ICBC founder Alex Rogers talks cannabis access, activism and legislation

ICBC founder Alex Rogers talks cannabis access, activism and legislation
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Medical Cannabis Network was proud to act as a media partner to the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), one of the world’s largest cannabis industry events.

At the cannabis industry event, ICBC San Francisco, we met with Alex Rogers, founder of ICBC, who told us about his history of activism and the future of cannabis regulation.

Can you tell me more about your involvement with activism in the past? How did you get to where you are now?

In 1993 I met a gentleman named Jack Herer: he was the ‘Hemperor’, he wrote the cannabis and hemp text The Emperor Wears No Clothes and was pretty much the number one hemp activist ever. He was the pioneer of the movement and I was fortunate enough to meet him; he was my introduction into the cannabis industry. At that time, I wasn’t yet a proponent of all the things that Jack purported that cannabis did – food, fuel, fibre, medicine and shelter – and so I became an activist, organising volunteers and signature gathering for the California Hemp Initiative, which was trying to get cannabis legalised in 1993. Our efforts were in vain, though.

I was influenced by Jack and I’m thankful for that. I also worked with legalisation campaigners Ed Rosenthal, Debby Goldsberry, Dennis Peron, Chris Conrad and Mickey Norris: those are my activist roots.

How would you say things have changed since the main campaigners for cannabis legalisation were the hippies on the streets?

The acceptance of cannabis has changed dramatically. Even in California it wasn’t completely accepted 30 years ago. We have progressed: people aren’t going to jail for personal consumption, and that is the most important thing; people can also grow a few plants in their house now.

One thing I don’t like about the ways cannabis has been legalised is that they haven’t allowed for public consumption, so you can’t go smoke it in the street. For me, until we have that, we are not free. But that is a secondary concern; it is not a need. The one need is to get people out of prison who have been imprisoned for drug use. It is a foolish policy and it always has been.

Nevertheless, we have come a long way and I am extremely excited that things have changed so much in terms of politics and the law. But in terms of those intrinsic changes that you just innately sense and feel, public consumption remains a priority.

Is President Trump likely to move towards legalisation?

I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican; I just try to look at the world objectively. A lot of people don’t like Trump for whatever reason, and there is a lot not to like. But we should give credit where credit is due. And the fact of the matter is that we have seen fewer arrests for cannabis under Trump than we have under any other president; and I like that about him. He has been a good president for cannabis, and if he gets elected for a second term – and I think he will – then I believe that the future could be a bright one for cannabis policy; he could do a lot of great things for the cannabis industry.

How do you anticipate the cannabis industry in the US evolving, moving forward?

It is three steps forward and two steps back at the moment. But that may be beginning to change.

We started our flagship event three years ago in Berlin, Germany and it is going from strength to strength. We were in the right place at the right time. We took a chance and we got lucky. The Berlin event is a great litmus test for what is happening in Europe: over 2,000 people will attend the event this year from over 75 countries, which is phenomenal. When all those people from all those countries are there, you just can’t help but get hyped on the whole concept; and then you see that the hype is actually reality – we have delegates from South Africa, Russia, Czechia, Israel, Colombia. When I go to Berlin, I feel like I’ve created something that is a direct result of my effort and vision; there is only one way that this is going.

Do you think the adult use market will take off in Europe, where there is a sense – at the moment at least – that it is the medical side which is being talked about the most?

Americans tend to think of Europe as being progressive in terms of their drug laws and harm prevention strategies. And they may well be. However, Americans have this kind of libertarian progressivism that almost trumps the Europeans’ progress. We look at Europe as progressive, but you actually consider yourselves conservative because it is based on history and tradition and culture. And as Americans we can’t understand that; how we define conservatism is different to how Europeans define it. It isn’t the same; it’s not an analogue.

The walls are coming down in Europe too and there are so many reasons why that is happening. I lived in Switzerland on a cannabis farm 20 years ago when cannabis was legal there. And it might have seemed counterintuitive and ironic for Switzerland, which even Americans know as a more conservative country within Europe, to legalise weed. But my theory is that historically Switzerland is an agrarian society; they have worked their land, and cannabis is a plant. Maybe the Swiss saw it in more of a benign fashion, where it wasn’t some horrible evil that’s going to ruin their society.

I do think Europe is going to come around. Where I live in Slovenia, hemp seed oil has become big; and all of a sudden many Europeans now know about the Rick Simpson oil and its cancer applications. Europe has a very long tradition of natural medicine.

Do you have any concerns about how the cannabis industry might function in the future? Do you think there should be more emphasis placed on patient access, especially in terms of affordability?

Free market, low taxes. It is a simple old school plan and it has worked a lot; it has been tried and true. Let it just be a free market. Keep the taxes low and you will actually make a higher tax revenue than you ever would otherwise.

Do you think that big pharma is going to step in?

As long as everyone can grow cannabis legally, with no criminal penalties, then there will always be a boutique market – and the boutique market is extremely inexpensive, which makes things a lot easier. That is happening because we have a great system where it isn’t overtaxed and there is a lot of competition, so people are scaling. That means that the best quality cannabis is available at very low costs.

That won’t happen in Europe: there is going to be more regulation and more licensing. However, as Germany is thinking about legalising, they are also thinking about doing microcosmic social club models in certain cities. They are going to regulate the medical side heavily; and then they are going to try to have it not go recreational because they have interest in the medical side. But when it does go recreational in Europe, it will actually be less regulated. Prices will go down and it will be more accessible. That isn’t patient access but personal access; yet the two go hand in hand.

No drug should be criminalised, but cannabis is incredibly benign and unassuming – you don’t have to regulate it as much as other drugs because it isn’t as dangerous; it has a lower toxicity than aspirin. If you asked high school children in America whether it is easier to get alcohol or cannabis, they will say cannabis, even though alcohol is legal.

What are your hopes for today’s event?

This is our last event in San Francisco; next year the event will take place in Los Angeles. I was an activist in San Francisco; I came up in this city. It has been a great run and I have done a lot of work here; but I actually think my work is done in San Francisco now. I am very thankful for all the friends and colleagues I have had over the years; and to see it all get to this point right now is absolutely amazing.

But I’m never really a satisfied person, so I’m thinking: what can we do next? What are the next steps for freedom, for liberty? Those are my concerns and they go beyond cannabis: I think all drugs should be legalised. We are here to bring the revolution wherever we go. We are hippies and artists and so much more; but we also represent cannabis, and we do it in a professional way that can touch and communicate with people from all strata of society.

Alex Rogers
International Cannabis Business Conference

This article appeared in the second issue of Medical Cannabis Network which is out now. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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