Columbia University professor and drug addiction expert Carl Hart speaks at the 2015 International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco. (Matt Emrich)

Exclusive: Pot biz conference ICBC to expand to Berlin, Vancouver and more

The International Cannabis Business Conference isn’t the largest or flashiest marijuana-minded event on the calendar, but it is among the most respected.

What started as the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference in 2013 is now a larger, more inclusive annual gathering held in San Francisco each winter. The 2016 edition will take over the Hyatt Regency in the Embarcadero on Feb. 13-14 with speakers Tommy Chong, former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, U.S. Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Earl Blumenauer, Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones and others.

Event organizer Alex Rogers is all too familiar with the cannabis industry and its many challenges. He owns two medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon — Ashland Alternative Health and Northwest Alternative Health.

“We are activist-based,” Rogers told The Cannabist. “It is not just a business conference, but a culture and advocacy conference.”

Rogers is expecting more than 1,000 attendees to this year’s ICBC in San Francisco — and now he’s announcing plans to throw ICBCs internationally in Germany and Canada, The Cannabist has learned.

The ICBC Vancouver will arrive first on Oct. 13-14, 2016, Rogers said; The ICBC Berlin will bring its slate of panels and events to the European city on April 11-12, 2017 — just in time for next year’s 4/20.

After being incarcerated in Germany on marijuana charges 10 years ago, Rogers is excited to bring leaders in legalization and normalization to Berlin.

“There is a poetic justice in me coming back to help legalize,” Rogers said. “Berlin is the de facto capital of Europe. Though Amsterdam and Barcelona have more liberal laws regarding cannabis, Berlin is more of a progressive city. I have traveled all around the States and Europe and have never been to a more progressive place than Berlin. So I believe Berlin, and Germany, are at a tipping point with regards to cannabis law reform. When Germany falls, so goes the rest of Europe. I want to help push that along.”

Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann greets U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher with a hand on his shoulder at the 2015 International Cannabis Business Conference. (Matt Emrich)
Drug Policy Alliance founder Ethan Nadelmann greets U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher with a hand on his shoulder at the 2015 International Cannabis Business Conference. (Matt Emrich)

As for throwing a cannabis business conference in Canada, that’s a no-brainer given its new, 420-friendly leadership, Rogers said. But why choose Vancouver over vape lounge-crazy Toronto or Ottawa, which is home to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official residence?

“Well, historically Vancouver has always been the cannabis capital of Canada,” Rogers said. “Things are really starting to happen in Toronto, however, I felt more comfortable with Vancouver. I live in Oregon, so I also felt a geographical connection with Vancouver. Vancouver is an epic city.”

Tickets for the newly announced ICBCs will go on sale at this year’s San Francisco event and online on Feb. 14, said Rogers, noting that his goal is to show people around the world how legalization is working in the United States.

“I consider myself a world citizen,” Rogers said. “I have lived in many different countries and speak many different languages. I would like to show people around the world what is happening in the U.S. whilst helping them reform their own laws and systems.”

Is Rogers eyeing any other international markets for a possible ICBC?

“That is normally secret info,” Rogers said before relenting — “but yes, Sydney!”