Following the legalisation of medical cannabis in Australia last year, and the current moves to figure out the necessary regulations around cannabis, it’s not uncommon to hear folks say things like, “Cannabis is on the up and up,” or that it will be “the next big thing”.

The fact is, though, it only takes a glance overseas to see that cannabis is already a huge industry worldwide, despite its relatively slow growth in Australia. This massive hole in the Australian market was noticed by Michelle Crain, a 26-year veteran in the hydroponics industry.

“I’ve travelled the world and been to a tonne of events overseas in America, including Spannabis [A Spanish trade expo with over 25,000 annual attendees], and I thought, ‘God, we’ve got to be at that time in Australia, surely, where it’s becoming more acceptable.’”

For Crain, the issue is a little more personal than the hundreds of millions of dollars waiting to be injected into the Aussie economy from cannabis. She is a cancer survivor, and has used cannabis to combat nausea and to induce appetite (“It worked wonders,” she says).

Now, Crain is celebrating the return of the Hemp Health & Innovation Expo (HHI), which enjoyed a highly successful debut in Sydney last year. While many of the huge expos around the world focus on one specific aspect of cannabis (hemp, medical, recreational or hydroponics, for instance), Crain says the scene is so small in Australia that such an event needs to a bit more broad.

“I appreciate there’s a recreational side of it, but there’s also the side that does benefit people,” she says. “It can’t just be about hydroponics or medical cannabis, though. It’s got to be about the whole plant.”

This means the 2017 edition of HHI will be about far more than just medical marijuana. It’s also about hemp – a variety of cannabis with a myriad of other uses including skincare, food, building products, biofuels and much more – and it will be a more interactive experience than just listening to speakers.

“Over the two days, people will be able to get involved and will be able to help build a hemp wall,” says Crain. “A lot of people are going to be able to get their hands dirty.”

Leading the construction of this giant hemp wall will be hemp expert Klara Marosszeky, who joins a long list of presenters including “America’s favourite vet” Dr. Gary Richter (“He’s been treating pets with cannabis,” says Crain) and Tim Harding of Hi-5 fame, who is MCing the event (“He’s right into the medical cannabis thing because it’s helped his daughter”).

Alongside the broad talent roster– which also includes politicians, activists and medical doctors – Crain intends for the event to project “more of a festival vibe”, featuring roving entertainers, interactive games and more. But with so many aspects to the cannabis plant, what sort of person actually attends such events?

“It’s so hard to answer that,” Crain says. “[Last year] there were elderly couples; Mum, Dad and the two kids; the 18-to-30-year-olds. I couldn’t say there was any demographic that was more or less present – I was really surprised at how many elderly people came out.”

While the cannabis scene Down Under may have a long way to go when compared to what we see overseas, such a broad audience only demonstrates its huge potential. And the appetite down here is growing, with another HHI Expo scheduled this year in Melbourne. In the meantime, Sydneysiders can enjoy a weekend full of cannabis celebration at Rosehill Gardens this month.

Sam Caldwell is the publisher of Australia’s premier cannabis lifestyle outlet, Dopamine.

The Hemp Health & Innovation Expo 2017 takes place at Rosehill Gardens, Saturday May 27 – Sunday May 28. Single day and weekend passes are on sale now.

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