NACS Cannabis Pop-Up Explores New Frontier

Experts offer insights and perspective on what retailers need to know about this emerging market.

January 06, 2020

This is the first in a four-part NACS Daily series on the one-day NACS pop-up, “The Future of Cannabis in Retail,” held December 10, 2019, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

By Kim Stewart

LAS VEGAS—NACS gathered an exclusive group of 50 convenience and fuel retailers and suppliers in Las Vegas on December 10 to explore “The Future of Cannabis in Retail,” the first NACS one-day pop-up event. Several experts and advisers were on hand to provide retailers with an up-close look at the nascent legal cannabis marketplace.

As the number of states with legal cannabis use grows—34 states have medical marijuana use laws, and 11 states and the District of Columbia allow adults 21 and older to use marijuana for recreational purposes—convenience retailers are wading into this emerging opportunity to continue to serve their customers, who are looking to satisfy a variety of need states.

Because responsible retailers have been selling legal age-restricted products for decades, they should be well-positioned to manage cannabis sales if and when full legalization arrives. As Henry Armour, NACS president and CEO, noted in his opening remarks, in our stores, “we check 2½ times the IDs that TSA does on a daily basis.”

At NACS, “we’re used to building aircraft carriers—events for 25,000 people,” Armour said, with a nod to the flagship NACS Show. “There are topics that don’t fit into NACS’ regularly scheduled programming. We really challenged ourselves to say, can we bring thought leaders in the industry to a no-frills event that really hits on forward-looking topics that people want to know about early, not midstream, but ahead of the competition?”

“It was an intimate, sold-out event,” said Stephanie Sikorski, NACS vice president for marketing, about the pop-up. “And because we’re talking about a business opportunity that could significantly impact the current retailing dynamic, we limited the number of seats so attendees would feel immersed in the topic and could freely connect with their peers and learn from experts in the field.”

During the morning session, attendees explored the data quantifying the opportunity presented by the legal cannabis marketplace and reviewed a primer on cannabis in its many forms. Afternoon sessions featured practical case studies shared by dispensary operators and cannabis growers, as well as an overview of regulations, including workplace drug testing policies, presented by legal experts.

The December 2018 passage of the Agriculture Improvement Act (Farm Bill) removed industrial hemp (and, by proxy, hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD) from its previous classification as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, making it legal to produce, distribute and dispense. The Farm Bill, however, didn’t alter the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the interstate sales of food and beverages containing the substance (hemp seed-derived food ingredients don’t require FDA approval).

The FDA hasn’t yet approved hemp-derived CBD in edible products, but Rick Maturo, associate director of client services, Nielsen, Cannabis Practice, said he’s hopeful that in the next six months, the agency will grant regulatory approval for hemp CBD in ingestible products. Maturo shared insights in the session “Quantifying the Marketplace: Dimensions of the Cannabis Market and Consumer Perceptions.”

If the FDA acts, expect intense competition in the ingestible space. About one in two U.S. adults say they are likely to use a CBD product if legal, according to Nielsen. The top five reasons CBD-interested adults offer for using CBD are:

  1. Chronic pain
  2. Temporary pain
  3. Sleep aid
  4. Inflammation
  5. Relaxation

Tinctures currently are the most-used form of CBD—at 32% of CBD users—followed by edibles, topicals, vapes and flowers. Beverages only account for 10% of use, mainly because they aren’t yet FDA approved. Among the frequent c-store shopper demographic, inhalable products (vape, flowers and pre-rolls) are expected to be the most likely consumed forms of cannabis, Maturo said.

Nielsen projects that the U.S. hemp-based CBD market could be a $2.25 billion to $2.75 billion industry in 2020. The research firm said its conservative projections account for an ambiguous regulatory environment. By 2025, legal cannabis sales are projected to grow to $40 billion, with marijuana accounting for the bulk of the market, according to Nielsen.

If you want to experience the full learnings from the event, session recordings are available from NACS for $295. Contact Erin Garay at or (703) 518-4244 to purchase. (Please note: Sessions by Rick Maturo of Nielsen, Dr. Nick Jikomes of Leafly and Jeremy Bergeron of Alimentation Couche-Tard aren’t included.)

Kim Stewart is editor in chief of NACS Magazine and editorial director of NACS.