All eyes in the cannabis industry are on the 2016 election. With predictions that billions of dollars will come above ground in a handful of states, the stakes are high. Traditional Wall Street investors, which have typically shied away from sales of the actual plant, are starting to invest in an increasingly legal market. In San Francisco, one business conference hopes to bring the focus back to the advocacy that shaped the emerging legal industry. The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) will include keynote speakers such as Columbia University researcher Dr. Carl Hart and travel writer Rick Steves, but also notable activists who have helped established the legal businesses that have laid the framework for the national industry.
“I wanted to do a business conference that talks about advocacy, politics and the culture of cannabis, [an entrepreneur] needs to understand those things in order to be not just a successful business person but a responsible business person,” says Alex Rogers, who organized the event. ”We don’t talk about penny stocks, we don’t talk about big investments and we don’t cater to venture capitalists.”
“This conference is about longevity. If you want to have a business in the cannabis space and build something real, creative and lasting then you need to know the culture of the business,” Rogers says.
Earlier this month, the first multi-million dollar investment in legal cannabis sales made international headlines — just one year after recreational sales of marijuana were legalized in Colorado, Founder’s Fund, the $2 billion investment fund that helped launch SpaceX, Facebook and Spotify, has invested $75 million in Privateer Holdings, the parent company of Leafly.com as well as Marley Naturals. Marley Naturals plans to be the “Marlboro of legal marijuana” and have licensed the use of Bob Marley’s name from his estates’ heirs for marijuana sales.
The investment is significant because up until this point traditional investors have shied away from businesses that handle the cultivation, distribution and sales of cannabis flowers because of threat of federal interference. Private investment has largely fueled the construction of the industry and non-for-profit advocacy has allowed businesses to flourish under more permissive laws.
Advocates have decried the corporatization of cannabis long before legalization made it possible and, while Rogers knows a lot of people see there’s money to be made in legal marijuana, he believes businesses must be about sustainability for patients and small business owners to thrive. He says the ICBC will feature high-quality content geared towards current and prospective cannabis industry entrepreneurs without losing site of the culture and activism that made the legal market a possibility.
“The glass ceiling is being broken, more states will legalize. All that means for me is that the battle has just begun,” Rogers says. “Although we are business people and we make money in this industry and pushing the business has helped activism to a degree we can’t take our eyes off the prize, which is ending all criminal penalties for cannabis.”
The conference takes place on February 15-16. For more information, visit the website.
Are you interested in the business of cannabis? What would you like to do in the industry? Tell us in the comments.