Vicente Fox charms industry's plants off in Oakland

June 23, 2017
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox delivers keynote remarks at the National Cannabis Industry Association's annual conference on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Oakland, Calif.
Beck Diefenbach
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox delivers keynote remarks at the National Cannabis Industry Association's annual conference on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Oakland, Calif.
SOURCE: Beck Diefenbach

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox put domestic cannabis industry leaders on notice Tuesday at a marijuana business conference in Oakland that his nation and Canada intend to take the lead in the booming market for medical and recreational pot exports.

Fox told attendees at the National Cannabis Industry Association’s convention that Mexico could one day produce 60 percent of the legal marijuana Americans consume, challenging domestic producers. Both Mexico and Canada have legalized medical marijuana nationally and intend to begin exporting the drug, a legal activity under international law.

“This product, cannabis, has to be integrated into NAFTA,” Fox said, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement. “It has to have the trade potential of moving without barriers, without taxes and limits, only complying with the law, the consumer and his health. And he is willing to consume this product.”

Fox’s keynote message was taken as a warning by some of the 4,500 attendees at the three-day pot convention, being held through Wednesday at the Oakland Marriott City Center.

NCIA Oakland 2017 crowd for Vicente Fox
Beck Diefenbach | San Francisco Chronicle
More than 4,500 attendees and 250 vendors packed into the Marriott for three days. The conference includes over 120 speakers.

“We need to speed up and kind of catch up. We’re being left in the dust and could be left owning liquor stores at the end of the day,” said Spencer Uniss, co-founder of Bolder Cannabis and Extracts in Boulder, Colo. “Cannabis is globally something that can help economies as well as people, so it just seems like it should be legal. I don’t know what the holdup is.”

Fox was Mexican president from 2000 to 2006 and has made a name for himself lately in the U.S. by aggressively challenging President Trump’s stances toward Mexico on such issues as the administration’s proposed border wall. He endorses global cannabis legalization, saying his view was formed in part by Mexico’s bloody drug wars.

“How different it feels to be by the side of business community members who are responsible people and decision makers, rather than being by the side of Chapo Guzman or all those criminals that kill and kill and kill,” Fox told his audience of marijuana entrepreneurs.

Eight U.S. states along and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over, and 34 states have some form of medical marijuana law. Researchers estimate that the entire U.S. industry of recreational, medical and black markets for marijuana may total $50 billion per year, making it roughly as large as the wine industry.

Fox is also a businessman who rose to head Coca-Cola Latin America, and he infused his talk with a message of corporate responsibility and the importance of a social mission.

“We’re not here just to make money. We’re here to make and bring good things to the community, to the world, and to our nations,” Fox said. “You have to have purpose.”

Vicente Fox NCIA Oakland keynote
Beck Diefenbach
“[The Trump Administration] is the extreme of the extreme. It pretty much smells like a dictatorship,” Fox told the NCIA crowd Tuesday morning.

The U.S. cannabis industry is surging despite signs of hostility from the Trump administration. The marijuana news website reported Monday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently wrote to congressional leaders urging them not to renew a law that bars the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws. The department is in the middle of a marijuana policy review that is supposed to yield recommendations by July 27.

Still, the number of banks accepting cannabis business has increased under Trump. The National Cannabis Industry Association’s conference attracted nearly twice as many attendees and vendors as last year and has outgrown its Oakland home.

“We’re bursting at the seams of this venue now. Next year, we’re moving to San Jose,” said Taylor West, the association’s deputy director.

The group has has 1,300 member businesses and focuses its efforts at the federal level, lobbying for marijuana legalization as well as fair taxation and access to banks.

“It’s fair to say the industry is moving ahead with cautious optimism,” West said. “We have definitely seen some saber-rattling from the administration, but we’ve also seen that our allies at the state and federal level are responding to that by pushing back.”

Many of those at the conference said the federal government was unlikely to derail the marjuana industry’s momentum.

“I was at GE Capital in 1999 during the first dot-com bubble. and this is as close as I’ve ever seen to that,” said Alfonso Campalans, CEO and founder of Yofumo, a Denver outfit that sells $7,500 cabinets for drying and curing cannabis flower buds.

He called the Trump administration’s rumblings against legalized marijuana “a lot of noise. We try not to pay attention to it. Even those who are against (legalization) don’t know how to stop it. They’re going to have to come to terms with it.”