Alex Rogers, ICBC, cannabis
Alex Rogers. Crédits : ICBC

Alex Rogers: business as activism


An activist at heart for over 3 decades, Alex Rogers is the man behind the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), the most influential B2B event in the sector. As Germany legalizes cannabis, the ICBC is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary on April 16 and 17 in Berlin, in an edition that promises to be grandiose.

ZEWEED: How did you come up with the idea of founding ICBC?
Alex Rogers
: I managed a large medical cannabis clinic in Oregon and realized that this sector was booming, but without any real point of convergence between the players. Based on this observation, in 2014 I set up a professional conference on therapeutic cannabis: the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference (OMBC). In September of that year, we launched the first-ever ICBC in Portland. At the time, everyone thought I was crazy: if there was no international conference on cannabis, there was no international cannabis trade either! But I was convinced, as if driven by a superior spirit.
The Portland ICBC was a great event but was not profitable. Then we organized the ICBC in San Francisco and it was a real success. For a long time, we were the only Californian B2B event as well as the largest in Western Canada (in Vancouver, editor’s note).
Then I set off to conquer Europe, quite simply because that’s what I always wanted to do: be the first B2B cannabis conference on the old continent and plant the ICBC flag there.

ZW: Do you think that by organizing these conferences, you are moving political lines?
AR: That’s a great question. In 1993, I met Jack Herer who was my mentor. Jack had hired me, among other things, to run his Signature campaign in Northern California. At the time, I was a hardcore activist. About 17 years ago I was imprisoned in Germany for cannabis. After leaving prison, I returned to Oregon where I took up my activist hat for a few years. Then I launched my medical cannabis clinic, which had some success.

“Everything I do with ICBC is about policy change”

I then understood that it was at the head of a company generating good profits that my activism would have the greatest impact. And this is how, by activating the commercial and financial lever, I began to advance cannabis policies.
Everything I do with ICBC is about policy change. And I do it very simply; by bringing together professionals. Because it’s like the chicken and the egg: industry drives policy and politics drives industry. ICBC has been and continues to be a major driver of the European market, particularly in Germany. There is no doubt that we have helped move the needle in the cannabis industry for the reasons mentioned above.

ZW: Some believe that legalization in Germany is a “light” legalization to the extent that consumers will not be able to buy cannabis like in Canada or certain American states…
AR: For me, who was able to observe legalization and its effects in the American states in which I lived, whether California and Oregon or with the Canadian model, the provisions taken in Germany make it in my opinion ideal legalization. As I always say, the most important thing is to decriminalize cannabis. This is what Germany is doing, and it is crucial. There are many examples of legalization based on a model where everything is very controlled, industrialized. However, we see that this does not work. What works is when cannabis is truly liberated, without leaving the possibility for large groups to absorb the market. The main ideas in my opinion are to leave everyone free to grow their cannabis at home, to systematically reduce criminal penalties and to remove cannabis from the list of narcotics. And there, we have a virtuous legalization system.

“What works is when cannabis is truly liberated, without leaving the possibility for large groups to absorb the market”

When we see the ease with which one could obtain a prescription for medical marijuana in California, I still wonder if it was necessary to legalize recreational marijuana in California, when the system surrounding the dispensation of medical marijuana was already very laisser faire.
Besides, I’m pretty sure that cannabis has never been removed from the list of narcotics in California, and that’s worth thinking about.

ZW: That is to say?
AR: If Germany had followed the Californian model, it would have maintained the criminal sanctions applied, would have left cannabis included on the list of narcotics and imposed regulations on distribution licenses. If this had been the case, production and distribution would have quickly been monopolized by large groups, because that is what big industry does, and that is what it will do one day in Europe.
The legal framework for legalization in Germany currently gives small producers a chance to exist and grow. I often hear people say: “It’s bad legalization because there’s no real money to be made, because only non-profit social clubs and cultivation associations are allowed… “. But there are all sorts of different ways to make money in this industry. In the case of the German model, it is the little guy on the corner, the small producer who will prosper, and that is very good news.
Thanks to this law and its provisions, in Europe, the cannabis market will remain safe from monopolization by industry giants for many years.

“In the case of the German model, it is the little guy on the corner, the small producer who will prosper, and that is very good news”

To illustrate my point, there is a good comparison to make with craft beer:
For several years now, everyone has been able to buy their local beer from a small production. I live in Slovenia and there are more microbreweries than there were a year ago and  that must represent 20% of the Slovenian market. My point: there will always be room for craft cannabis from small producers. And big companies will never be able to produce great weed. That’s how it works. The connoisseur, the consumer, the customer, the patient… we are the ones who lead the market! In the United States, the cannabis market consolidated around heavy industry because consumers were not prepared and educated. So it’s important that you’re smart, that you find a brand, that you find a niche, that you find value. These are crucial parameters that players in the sector must integrate to succeed and ensure longevity in the European and international cannabis space.

ZW: After Luxembourg, Malta and Germany. Which country do you think will be legalized next in Europe?
AR: I know the Czech Republic is getting closer, as is Slovenia. I don’t know if we are about to legalize cannabis, but we are about to make big changes in this area where I live, in Slovenia. There is also Spain which could evolve.

ZW: Spain is a lot of back and forth, a sort of prohibition-legalization tango…
AR: We can say that, yes (laughs). The politics there are certainly complicated. Basically, in Spain it is tolerated to a certain extent not to apply the legislation in the strict sense, in a country where 90% of the laws are really observed.
I think Croatia has a lot of potential. There also seems to be a lot going on in Greece. But in my opinion, the Czech Republic will be the first country to follow Germany.

ZW: And Switzerland?
AR: Switzerland is also interesting. I lived in Switzerland 25 years ago, where it was de facto legal by certain criteria. Did you know that 25 years ago you could smoke on trains in Switzerland?

ZW: Really?!
AR: Absolutely, especially in German-speaking Switzerland. This is not a joke. The controller passed by and didn’t care. You had your joint, you gave him your ticket, and it was cool… it was the golden age!
Switzerland is a strange animal when it comes to cannabis policy. They have their pilot projects, but they say that they will wait five years to see what the pilot projects produce before legalizing. There is a side of “I do it and I don’t do it”. This is a difficult situation to predict in Switzerland. They have done wonderful and progressive things while still being a relatively conservative country. Moreover, in Europe, certain conservative states have done a lot of progressive things in terms of cannabis (like the Netherlands, Editor’s note) unlike so-called liberal countries (like France and Italy, Editor’s note) .
I have my theory on this, and it’s because we are returning to an agrarian society. And so these conservative countries, like Switzerland, view cannabis favorably: “cannabis grows quickly and simply, it smells good, you can use its fiber, its seeds and have fun smoking these pretty flowers”. For me, it’s already decriminalized in Switzerland. In fact, it always has been to a certain extent…they just don’t give a damn (laughs).


The link to the ICBC website by clicking here
ICBC Berlin will be held on April 16 and 17: tickets available here
The ICBC in Slovenia will be held on September 13, 2024: tickets available here 

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Journaliste, peintre et musicien, Kira Moon est un homme curieux de toutes choses. Un penchant pour la découverte qui l'a emmené à travailler à Los Angeles et Londres. Revenu en France, l'oiseau à plumes bien trempées s'est posé sur la branche Zeweed en 2018. Il en est aujourd'hui le rédacteur en chef.

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