Prior to the pandemic, cannabis retailers and brands were gearing up for a Black Friday-like bounce this coming Monday, April 20. 

Last year, cannabis sales for the same date were 128 percent higher as longtime stoners and those just beginning to embrace cannabis culture celebrated the annual 420 holiday by getting high. 

In Illinois, dispensaries planned neighborhood social celebrations. Conferences, panel conversations and happy hours were in motion for professionals in the newly normalizing industry to network, learn and share stories. 

Instead, during these times of physical distancing, enthusiasts are invited to imbibe from home at online events like this Saturday’s Waldo’s Forever Fest, presented in part by Dispensary 33 in Andersonville. 

This pandemic year, those active or aspiring to enter the cannabis industry on Monday can tune into The Chicago Cannabis Health Initiative “virtual summit”. 

A series of talks and panel conversations from industry advocates like Wendy Berger of Green Thumb Industries and Illinois State Representative Sonya Harper, who introduced a bill earlier this year to legalize weed delivery services in the state. There is also a glass blower somewhere on the agenda as well.

“We had a live event on the South Side last year with Kim Foxx as a keynote speaker and a lot of vendors,” explains organizer Edie Moore, executive director of Chicago NORML. “We went down this rabbit hole in February and March with everything getting canceled, so we had to figure out a way to get this in-person event into a digital format.”

The plan is to showcase a series of topical but pre-recorded video conversations on subjects ranging from the upcoming legislative environment to “Women’s Health” to “Cannabis and Color”. Throughout, panelists will focus on how cannabis can be positioned to comfort individuals and expand employment opportunities during these unprecedented and difficult times. 

“Whether or not you want to diagnose what we are going through as PTSD, we are all traumatized right now,” said Berger, who joined multistate operator Green Thumb Industries as a board director in 2015 and is a co-founder of Illinois Women in Cannabis. “You can’t cope with all of this without a set of tools to draw upon. This product is one of those tools.” 

Further, as cannabis companies continue to hire executives and service employees, there is a need to educate and train professionals for what remains one of the few expanding industries in the country.  

“There are jobs available up and down the pay scale and up and down the education scale,” said Berger, who 20 years ago joined Orbitz as one of its first employees just as the dot-com boom began to crater. “It’s all about adapting to change and the new pace of things.” 

Chicago NORML, which Moore started in 2017 to educate people of color on the health and economic benefits of cannabis, is collaborating with Cannahealth Magazine and Chicago-based e-commerce startup ShopHitly on the virtual 420 conference. 

“The cannabis industry is presenting a symposium on the post COVID-world and how our industry will be the ‘leading lady’ in the upcoming economic recovery,” said ShopHitly co-founder Scott Samuel. 

Online admission to the Chicago Cannabis Health Initiative is free. 

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.