Equity Member Spotlight: Taking Events to the Next Level
By Bethany Moore
April 26, 2023
/ Community
/ Education

Equity Member Spotlight: Taking Events to the Next Level

by Mike Lomuto, NCIA’s DEI Manager 

Events are a major way in which the culture of cannabis is preserved and evolves. With 4/20 upon us, we felt it appropriate for this column – which is all about staying true to the culture – to focus in on some of our members who specialize in innovative cannabis events.

For this celebratory month of 4/20, we’re checking in with:

Michael Webster, Founder & Managing Member of Falling Leaves Events, and new member of NCIA’s Banking & Financial Services Committee

Toni, Founder of Toni Consulting and Wellness, member of both NCIA’s Health Equity Working Group and Education Committee

And the ladies of HUSH

Kay Villamin, Co-Founder and Creative Director, and Chair of NCIA’s State Regulations Committee

Vanessa Valdovinos, Co-Founder and Director of Events, Organizer of NCIA’s Marketing & Advertising Committee

Michael shares his infused fine dining and networking series. Toni spreads wellness through the community with her movement-based events that balance the endocannabinoid system and educate the mind. And Hush brings an innovative and highly professional approach to elevate cannabis experiences through their immersive events. 

We asked these three cannabis companies some questions about their events and the mission behind them. The journey is always part of the destination, and in this spotlight we get to hear about how these industry groundbreakers are bringing positive innovations to the culture, transforming it with each event. Read to the end to find out where to catch them next. 

What type of events do you throw?

MW: Our offerings have evolved with the Michigan adult-use market. While our early events were consumer-focused, we’ve become much more industry-focused, situating ourselves as a B2B connector in the event space. Our current event series, The Falling Leaves Infused Dinner Series, brings together operators, influencers, stakeholders, and allies of the Michigan cannabis industry for infused networking and fine dining. We are also working on a B2B cannabis industry expo to connect the many brands, cultivators, and processors here in Michigan.

Toni: I offer wellness events in the community that provide education highlighting the numerous wellness benefits and usages of the plant. My events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: We host and produce high-level experiential events focused on providing immersive experiences with cannabis through interactive design, entertainment, and customized activations that provide creative ways to engage with the plant. From networking events to large conference afterparties and trade shows, we produce a wide range of experiences for brands in the industry.

What makes your events unique? 

MW: In a word – or two – Form Factor. Our choice to offer consumption via infused food and beverages is what truly sets us apart from other consumption events. Our networking component offers the opportunity to connect with other members of the industry, and has become quite an attractive feature. Our events feature a carefully curated guest list of folks targeted by sponsors to be in the room so the deals can get done. We have replicated the diplomatic dinner table, where, traditionally, wars have been averted, treaties signed, and industry deals secured. Instead of the smoky, tobacco-filled back rooms, we’re providing smoky, cannabis-filled rooms that feature equity and transparency.

Toni: I curate events that provide education in a way that helps to destigmatize the plant while highlighting its various wellness benefits and usage options, delivered through storytelling, movement, stillness, creative expression, and reflective practices.

HUSH: Every aspect and layout of our events is intentionally designed with the goals of innovation and impact. Our guest experience is first in mind from beginning to end – from accepting an invitation to when they leave the doors to go home – we think of every detail involved. We think of how we want our guests to feel when they enter and guide them in their entire journey, as well as how they can interact with the brands and sponsors we work with. We attract high-caliber, global majority leaders in the industry from all over the country.

How do you roll your mission and advocacy into your events?

MW: Beyond our core mission of equity in the regulated cannabis industry, championing normative integration of mindful, responsible public cannabis consumption remains our cause celebre. Having, in some ways, been chased from the licensed, regulated consumption event space by burdensome insurance regulations that render Michigan’s cannabis event organizer license effectively unviable, we have pivoted to the private event space as our front in this war against normalization. 

