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PayRio at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference

By Amanda Ferron


The PayRio team took the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference by storm last week! And I’m not just saying that because it literally stormed the entire time we were there…

Monday evening, April 10th 2023, my Husband and my Son drove me to SFO. I was heading out on my first trip to Miami, Florida. It would also be my very first time attending the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference. I was pretty excited, but also a bit nervous…

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I struggle with anxiety. So, I had done a lot of research trying to prepare and get the most out of my time at the conference. I studied the Event maps, the Speakers list, the Sponsor list… Trying to figure out who I wanted to see and meet. Preparation tends to ease my anxiety a little bit, and make me feel like I’m a little more “in control” of my time.

To be real, I am not used to doing a lot of traveling for work. During my previous years in the Cannabis industry, I usually stuck pretty close to home, and only attended shows in or around the Bay Area, CA. Shows like The Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, or High Times Cannabis Cups at the Cow Palace (which is basically in my backyard…). The farthest I had traveled for work was taking a quick flight to Las Vegas, NV for MJBizCon. But here I was, heading to the “sunny” state of Florida!

I had booked a red-eye flight, thinking I would be able to sleep on the plane, and then hit the ground running when I landed in Miami.

Note to self: Never, ever do that again.

I cannot sleep on planes.

Not even with the help of gummies, sleeping pills, and vape cart rips I snuck in the bathroom with the help of my Smoke Buddy filter… It seems there is nothing in the world that can help me get a night of uninterrupted rest on a plane. I think I maybe got 2.5 hours of sporadic sleep that evening…

0 stars. Would not recommend.

My plane touched down in Miami, and I sleepily sauntered down the walkway into the airport. I found a Women’s bathroom, changed into my PayRio color themed outfit, did my hair and make-up, and was ready for the show. I hopped in a taxi, and headed to the beautiful Fontainebleau Miami Beach.

The weather was definitely the opposite of what I had been hoping for in the months leading up to this event. Though it was still warm, it rained a ridiculous amount the entire time I was there… I didn’t have much time to relax on the beach anyway, but needless to say, the bikinis I packed went unused.

I walked into the opulent lobby of The Fontainebleau, still lugging my camouflage duffle bag and leather travel bag, and made my way to the Exhibit Hall. Winding through the throngs of Cannabis Industry professionals, careful not to smash into anytone with my luggage, I found the PayRio booth. Our CEO/Founder, Aubrey Amatelli, and our Sr. Director of BD and Strategic Accounts, Kennedy Uehling, were already there waiting for me.

And with that, the event officially began!


The energy on the Exhibit Hall floor was palpable. There were a few companies I was familiar with, like Blazy SusanDutchie, and Headset, and a few that I hadn’t heard of before. Cannabis lawyers, insurance brokers, bankers, payment processors, packaging companies, advocates, and more, all gathered around different displays and booths. Adam PartridgeBenzingas VP of Alternative Investments, came up to us, introduced himself, and made himself readily available for us anytime we needed anything. He was incredibly kind and just exuded happiness… Adam made everyone feel like a VIP!

The PayRio booth was decorated in bright shades of pinks and blues, in the hopes of catching the eyes of conference attendees as they strolled by. It was a popular booth, with candy and put-put golf luring Cannabis industry pros to come and chat with us. I definitely did what I came to do: Nurtured a number of deals, met a few LinkedIn homies I’d already connected with virtually, and did a ridiculous amount of networking…  But what I gained over my two days there that I found to be infinitely more valuable? The genuine friendships I made! It sounds corny, but it’s true. I connected with some incredible people and I truly felt I made a few meaningful friendships.

First, I have to mention Sarah Kabakoff, VP of Business Development at Dutchie, who was not only a Speaker on the “Collision Course: Cannabis & the Future of Retail” panel, but was also my designated smoking buddy/bestie throughout my two days in Miami. I knew I could text Sarah if I wanted to hide for some quiet time when all that energy became a little too much. We had actually met previously at The CCIA 10 year anniversary party, hosted by Guild Extracts and a number of other awesome sponsors, including DutchiePAXAutumn BrandsKivaHeadset and Pacific Stone. These conferences can be a lot when you absorb energy like Sarah and I do, and I was so grateful to have a friend who understood (and shared) my need to sneak away for a toke now and then.

Robert Friendman, Founder of the Cannabis Lab, also made an awesome smoking buddy, and showed me a great little spot to enjoy a joint, watch the waves crash on the beach, and hide from the rain. The Cannabis Lab threw a raging after party at 1-800-LUCKY the first evening. Not going to lie, I was so exhausted by the end of the day, I unfortunately had to miss it… I literally couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. But everyone who attended told me they had a wonderful time!

We met a number of people who had been victims of the War on Drugs, and are now using their experience to help fight for others who are currently incarcerated for nonviolent Cannabis “crimes”.

