I attended the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Portland for my first time on September 12th &13th. Held at the Portland Hilton and Executive Tower, this was the 4th OMMBC here in Oregon. These conferences are produced by Alex Rogers, co-owner of MarijuanaPolitics.com, and CEO of Ashland Alternative Health and Northwest Alternative Health.
On Saturday morning, Keynote Speaker Judge Jim Gray gave a moving talk on the consequences of our country's failed drug war, drawing from his years of experience working with various government agencies. During his time as a public servant, Judge Gray has witnessed millions in taxpayer dollars go toward removing children from their homes because of non-violent, marijuana related offenses. Judge Gray also spoke about the way benefits of legalization have not quite reached those in minority groups. Next, Anthony Johnson, Executive Director of New Approach Oregon, gave a rundown on the current state of Oregon's cannabis laws, including information on changes in OMMP cardholder rules taking place in March of 2016, and also gave some updates regarding adult recreational sales, which begin on October 1st.
The Women and Cannabis Panel, my favorite session, also took place on the first day. It was moderated by Debby Goldsberry, who has a long history of activism and is currently working with Magnolia Wellness in Oakland, CA and Bloom Well in Eugene, OR. On the panel was Dale Sky Jones of Oaksterdam University, Chelsea Hopkins of The Greener Side dispensary in Eugene, and Ashley Preece-Sackett of Women Grow and Cascadia Labs. These panelists spoke not only about the positive effects of the increasing presence of women in the cannabis industry, but also spoke in length about civil rights issues involved in the legalization of cannabis. It is important that we work to remove gender gaps in pay, create more access to business opportunities and capital for women and minorities, and ensure that children are not ripped from their homes due to their parents' stance on cannabis.
Earl Blumenauer kicked off the second day with an update on Federal cannabis law, and he spoke about the challenges with banking that have plagued this industry, and his efforts to increase access to banking for cannabis businesses. Congressman Blumenauer has been a notorious supporter of the cannabis legalization movement, and has long been working to improve laws at the Federal level. It's always a treat to hear him speak so passionately about his work on our behalf.
Day two wrapped up with my other favorite session, the Media Panel. These panelists spoke about the importance of portraying cannabis in a scientific and truthful way in the media. Panelists for this session were Anthony Johnson, Russ Belville of the Russ Belville show, Dean Arbit of Smell the Truth and Cyd Maurer, a former Eugene news anchor who now blogs with MarijuanaPolitics.com after being fired when inactive THC was found in her system. This discussion covered the importance of not only being responsible cannabis users and business owners, but also the importance of accurately reporting on cannabis related news in the media. There is still a lot of anti-legalization propaganda out there, and we in the cannabis community need to make it our duty to promote responsible use, and report on the positive effects of legalization in the media, as well as any challenges that the industry may face.
Rapid changes are taking place in Oregon with cannabis legalization and policy reform, and this conference provided crucial updates for anyone looking to start or expand a business in the industry. There was an excellent mix of business, and a call to continue working for equality and reform at the Federal level. As we were continuously reminded, cannabis is not yet Federally legal, and if you are in a minority group, legalization often looks very different for you than it does for white, affluent males. As with so many other issues of importance, small steps forward are being made all the time, but each step often leads to a host of new issues to be addressed. To paraphrase Pioneer Pete's comments during the producer panel (a longtime activist with too many accolades to list here), there is a new generation coming into the cannabis industry, a generation of folks who are focused on the business of creating a successful cannabis industry, and it's fantastic that entrepreneurs are now able to openly promote their businesses in order to succeed in the industry. However, we cannot forget about those who came before us, those like OMMBC producer Alex Rogers who spent months, or even years incarcerated so that we are now able to legally grow, sell, and consume this amazing plant, and openly come together at conferences like the OMMBC. You can catch the next Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference in Ashland on November 21st.