For many British Columbians, ICBC is the public auto insurer.
But in the world of weed, those four letters are an acronym for the International Cannabis Business Conference.
It's the only business-to-business cannabis gathering that takes place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Founded by Oregon-based medical-cannabis pioneer Alex Rogers, the third annual Vancouver event will be held at the Westin Bayshore on September 15 and 16.
It's billed as Planet Earth's premier cannabis networking event.
Among the presenters will be California Bureau of Cannabis Control chief Lori Ajax, four-time NBA-championship winning player and cannabis entrepreneur John Salley, and B.C. lawyer John Conroy, whose victories in the Supreme Court of Canada set the stage for legalization of pot in Canada.
Ajax will be interviewed by Jamie Shaw, a Vancouver craft cannabis advocate and chief communications and culture officer at Pasha Brands.
An after-party on a yacht will be held with DJ Muggs of the cannabis-loving band Cypress Hill—a reflection of Rogers' previous experience as a hip-hop events producer.
“I’m a magna cum laude political science graduate and I’ve been smoking weed every day since I was 16 years old,” the multilingual, globetrotting Rogers told the Straight by phone from Slovenia. “We’re normal people. I want to normalize it.”
To advance that objective, he puts on annual ICBC events in San Francisco, Barcelona, Berlin, and Bern, in addition to Vancouver. The last ICBC event in Zurich took place in a super-swank hotel.
Rogers is no Johnny Come Lately to cannabis. His mentor in the 1990s was pioneering cannabis-legalization advocate Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Rogers, like Herer, looks upon cannabis as a herb that should be completely decriminalized.
According to the ICBC founder, if someone is buying or selling cannabis without a licence, the worst outcome should be a civil fine or a penalty for not paying taxes on any earnings.
“As Jack used to say, we should treat it like tomatoes,” Rogers said.
Raised in a good upper-middle-class family in Minneapolis, Rogers headed off to Europe for 10 years. But he was busted in Germany, winding up in jail for a while.
"My sister went to Princeton and I went to prison," he quipped.
Once he was back in the United States, he started a medical cannabis clinic in Oregon, where weed had been decriminalized. Before long, he had thousands of patients, who were treated by doctors.
The only way people could get their medicine was to grow it themselves or find a surrogate to do this on their behalf.
"We weren't buying or selling weed in any shape or form," Rogers declared. "I had been scared straight, basically, after going to prison. I did and still do to this day what we call ancillary business."
The intense interest in medical cannabis led him to found the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference.
He said that a major turning point in public perceptions came when CNN medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, aired a major documentary touting the benefits of medical cannabis.
"It's so weird how watershed-y it was," Rogers recalled. "It's like damn—that's how mainstream news can affect soccer moms and grandmas in the Midwest. It was palpable."
Rogers said that he launched the Canadian conference in Vancouver over Toronto three years ago because he “felt really comfortable with all the freaks in Vancouver”.
“I guess I’m a big business guy in one way, but my heart is still pretty hippie,” Rogers said.
Shaw, a key player in Canada's compassion-club movement, has been working with Rogers and other old-school activists on these conferences from their inception.
“They do a really good job of connecting different sides of the industry that actually are aligned,” Shaw told the Straight in an interview at a West Side coffee shop. “They’ll bring in the suits but they’re the suits that actually respect the plant and respect the work that’s been done up to this point. It’s not the other suits.”
Along with them are those on the illicit side of the business. According to Shaw, that’s only because the legal frameworks aren’t working for these conference participants, and not because they’re ideologically opposed to the industry.
“It’s great to have those ties internationally now so that it doesn’t all go through the pharma channels and the banking channels,” she said.
Rogers described Vancouver as “one of our juggernaut events”, adding that he plans to increase the number of these conferences around the world.