Sullivan and Blumenauer Headline Oregon Pot Conference

(Left to right) Measure 91 coordinator Anthony Johnson, Rep. Earl Blumenauer and conference organizer Alex Rogers at the ICBC in Portland. (Photos by Doug McVay for CelebStoner)

“Invest in advocacy!” was the mantra for attendees of the first International Cannabis Business Conference at the Convention Center in Portland, Oregon this past weekend. More than 700 registrants were treated to speeches and presentations by Andrew Sullivan, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and some of the top names in cannabis, including Don Duncan, Debby Goldsberry, Diane Fornbacher, Ed Rosenthal, Doug Fine and a host of others.

Sullivan, the Britsh-born writer whose site The Dish is one of the most popular news sources on the web, was the opening speaker at the ICBC. He gave a powerful address, drawing parallels between the movement for LBGTQ rights and marriage equality, and the movement to end cannabis prohibition. Sullivan comes at the marijuana issue from a strongly conservative position, though that label has a different meaning in his case than many in the U.S. might think. He's moved by the same values of justice and equality that American liberals hold dear. Sullivan stated the case for legalization thusly:

“The insupportable and outrageous fact (is) that this prohibition is disproportionately inflicted upon African-Americans. This is factually, objectively and empirically a racial form of prohibition. Not in principle, but in practice. And the way in which this prohibition has devastated the prospects and the lives of so many young black men in particular, and the impact that has had on African-American communities across the country, on African-American families, is just appalling. And there comes a point at which that discrepancy becomes an affront, and should be an affront to anybody of any race who wants to call themselves an American. I think that argument has now reached a critical mass and certainly has begun to shift opinion - probably more on the liberal side than on the conservative.

Conservative commentaor Andrew Sullivan addressed the ICBC crowd on Sept 13.

“To have my own home city, Washington, DC, poised to end this prohibition this fall is a powerful symbol of two things," he continued. "One, we're right at your doorstep, Congress. We live right here, and many of us are working in your Congress, or around it. We're down the street, you can't think of this as some distant, crazy thing, this is right here. But secondly, also that this proud and historically strongly African-American city has the right to determine its own fate and its own future and its own policies. It's staggering to me as an immigrant to this country. I've been here forever, but I still have this sense (that) America's really weird sometimes. You just come across these bits of it and you think What, you mean people in the capitol city can't vote in Congress? We've spent a trillion dollars trying to get people in Baghdad to vote for their government and people who live three blocks from the White House have no say?"

Sullivan was followed by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR), who offered words of hope and encouragement to the crowd:

"Sixteen states and the District of Columbia followed Oregon's lead with decriminalization," the Congressman explained. "Seventeen states have removed barriers for hemp production. Talk about the stupidest prohibition known to humankind. We have had 23 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana because the people demanded it. It didn't start, I'm sad to say, with my fellow politicians, who've failed to grasp the implications of the issue. But starting with that 1996 voter initiative in California followed by one a couple of years later in Oregon and other states, we've had a real tidal wave develop - 140 million people live in jurisdictions that permit medical access to marijuana. And Florida is poised this fall to add its ranks and it will push us over half the population. We have now seen that two states have legalized adult use of marijuana, and it's a realization that now almost half the American population over 12 has tried it. This year more than 10% of Americans will use it, and over a million people have legal access to medical marijuana. We're starting to see the impact of this as a legitimate, thriving business with unlimited potential. Estimates vary, but we're closing in on $2 billion of legal marijuana activity around the country, and we're watching the tax revenues start to come in in Colorado and in Washington State that make a difference for states that are cash-strapped for education, for drug treatment and for real law enforcement."

Rep. Blumenaur: 'The train has left the station. There's no turning back now. We are on a roll. After 41 years of dealing with this issue, I feel more confident than ever that we're in the home stretch.'

In addition to these very high-profile proponents of reform, the ICBC included panels of experts giving advice on how to run successful businesses and tips on cash accounting, intellectual property rights, dealing with zoning officials and much more. Two members of Oregon's legislature, who are among the key figures pushing for reform in the state, spoke about progress in the newly-created medical marijuana dispensary system and chances for further reforms after Oregon hopefully legalizes adult use this November. Another panel discussed the successes in Colorado and Washington State, and how those states are currently doing with their regulatory systems. Attendees also heard from Laura Blanco of Uruguay about her nation's move to legally regulate marijuana and from Philippe Lucas of Tilray Inc. about progress in Canada, its medical marijuana system and chances for legalization there.

The ICBC was a success. Organizers - Alex Rodgers and Anthony Johnson, coordinator of the Yes On 91 campaign - will likly put together another one next year, if Oregon votes to create a legally regulated system for adult use by passing Measure 91 in November.

You can hear portions of the ICBC, including audio from Sullivan and Blumenauer, on upcoming episodes of my show From Thought to Action that airs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 am PT at

Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Writer and KBOO radio host based in Portland, Ore. He's also editor of