For the first time in the history of the Philadelphia Flower Show, there will be a spotlight on the world’s most notorious weed.
There won’t be a single cannabis plant on display. But marijuana will be a featured subject at three locations inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
"The Greenroom,” a stylish educational exhibit, has earned a prominent spot toward the middle of the Convention Center floor. Manned by several youthful cannabis experts, the Greenroom will provide basic information about the thriving medical marijuana program in Pennsylvania and medical programs in the surrounding states of New Jersey, New York and Maryland.
“Our job is to get the word out, to let the expected 250,000 show-goers know that medical marijuana has arrived,” said Sarah Seamonson, who works with the Conshohocken-based marketing agency called Chronic. “People can find info about doctors, ailments that marijuana is approved to treat, and where medical dispensaries can be found throughout the region and what people can expect when they visit one.”
A chain of medical marijuana dispensaries, Keystone Shops, and a multistate cannabis grower known in Pennsylvania as Prime Wellness — both sponsors of the Greenroom — also were setting up their own smaller informational booths on Thursday in the Flower Show’s Marketplace.
There will be no free samples. Don’t even ask.
And unlike any other plant that exists on the face of the planet, marijuana can’t be represented by the real thing at the show, which runs from Feb. 29 through March 8.
There won’t even be a single sprout, alive or dried, of marijuana on display because of Pennsylvania state law. Because of some squeamishness on the part of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, there also won’t be any examples of marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin, industrial hemp.
“We’re keeping the controversial topics to a minimum,” said Mike Badey, CEO of Keystone Shops, which was the first dispensary chain to sell medical marijuana flower in the state. “The Department of Health approved us, but one stipulation was that we couldn’t have live cannabis plants. We weren’t planning on having them, anyway.”
Does cannabis have a place at the the nation’s most celebrated indoor horticultural event?
“Absolutely,” said Chris Goldstein, a regional organizer for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “If you look at cannabis as a plant, it is the most popular flower that Americans interact with on a daily basis — either regulated or unregulated. It has many strains, varieties, looks and scents. And it outsells roses by far.”
Marijuana had been slated to debut at the 2016 edition of the Flower Show, but due to “a misunderstanding,” the exhibit was canceled at the last minute.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society reached out to Chronic, the sister company of 20nine, a Conshohocken branding agency. They wanted advice on how to integrate the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry into the flower show.
“They weren’t sure how to do it effectively and within the regulations,” said Greg Ricciardi, CEO of Chronic and 20nine. “Because it’s a plant, and it’s relevant, they asked us to help think it through from a strategic, design, and marketing perspective.”
The first step was getting the Horticultural Society leadership comfortable with the idea, Ricciardi said. “To do that, nothing on display could be construed as a real pot plant. It was unfortunate, but we got [that point].”
Just including the topic of marijuana in the flower show marks a real turning point for the entire industry, he said.
“We believe it’s the first-ever cannabis-themed exhibit in a non-cannabis show. This is designed for a broad mainstream audience and is a way to normalize and destigmatize it," Ricciardi said.
“Though we can’t be certain it’s the very first, we are sure of one thing: It’s the first time ever at the Philadelphia Flower Show," Ricciardi said. "And that’s an achievement unto itself.”