ICBC Berlin 2022 Set To Be Biggest Yet As It Prepares To Become Epicentre Of German Adult-Use Cannabis Conversation

Last week, German ministers held the last of four separate expert hearings, featuring 200 experts from various disciplines, on how its upcoming adult-use cannabis market should be rolled out.

With details beginning to emerge on the shape the industry is likely to take, conversations across the European Cannabis industry and beyond are focused on little else.

The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) Berlin, which will welcome over 5000 attendees later this month between July 19-20, is set to become the epicentre of this conversation, featuring appearances from a slew of German ministers, lawyers and stakeholders.

BusinessCann caught up with ICBC’s CEO Alex Rogers to discuss his journey from German prison to working with the country’s leading politicians, and what we can expect from this year’s event.

Could you start by telling us a bit about yourself and how ICBC came about?

I’m the owner, founder and CEO of ICBC. I’ve been a cannabis activist for almost 30 years now. My mentor is Jack Herer, who I met in Santa Cruz, California, in 1993. He wrote The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and he’s the reason we’re basically all here right now. 

That’s where I got my start. I worked with Cypress Hill and I worked with Dennis Peron, the godfather of the medical marijuana movement, who did Proposition 215 in California. I worked with the famous writer Ed Rosenthal and the head of California NORML Dale Gieringer and basically all the original activists back then. 

After I was an activist in California, I moved to Europe for about eight years, and I lived all over Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Slovenia and France. I ended up running the Cannabis Cup from 1999 to 2003, and then I went to prison in Germany for a half year for cannabis. 

And when I got out of prison, that’s when I went to America and finished my degree in political science and revolutionised medical marijuana in the state of Oregon and created one of the biggest medical marijuana clinics. 

Eventually, I started the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, which became the biggest in the state. Then I decided to go international. Because I had been incarcerated in Germany, I really always wanted to go back to Germany to do something positive for cannabis policy. 

And so I just had this idea that Berlin will one day be the cannabis capital of the world – it was a strong vision. I don’t know if I’ve willed this to happen, or it just happened, or a combination of both. We started building the ICBC from that point, starting in San Francisco, Portland, and Oregon, and then going to Vancouver, and then finally we had our first show in Berlin in 2017.

How has ICBC Berlin grown over the years? Will this year be your biggest yet?

We were at this point in 2020 and then the lockdowns happened. I booked the venue in 2016 when there wasn’t shit going on in Germany. There was medical, but it was a very restricted medical programme and had been stagnant at about 1,000 patients for a few years. 

We booked the venue in 2016 and then there was a court decision, after somebody had sued the government to grow their own weed. The court decided they constitutionally have the right to grow their own weed under medical auspices. And, when that precedent was set, the government basically said we don’t want this free-for-all, and so they decided it was time to shit or get off the pot. 

And so they did it, and they created a robust medical programme. That happened, basically just a few months before our first event in 2017. The timing was just lucky, it was amazing. 

So, the Berlin event blew up right away, and no one had done anything like that in Europe yet, in terms of charging $500 a ticket and saying ICBC is going to be the meeting point for this side of the world for B2B cannabis specifically. 

We had a little over 1,000 people at our first event in 2017. It was very poetic for me as, after being incarcerated, now I was working with German politicians. It was a moment of pride. 

Do you expect the conference to be dominated by discussion around the German recreational market?

For sure! I had to make a little bit of a last-minute pivot to add a bit more about what’s happening with legalisation. 

We were already doing it. I’ve had a lot of people in big business come in and say ‘don’t talk about rec, just keep it on medical’ for this reason or the other, and I just tell them very respectfully, no. 

For this year, we have, you know, we have Georg Wurth, who is the top activist in Germany pushing for legislation and an integral part of what’s happened. And then we have the German drug czar Burkhard Blienert, so it doesn’t get any bigger than that. 

And then in the next three panels we have Peter Homberg, who’s pretty much the top lawyer in Europe for cannabis. Then we have a political panel with members from all the parties of the German parliament speaking. And then we have the lawyers and the stakeholders coming on and speaking about legalisation. 

So, we’re talking about legalisation from these three or four different perspectives, which is really important, because sometimes when very high officials are asked to speak, they’re not the ones with the most germane or relevant information. 

The German drug czar is actually super-qualified. He’s been at ICBC the last two or three times and he’s spoken under different guises. But now he’s the man and he’s speaking, they actually picked the right person for the job. In this case, the politician actually has a clue of what’s going on. But we’re also bringing the lawyers and the stakeholders because it is so important to hear from the guys on the ground in the trenches.

I read on your website that you are ‘very proud of the fact that much of what was discussed at our panel in 2021 has since become part of the mainstream cannabis policy conversation in Germany’. What might those points be this year?

We’re looking at Germany now coming up with probably one of the most progressive and robust legalisation models ever.

What we hear is that they’re going to have thousands of dispensaries, and it looks like they’re just letting private businesses do their thing and regulating it accordingly. 

Now, administrative timing is a problem. They need to get their supply chain going. They need to put capital and resources into the admin of this if this thing is going to be anywhere near the timeline that they’re thinking. If they’re processing applications, and they’re allowing for thousands, it could take years to come to fruition. 

And then there’s the supply issue. Now that everyone’s coming to Germany, be it from Jamaica, Colombia, South Africa, North Macedonia, Portugal or wherever it is, they all know Germany’s the big market right now. Under medical, it was a big thing; now under legalisation, it’ll be bigger. 

Is it going to have to be GMP standardised? We think possibly no, or maybe only at the start. If it has to be GMP, then obviously the supplier isn’t going to be as quick.

The third thing is the taxes and the black market, this is so fucking crucial! Look at California, the most overregulated state in the union, they ruined the whole cannabis programme they had. Because of administrative rules and prohibitive taxes, there’s more weed sold in California on the underground now than legally. So this is important. 

And we call this the equilibrium principle for tax. Beau Whitney, who’s speaking in Berlin, he’s an economist and he understands this principle very well and likes to expound upon it quite often. Where is that sweet spot where you’re not going to embolden the black market and you’re still going to get as much revenue as possible? 

Obviously there is a lot more going on at ICBC than the developments in German legalisation. What other panels are you really looking forward to?

There’s a couple of things. We’ve got an emerging-market panel, with government delegations from Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, and then we’ve got some folks from Thailand coming. 

I’m ready to hear about what’s going on outside of Europe also, and the emerging-market panel is one that I’m looking forward to. It’s always very interesting to hear from the horse’s mouth of what’s going on in other countries.

So, ICBC is legalisation heavy to start, but then we talk about all types of things that are germane to the cannabis industry in general. 

We’re also talking about medical marijuana. Companies that have built their model under medical auspices, how are they going to transfer? How is this going to affect them with legalisation? How are they going to operate? This is a big question that a lot of people who are running their respective medical marijuana businesses have right now. 

And then one of the panel I’m super stoked about is legacy cannabis in Europe. I’m an OG so I’ve got a panel with Ben Dronkers, the original hemp businessman. He’s a legend in our industry and deserves such homage.  We’ve got Soma, from Soma Seeds, who basically brought organics over to Holland. And then we got Morgan Heritage, one of the biggest reggae bands in the world, as a special guest for the after-party.

We like to party at the ICBC, that’s where some of the biggest deals go down. So we have a lot of little surprises. 

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