and more industrial 3D printing tech. Here are a few of the tantalizing things you can expect from it.

Take to the skies with these 5 drones on sale for under $50

On the hunt for some cool tech for under $50? We've rounded up 5 drones under $50 that you can still get before Christmas. These models are great for kids, adults, and anyone just getting started with drones.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.