Correction: Attorney Hilary Bricken no longer resides in Seattle and does not plan to attend the 2017 Oregon Marijuana Business Conference in Ashland. This story, first published in the Oct. 17 Tidings, originally provided incorrect information about her.
Henry Rollins doesn't use marijuana, but he's passionate about the importance of its legalization.
“The history of cannabis is a story of bigotry, elitism and corruption, so I push against that,” says Rollins, an actor, comedian, musician and activist who is the keynote speaker for the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference to be held in Ashland Nov. 18-19.
Rollins says his personal habits have nothing to do with his decision to support the growing legalization of the plant throughout the United States. Twenty-nine states in all have legalized it. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana.
“To me, legalization and decriminalization is a civil rights matter,” Rollins says referring to the numbers of those sentenced to prison for possession of marijuana. “The people going to jail for this are primarily non-whites and poor people. Prisons make money when they’re full.”
Rollins says he plans on speaking to Oregon’s entrepreneurs in the still-growing marijuana industry about the inherent risks and rewards of their business as well as an underlying message of service.
“These hopeful entrepreneurs are taking on big pharmaceutical and eventually Phillip Morris and Monsanto. My advice is to immerse yourself in your community, be the microbrew of cannabis because you have a better product,” Rollins says.
He points out there are still segments of the population who fear marijuana's influence, making it even more important for marijuana businesses to give back in their home towns and to educate people about the potential value of legal weed.
“Take the concept away of bad guys under the bridge," he says. "Sell with love. The job of the vendor is to educate.”
He says big corporations will take over large swaths of the business as the kinks of regulation are worked out in Oregon in the wake of its full recreational legalization more than three years ago.
Rollins urges Oregon growers and dispensaries to become such a critical part of their community’s economy and culture that they won’t be overtaken by folks with more money and access.
“Be a good part of your community and add to it," he says. "That’s the only way to keep the big guys from taking your lunch.”
According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, applications for 1,907 marijuana-related businesses were submitted in 2016, outstripping estimates by more than 50 percent.
The OLCC also lifted its two-year residency requirement, prompting out-of-state companies to apply for licenses.
Hilary Bricken, an attorney who previously attended the business conference, says people in the Oregon marijuana industry should expect competition. “When residency is not an impediment you’re going to see the market flooded by these entrepreneurs.”
Rollins says speaking at the OMBC felt particularly important to him in the wake of threats to legalized marijuana by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who told Forbes Magazine in September that he still does not support legalization.
“Jeff Sessions wants to slap that joint out of your mouth, that is why when Alex (Rogers, OMBC founder) asked me I said, 'I’m with you all the way.'”
Rollins says marijuana will remain a legal substance because it brings in revenue. In terms of tax collections, that’s undeniable.
Oregon is receiving cannabis-related revenue in big numbers; recreational marijuana exceeded the states expectation six-fold. For 2016 tax receipts totaled $60.2 million, according to the OLCC.
Rollins says, however, unlike other businesses, cannabis cannot just be seen as a money maker. He says it’s important for anyone in the industry to understand the connections between civil rights and their own business.
“America doesn’t move at the speed of its citizens,” Rollins says. "I think America evolves very slowly. Look at our problem with racism and bigotry. Look where we are and where we could have been. Once it’s (cannabis) legal it’s harder to lock up the black guy, the long haired guy or the snarky hipster. Those people in power fear equality. It’s three-piece-suit apartheid."
In 2016, OMBC was sold out at 750 people in attendance with Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame as the keynote speaker. This year’s conference is expected to be sold out as well, especially given the current political climate.
Rogers says that climate is why he asked Rollins to speak.
“There is a lot of important information presented at the OMBC," Rogers says. "We like to pick keynotes who push social justice and are high energy. Henry typifies all of the attributes.”
OMBC, now in its fourth year, is a two-day conference featuring guest speakers, seminars and exhibitors. It will be held at the Ashland Hills Hotel. Tickets are available on line at oregonmbc.com.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.