International Cannabis Business Conference returns to Portland

Discussion focuses on legal, medical future of marijuana

Amid a national debate over marijuana legalization, nearly 500 individuals representing more than 20 companies showed up on Sept. 27–28 to Portland’s downtown Hilton hotel for the fourth annual International Cannabis Business Conference.

Oregon legalized recreational cannabis three years ago and collected more than $8.7 million in tax revenue in 2017.

The main conference on Sept. 28 broke into a series of speeches by keynote speakers including Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Ore., actor and Oregon cannabis farmer Jim Belushi and former Portland Trailblazer and cannabis advocate Cliff Robinson—who attributes his long-running NBA career to his use of cannabis.

The majority of conference attendees were individuals working in the production, processing and packaging areas of the cannabis industry, largely local to the Pacific Northwest.

Prozanski’s speech kicked off the conference, followed by a video message from Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

“It’s time to change cannabis laws in America,” Merkley said. “Four years ago, I was proud as an Oregonian to support Measure 91 and become the first United States senator to vote for legalization of cannabis in my home state. Now I’m in Washington fighting for it on a national level.”

Merkley said during the conference that states which already embraced legal cannabis have experienced more jobs, more tax revenue and less crime.

Legislation to expand marijuana legalization

Medical marijuana is legal on some level in 30 states, with nine states currently allowing legal recreational use. Recently, several U.S. senators have introduced legislation to expand legalization. In June 2018, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a bill that would remove cannabis from the list of federally controlled substances, and in August 2017, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced a bill seeking full federal legalization.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, cannabis and its psychoactive compound THC remain listed as a Schedule I narcotic, defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would seek to ramp up federal enforcement in the future.

Much of the discussion at the conference revolved around how best to realize the growing potential of an industry facing the omnipresent threat of federal drug laws.

Anthony Johnson, the chief petitioner and co-author of Measure 91—the Oregon ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in 2014—discussed plans for future legislation and regulation of the industry. Johnson noted current attempts to introduce bills which would allow for marijuana sales between states, remove cannabis from the Clean Air Act, and dismiss cannabis-related criminal offenses from the records of people convicted prior to legalization.

Oregon Liquor Control Commission Executive Director Steve Marks gave a presentation on the future of OLCC industry regulation.

ABC’s of CBD

One of the more comprehensive speeches at the event was “The ABC’s of CBD,” a panel discussion featuring Cedar Grey, CEO of cannabis and hemp production company Siskiyou Sungrown; Aaron Pelley, a founding member of the Cannabis Defense Coalition Legal Committee and Justin Tombe, co-founder of hemp cultivation and processing company Phytonyx and moderated by Siskiyou Sungrown Chief Operating Officer Michael Johnson.

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant, which studies have found to have potential for medical applications including alleviating pain and seizure symptoms.

“The good thing is people aren’t afraid of CBD like they are of THC,” Grey said. According to Pelley, however, “CBD is still in a hazy area as to whether it is a controlled substance or illegal.”

Raising Capital

In their discussion “Raising Capital,” panelists Arthur Kwan, CEO of CannaIncome Fund, a private investment company focused on the cannabis sector; Dean Arbit, CEO of Wagner Dimas, Inc., a company that develops technology used in the mass manufacturing of hemp and cannabis pre-rolled cones; and moderator Ted Roe of Veritas Business Law, a firm focused on intellectual property litigation, explained ways that people wishing to break into the cannabis industry can raise funds to get their company started.

In his speech, Belushi discussed the historical stigma around cannabis, its medical applications and his current work with the OLCC to start a program which will offer free cannabis to veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and individuals dealing with opiate addictions. Belushi’s brother, famous actor and comedian John Belushi, died from a drug overdose in 1982.

Belushi said there would be a lot more people alive if they saw cannabis as a medicine and not a drug back in the ‘70s.

“It is not a gateway drug,” Belushi continued. “It is a medicine [and] it is a gateway to sobriety.”