Quawntay Adams, a.k.a. Bosco, is the Founder/President of the Chasin Freedum Foundation, Author of the book Chasin Freedum; Memoirs of an Escape Artist as he Purses Freedom the Wrong Way”, and has a pretty incredible story. He and my boss, Aubrey, became fast friends, and she was adamant that I meet him as well. I’m so glad I did! He has amazing energy, and his book helped me pass the time on my seemingly endless flight home. (Another sleepless overnight flight… I seriously will never book a red-eye flight, ever again…) If you have never heard of Bosco or his story, check out the documentary based on his prison escapes, called Break Out”, or go purchase his aforementioned book. He also has a movie coming out, titled “Bosco”. Aubrey and I actually got to watch a private screening of the trailer when we watched Quawntays live interview on the Brand Stage. The movie boasts a star-studded cast and it looks FANTASTIC! (For real you guys, keep your eye out for that movie… It looked so good!)

I was also lucky enough to connect with Randy Lanier, Vice President of Freedom Grow. Randy is a legendary Racecar Driver and Cannabis smuggler, who I instantly just loved. I had watched a short documentary on Randy that is on Netflix, but I completely forgot I had seen it while I was talking to him. (A “Bad Sport” episode entitled “Need for Weed”. Check it out!) He is also the Author of the book “Survival of the Fastest.” Randy and I instantly  bonded over our love for cars… My husband has a pretty impressive collection of classic American muscle cars that he’s bought cheap and fixed up, and I own a 75’ Corvette Stingray with an LT1 in it. Hearing me talk about my Vette’ and all my husbands cars made Randy smile from ear to ear. We talked about cars and laughed over stories about drag races and weed… Then he went into more detail about his time in prison, and the work he does with Freedom Grow. Randy was definitely one of my favorite people I met while I was in Miami, and his work with Freedom Grow is truly inspirational.

I have to mention how many women in high level positions I met while I was there! Women have had a notoriously hard time breaking into the old school “boys club” that is the Cannabis Industry… So it was a beautiful thing to behold, all these female CEOs and Founders. Also, these women seemed to really support each other!

“Women Supporting Women” is something that we really love to see here at PayRio! All around me while I was at Benzinga, I heard women complimenting each other, sharing ideas, and uniting over our common love of Cannabis.

So many wonderful, like-minded individuals who truly care about the plant, the people who consume it, and the people who are currently incarcerated as a result of the phony “War on Drugs”.

I left the conference floor and headed to my hotel room for a quick nap feeling exhausted, yet motivated. Truthfully, I kind of thought I would feel like a fish out of water amongst all the CEO’s and Investors… But I met so many down to Earth people who I genuinely want to remain friends with. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.


The first evening of the event, AubreyKennedyand I dawned our cocktail dresses and headed down to the Bleau Bar (located inside the Fontainebleau) to help Raymond Navis host the official CannaPac after party. We laid the name-tags out, and started handing them out to the appropriate attendees.

I spotted Brett Puffenbarger from Green Check Verified and had to tell him that he is by far one of my favorite people on LinkedIn. Between him and his co-worker Peter Su, there is a never ending supply of Cannabis content, entertainment, and dad jokes to be had. If you don’t already follow them on LinkedIn, you are seriously missing out.

Raymond was an incredible host, working hard to make sure each attendee felt important and supported. We ran into a few familiar faces, including Marty Higgins, CEO of Urbana in San Francisco and  Luna Stower, CIO of Ispire, whom I had seen a few times at different Guild Extracts events, but never had the pleasure of actually meeting. Seeing some familiar faces definitely made the evening have a more “homey” feel for me. Comfortable, familiar, and a bit less intimidating.

After the event wrapped up, we walked the short distance between the Bleau Bar and Prime 54, a lovely little steak house located inside The Fontainebleau. We were lucky enough to be accompanied by our friends from High Times, COO Chris Chabot, and CEO Paul Henderson. Aubrey had met Chris and Paul before at another CannaPac event, and had introduced Kennedy and I to them earlier that day. The evening felt comfortable and relaxing, spent with what seemed like old friends. Chris and Paul are both incredibly respectful and knowledgeable. I truly enjoyed our conversations, and it gave me a renewed love for High Times as a company.


I really want to believe that the Cannabis Industry will remain focused on the Cannabis Community as a whole… Some people think that big conferences like this, sponsored by large MSO’s, go against what the community is all about. But the fact is, these two worlds are going to collide more and more the closer we move towards full Cannabis legalization. What we, as old school Cannabis consumers and advocates have to do, is make sure our presence is felt, and our voices are heard!

If we stand proud in what Cannabis has always meant to our community, and force our way into this professional realm, then how can the community not thrive? We have to uplift those who have been downtrodden, and pave our own way into high positions, where we can affect real change.

The Cannabis Industry has the chance to be different… To NOT go the way of “Big Pharma”. There are so many passionate individuals who are putting in the work, and they are determined to succeed. I truly believe I met a few of them this week, and I’m optimistic about the Cannabis Industry’s future.

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