On September 13th and 14th, the International Cannabis Business Conference was held in the City of Roses, Portland, Oregon. Around 700 attendees, a few having traveled from as far as India, gathered to listen to cutting edge speakers on all things cannabusiness. Innovation and a cotton-mouthesque thirst for knowledge and creative solutions abounded.
The conference opened with keynote speaker Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan’s conservation blog, The Dish, is well known for its defense of gay marriage and pro-marijuana stance, but this is the first time Sullivan has spoken out loud in marijuana’s defense and admiration. He opened his talk with, “I’ve been to a lot of conferences, and I just have three words for this conference, ‘best conference ever,’” calling members of the cannabis industry, the, “nicest, chillest people I know.”
Sullivan pointed to prohibition lies that are easily dispelled, such as marijuana’s schedule one status, as stepping stones to getting where we want to be. “By the simple reason it’s not true that marijuana is as toxic or dangerous as heroin… This lie will collapse.” He added that as truths have revealed themselves, people have changed their minds and are continuing to do so.
“The people we’re competing against don’t have the basic facts. Demonstrably so,” said Sullivan.
Other problems of prohibition Sullivan touched on were the “appalling disproportionate number of African Americans in the system,” and that prohibition itself enables child/teenage use. “[Kids] need honest discussions to get rid of the stigma… the thrill of illegality.”
He sees us as having made tremendous strides, in great part because pot is not associated with a party in “a terribly polarized society.” And he sees conferences like this one as also affecting change.
Sullivan told High Times, “There’s a catalytic quality to [the conference] that really has an impact, because essentially this is a movement from the ground up, with people motivated to do what they want to do to change the world. It always helps to gather together to overcome fears, to share worries, to realize you have people in the same boat as you, and to be inspired and to get revved up in this way. It’s a lonely, difficult task, a high risk, high rewards environment, and I think these conferences can build collective understanding. We can share stories, share experiences, and get inspired again to go out and realize why we’re doing this.”
Inspiration ran rampant and the speakers to follow Sullivan were first rate. U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, who helped decriminalize marijuana in Oregon in 1973, expressed confidence in Measure 91 to legalize recreational cannabis use in Oregon this November.
“I think we can win,” said Blumenauer, “We have stronger arguments and the force of history on our side.” He added, “If it passes in Oregon it’s game over… The third consecutive win.”
During the Cannabis and the Oregon Legislation panel, Senator Floyd Prozansky had similar optimism, referring to the measure as, “When it passes.”
High Times contributor and the host of 420Radio.org, Russ Belville also spoke with certainty, pointing out that, “We’ve poked a hole in their fear balloon.” He dished out anti-prohibition arguments for the audience’s utilization, like the stoned driving debate. “The roads are safer in Colorado, Washington and Oregon than the rest of the US. We’d have seen stoned mayhem by now… I’m not saying [marijuana] makes it safer, but it’s not making it any more dangerous.”
Belville took down the idea that marijuana will have the same social costs as alcohol and tobacco. In fact, with the legalization model so far being crime down, tourism up and business up, our social costs go down. Now to mention the lack of health risk.
The nitty gritty of getting business done was still to come, however.
Don Duncan, the California director for Americans for Safe Access, talked about current opportunities in the cannabis industry. From producing, processing, providing, testing and transporting to professional support services and research and development, the playing field is wide open and growing fast. Even on the flip-side, regulators are going to be booming.
The International panel featured Laura Blanco of Uruguay, who spoke about how legalization is working and about investment opportunities that have risen, such as technical advice to domestic and collective farms, research and development, education, training and schools. She was joined by Canadian Phillippe Lucas, who represented Tilray, a massive medical marijuana mail order grow op that’s so professional it shines.
Cannabis marketer Amber Senter talked about brand building. Word of mouth being especially essential in dispensaries. Engaging content and being online are crucial, she said. As well as the concept, “always be launching.” Above all, be nice and maintain healthy relationships with other industry leaders, journalists and dispensaries.
Another big highlight of day two was listening to author Doug Fine speak about hemp as a blueprint for the next agricultural and industrial revolution. As Fine illustrated in his presentation, hemp takes half the water of wheat, but brings in four to ten times the profit. It’s non-GMO and fixes the soil. And the next “killer ap” for hemp is hempcrete, which is set to revolutionize the construction industry; it’s versatile, strong and built from the woody cores of the hemp plant.
Fine told a rapt audience about the virtues of tri-cropping, a way to get three applications out of one hemp harvest: fiber, seed oil and energy. Fine sees hemp as being the real future money maker, eventually greatly surpassing psychoactive cannabis. He used the analogy, “Coors is big, but Exxon Mobile is bigger.” How true it is, and what a bright future it would be if farmers could get back to the land, making a decent living, while improving the earth harvest after harvest.
Though the talks were enlightening, this was a business conference and people were there to network. Cards were exchanged like passing nods and sponsors held down their booths while potential investors and customers perused.
At the end of the two days, it was all about coming together and exchanging ideas, connecting via our favorite plant, and blazing a new trail in the worldwide marketplace.