We perform a critical role in the Michigan cannabis ecosystem for the benefit of all. Our push for normalization eases pain points up and down the industry supply chain, from municipal hearings considering licensure to breaking stigmas and gaining acceptance from important community organizations intent on preventing harm outside of the supply chain.

Toni: My wellness events are rooted in creating community awareness and solutions around the necessity of cannabis health equity policies.

HUSH: Whether it’s our own hosted event or in collaboration with another brand, our goal is to highlight, serve, and work with fellow BIPOC and social equity brands in the industry. With this intention since inception, we’ve cultivated an audience that believes in the same mission. As part of our mission, we create world-class experiences that bridge the gap between small and big operators to collectively provide environments where we can normalize the consumption of cannabis. 

What can sponsors or attendees expect from the experience?

MW: Expectations from our sponsors and guests are high because that’s exactly where we set them. We operate on the more sophisticated end of the cannabis consumption event spectrum. Much like our dear friends over at HUSH Chicago, we seek to deliver an immersive experience that is powered by cannabis but involves much more. Sponsors can expect the highest level of quality engagement possible with attendees. A quote from Chris Hammond, Senior Sales Director at Kairos Labs, LLC, best captures expectations – This past weekend I went to an event hosted by Michael Webster MSc. The food was amazing, the ambience was perfect, and I got more quality contacts in one night than I have in a week at MJ Biz. Very excited for the next event!”

Toni: Sponsors and attendees can expect to learn about educational needs and ways to support wellness initiatives in communities most affected by the “war on drugs.” My goal is to spread knowledge for the betterment of communities, utilizing the old African proverb; Each One, Teach One. 

HUSH: Sponsors and attendees can expect to have all senses engaged when attending a Hush event. Each experience is different from the next as we create new ways to engage our guests. For our sponsors, we think of creative ways to activate their brand while keeping their goals in mind, and measuring metrics that will prove their return on investment. Guests and sponsors alike can expect a stark improvement on what was once considered a cannabis consumption event. Attendees should expect to pull up to the intersection of cannabis consumption and decadence, be greeted by grown folk maturity, and be prompted that it is indeed time to go home after our event, no matter how much they wish to stay.

How has being an NCIA member helped the development of your events?

MW: NCIA membership has been transformational. The ability to tap into a national network of eco-partners from disparate cannabis markets gets us out of our silos. We are influenced by empathy and shared resources. We are nurtured by the collective and dream with the expectation of an eventual common market in which to operate. Our events truly are the manifestation of the old African adage – “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Toni: NCIA has helped me identify the need for cannabis education and wellness initiatives in marginalized communities.

HUSH: Being part of NCIA has allowed our company to extend our reach beyond local and regional markets. Being a member of committees has enabled us to build relationships with a national group of leaders in the industry who became supporters and sponsors of our events. We have also received great mentoring and advice from other members. 

When and where should we expect to see you in the coming months?

MW: We continue to operate on a monthly cadence in the Metro Detroit area, but we are expanding into other municipalities in Michigan as well. In May we expect to take our show on the road and into the Show Me state. As a brand-new market, Missouri has tons of potential and can benefit from a healthy event market. Check out our website – fallingleavesevents.com –  and follow us on social @fallingleavesevents to learn about our upcoming events.

Toni: I have a new offering every other Tuesday in Oakland, CA at Snow Park. I will be leading Community Wellness Yoga where we experience movement for the endocannabinoid system with a live saxophonist. 

  • April 11th & 25th
  • May 9th & 23rd
  • June 6 & 20th

You can also catch me on my youtube channel or follow me on instagram @cannabisnursetoni for healthy-infused recipes, movement, and your daily dose of wellness. 

HUSH: We are hosting an afterparty for NECANN in Illinois on June 2nd and we are also excited to be working on a large cannabis career conference with 40Tons to take place at Malcolm X College in Chicago on Jun 19, 2023 Lookout for an announcement for a fun event in Q4 when we will be celebrating our 5th year anniversary!

Video: NCIA Today – Thursday, April 20, 2023

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