Keep Labs won an Innovation Award Honoree Award for CES 2020, but it is forbidden to say the word "cannabis" in the CES exhibition area. The CTA, the trading group behind CES, told Keep Labs that it can only exhibit if the company's signage, marketing materials, and product are free of cannabis products and utensils.
Winning an award is an important honor for any company, but with Keep Labs it is historic. Keep is a product specifically designed for cannabis, and this is the first time that a marijuana-related company has received an award from CES.
Due to the strict guidelines, Keep Labs decided that it was not in its interest to exhibit at the CES even though it received one of the highest awards. The company is currently featured on the CES website, including among the innovation award winners, who use the word "cannabis" in the description.
Store the smart memory
Keep is a discreet desktop storage device that can be used to keep cannabis fresh and locked away. It looks like a smart speaker with a watch, but when you snap the biometric lock into place, the top opens and shows several storage containers for cannabis products. With mobile warning messages, a built-in scale and a hermetic seal, the device is an ideal place to store and secure weeds.
The company was founded by two Canadian fathers who were looking for a safer way of storing food. Her story is known: a friend unwittingly consumed cannabis gums from an unmarked container. This prompted the founders to try to find a safe place to store cannabis items. Ben Gliksman, a venture capital lawyer with ten years of experience, and Philip Wilkins, who had previously built and sold two companies, were unable to find such a device.
The device is available in chalk white and slate black. It is beautiful and achieves the goal of protecting cannabis without hiding. This storage container would look like on a bedside table or a hall table at home.
Face detection keeps the device locked. If Keep is manipulated, the owner receives a smartphone notification. An airtight seal keeps things fresh and contains smells. Inside, separate containers keep things tidy. There's even a removable rolling tray and space for accessories. With a battery, owners can use the device anywhere.
This is Keep Labs' first product and the company is running its own fundraiser. At the time of writing, storage can be pre-ordered for $ 199.
The CTA awarded Keep Labs the nomination for the Innovation Award on October 15th. On December 4, the CTA issued the company with the exhibition restrictions.
I spoke to Philip Wilkins, co-founder of Keeps Lab, after the company first found out about the restrictions. At the beginning of December, the company still planned to participate in the award and to issue it. The company later changed its mind.
Now Wilkins says to TechCrunch that without the ability to mention or talk about cannabis, they wouldn't do the brand justice. The CTA had confronted them with "storage solutions and household appliances". Shying cannabis goes against everything you believe in. They are not a household storage solution, the company says, and therefore they have not won the award.
Cannabis technology is a stigma, Wilkins said, adding that Keep Labs' product has “bongs and blunts”.
The company's CES ban is the final hurdle for Keep Labs. The company had previously tried to list its product on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but due to the word "cannabis" it would not allow a platform.
Instead, the company launched an independent crowdfunding campaign. Currently, 805 supporters have pre-ordered the device for 199 CAD. The campaign is at 77%, almost two months before the self-imposed deadline of March 1st, 2020.
Wilkins told TechCrunch that the company is in the middle of mass-producing the product and is looking for additional sales channels and venture capital investors who understand the need and cannabis space.
CES, Las Vegas and cannabis
Cannabis and e-cigarette products have always been banned from CES. Vape makers like Pax, Puffco, and Juul were unable to exhibit, but with the Keep Labs Award, the CTA seemed to be weakening its stance. After all, Keep Laps is not a consumable product, but a storage product. The distinction appears to be significant.
The trade association made the following statement to TechCrunch:There are no cannabis or e-cigarette products on the exhibition space at CES because the fair has no category for this market. Because cannabis is not a category at CES, the company was able to exhibit under the conditions under which it would present its product as a storage device. It later added that Keeps Lab (sic) fits into the home appliances category for the Innovation Awards.
Exhibiting at CES can lead to significant growth for companies. Buyers, traders and bankers visit the fair in the hope of including companies and products in their portfolio. For a startup like Keep Labs, this can lead to retail distribution, financial capital, and valuable industry partners. The nomination as an Innovation Award nominee moves into the spotlight and makes deals even more accessible.
More than 180,000 people visited the fair last year, including over 6,500 media representatives.
There are other ways to be at CES than traditional means. Many companies move to private rooms across Las Vegas, hotel rooms, and other conference centers. In this way, companies can access the CES participants in more private environments. However, these rooms are naturally only accessible by invitation, which deprives companies of many opportunities.
For cannabis companies, renting a hotel room violates the CTA rules, but not the laws of the state of Nevada. In the state of Nevada, marijuana is legal in private homes, but prohibited in parks, pharmacies, and hotels. This means there is no place where Las Vegas visitors can legally consume cannabis. And for cannabis companies looking to do business, there are few legal locations where they can showcase their products.
This incident smells familiar. Ahead of the 2019 fair, sex tech startup Lora DiCarlo received the same award from the CTA, which was later lifted. The CTA informed TechCrunch at the time that the Lora DiCarlo Osé did not fit into existing product categories and the company should not have been approved for the innovation award program.
The CTA met with widespread criticism for revoking Lora DiCarlo's award.
TechCrunch confirmed at the time that the CTA also prohibited Lora DiCarlo from exhibiting at the CES because the company does not fit into one product category. This year, however, other sex tech companies were on the exhibition space.
Sex tech companies have been featured at past CES shows, including a virtual reality porn company in 2017 and a sex toy robot for men in 2018. The company has launched wellness products in the past, including a cone exerciser, and in 2019, when Lora DiCarlo was banned, an Apple Watch-controlled vibrator.
"There is an obvious double standard regarding sexuality and sexual health," Lora DiCarlo founder Lora Haddock wrote last year. “While there are products for sexuality and sexual health at CES, it seems that the CES / CTA administration applies the rules for companies and products differently depending on the gender of their customers. The sexuality of men can be expressed with a literal sex robot in the form of an unrealistically proportioned woman and VR porn. On the other hand, female sexuality is strongly subdued, if not completely prohibited. "
TechCrunch's CTA letter to Lora DiCarlo cited a clause explaining how to disqualify entries that it considers to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane, or inconsistent with the CTA image , CTA reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify any entry at any time that CTA believes will compromise a person's safety or well-being or violate any of these official rules. CTA decisions are final and binding. "
CES or bust
The cannabis market is exploding. In the United States, the substance is legal in eleven states, with Illinois being the last to allow sales and consumption for recreational use. Public support for Legal Pot reached an all-time high in 2019, according to this CBS news poll. More than 30 states have legalized it to some extent, and more will follow.
Recreational cannabis is legal in Canada, where Keep Labs is based.
Mere demand raises the question of whether CTA is slow to accept cannabis products. As a trading group, its role is to promote policies that lead to growth in the world of consumer electronics, and cannabis technology is rapidly becoming a lucrative industry with broad acceptance across the population.
Someone inside the CTA sees the attraction of the Keep device. With the awarding of one of the highest awards, the CTA celebrates the responsible use of cannabis. Yet, by asking the company to hide its intended purpose during the exhibition, the company appears to be forcing cannabis back into the shadows.