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Update 2020-01-19 23:06:05
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Cannabis is becoming more popular, accepted, and legal around the U.S., but at CES 2020, it's verboten. And oddly enough, the organization behind CES is banning it, despite awarding a cannabis-related company with an award.

In one of the more bizarre stories to surface around CES 2020, a company named Keep Labs has decided to bow out of the consumer electronics show this year. In an interview with TechCrunch, the company said it was told by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), which puts on the event, that it could only exhibit at the show if it made no mention of cannabis and removed all mention of cannabis from its products and marketing material.

But it gets even stranger.

Before this happened, the CTA awarded Keep Labs with an Innovation Award, one of the organization's most highest honors, for a device that securely stores marijuana while keeping it fresh.

At first blush, the product looks like a smart speaker with an LED on the front that tell you the time. When you unlock it (using your smartphone) and open the device's top, you'll find that it's actually a storage device for weed that's designed to keep the marijuana fresh. Keeping it securely locked until it's opened from a phone is another major selling point.

According to TechCrunch, the CTA was really impressed by the technology. But because of a longstanding policy against mentioning cannabis, it asked Keep Labs to only discuss the storage features in its device and make no mention of cannabis.

It's the latest in a string of odd decisions the CTA has made over the years to limit what kind of tech makes it onto the show floor. Last year, the CTA gave sex tech maker Lora DiCarlo an award for its Ose massager, only to take it away because it believed the technology didn't fit within the organization's product categories. This year, the Ose is back -- and on display at CES.

Additionally, the CTA has long banned e-cigarettes and vapes, despite their widespread popularity. And on those devices, there are no signs of it reversing policy.

The Keep Labs ban comes at an important time for marijuana companies.

Marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, but hemp is now legal. In certain states around the U.S., marijuana used for medicinal use is legal. In others, recreational use is legal.

For its part, the CTA didn't shy away from its decision. In a statement to TechCrunch, it acknowledged it banned Keep Labs from discussing cannabis because it doesn't "have a category pertaining to that market." The CTA spokesperson added that Keep Labs won its Innovation Award as a home appliance.

It's unclear what this means for cannabis products going forward at CES. But it appears that as long as cannabis is illegal on a federal level and CTA adds a cannabis category, companies building devices in that market are out of luck.

Published on: Jan 6, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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