The High Road
BY AMY MILSHTEIN
As CEO and owner of five different cannabis-related businesses generating a total net revenue of $2 million, Alex Rogers could sit back and ride the lucrative wave of Oregon’s burgeoning pot industry. But more than a pot entrepreneur, Rogers, 44, is firstly a marijuana activist. Since his incarceration in Berlin in 2009 for possession of marijuana, Rogers has dedicated his life to tuning in, turning on and changing the system from within. He has created two clinics, Ashland Alternative Health in Ashland and Northwest Alternative Health in Eugene, which issue medical-marijuana cards to over 6,000 patients a year. He also started the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference, the International Cannabis Business Conference and the website MarijuanaPolitics.com with a goal toward education and decriminalization. Rogers discusses growth, trends and Southern Oregon’s ganja gangster reputation.
photo credit: Oregon Business Magazine
You keep a lean empire
I only have 10 employees and a handful of independent contractors for the whole business. Most of them have worked for me for years. I pay them really well because it’s quality, not quantity. I’d rather have one star and pay that person well, because it’s good for the business.
Your two clinics help people obtain medical-marijuana cards but don’t dispense.
I would love to be a purveyor of cannabis, but I’m threatened because it’s still illegal federally. I went to prison in Germany and know the horrors of what can happen if you fall on the wrong side of the war on drugs. So just like the Gold Rush in California, there were the people who mined for gold and the people who sold the picks and axes. I’m selling the picks and axes.
How will recreational sales affect your card-issuing business?
My card business is booming! There are so many restrictions on recreational marijuana that it is pushing more people to get their cards. Cards will still be attractive because cannabis will not be taxed for medical use, and a card holder is allowed to grow and possess a lot more.
You also put on marijuana events. Why did you get into that line?
I have been doing events for 20 years. After the medical dispensary laws passed a few years ago, I saw a need for the community to receive good, clear information about the changes in the law. Each event changes according to the new laws. They’re attended by growers, investors, processors, retail folks and folks who have not traditionally been in the cannabis space, who want to be part of a burgeoning industry. About half of my $2 million yearly revenue comes from these events.
What differentiates your pot conferences and expos from all the others?
People are jumping on the bandwagon, but there’s no conference like mine. If I’m going to make people sit at the edge of their seat for two days, I have to be great at keeping their attention. I get fun, dynamic, engaging speakers like Andrew Sullivan; Dr. Carl Hart, known for his research in drug addiction and abuse; and Rick Steves. I’ll also throw in a free event like a concert.
Where are the growth sectors in this industry?
Value-added products are trending so fast, it’s insane. A strain is a strain is a strain, and it will be as good as the grower, but when you take that marijuana and turn it into something — a tincture, a pizza sauce, a lotion, syrup or pill — then you can brand that product and build loyalty. The challenge is everything has to be vertically integrated. So if you create a successful brand in Oregon and you want to bring it to another state, you have to vertically integrate in the state. You can’t make the product in Oregon, warehouse it in Colorado and sell it in Washington. That’s prohibited. I’m not boohoo-ing here; I don’t see these things as barriers. I see them as bumps. Still, I think the rules should change because that would be good and safe for society.
Are any other industries benefiting?
Sure. The people who make the glass cases for dispensaries are busy. And the CO2 machines that extract cannabis oil are impossible to buy right now. Even my website, MarijuanaPolitics.com, sees 250,000 people a month, so I’m trying to come up with different ways to monetize it. I’m selling ad space, but I’m also doing other nontraditional things that I don’t want to talk about yet.
President Obama made it clear that the government wouldn’t interfere with state-sanctioned marijuana. But what about the next president?
Regime change is always going to be a factor. But look at all of the money that’s being generated. Even if there’s a change at the top and the new person in charge is against the cannabis business, it would be hard to deny Colorado or Washington all of that new tax money. If you tried to take away $100 million in tax revenue, you would be looking at a civil uprising.
You feel strongly about decriminalizing marijuana.
I think we should decriminalize all drugs. The philosophy of prohibition just doesn’t work. Criminalizing just adds to its allure and creates more crime. I’m an activist at heart. I wouldn’t push a policy that doesn’t benefit the whole community. That’s what separates our business from others in the industry. We’re astute business folks for sure, but we’re also freedom fighters, fighting for liberty and the American Dream. We see legal cannabis as fueling a new age.
That’s a big goal…
I’ve been an activist for 20 years. We thought the whole world was going to be different, like Star Trek. But it’s been usurped by the “American business model,” and you’re a [wimp] if you think about treating people in an egalitarian way. Unfortunately, that’s the American business narrative. For the piece we control, we’re into human rights and respect, and the money is secondary.
What part does Southern Oregon play in this narrative?
Everyone thinks that Southern Oregon is filled with ganja gangsters. That’s the rap we get, whether it’s true or not. But when medical marijuana was legalized, I saw “outlaw” growers come out of the closet. The minute they had the chance, hardworking family farmers became part of the legal system. They’re paying taxes and it’s heartening to see.
This is about empowering the small family farmer; it’s about liberty. There are lobbying forces from Portland and beyond that want to take the small business owner out, and monopolize everything. When Measure 91 came out, it was $1,000 for a license; now they want it to be more than $10,000. That’s too much for a small farmer. That’s evil greed.
Some Oregon cities and counties are opting out of recreational marijuana. What does that mean for them?
Places that opt out are missing the chance to create public policy in their community that’s congruent with what’s going on in their community. People use pot. Medical marijuana is thriving. They are missing the chance for a safer, more productive community. And they will miss the tax revenue for sure.
Where do you see the marijuana business in Oregon’s economy?
We have a great opportunity in Oregon to capitalize on this new legal industry before other states follow (which they will). We can capitalize on tourism and out-of-state folks coming here to indulge in something they could only dream about being legal in their respective states.