Legalization of Cannabis – One Year Later

By Samah Rahman

A year has passed since Canada became the first G7 country to legalize cannabis nationwide. On November 5, 2019, the University of Ottawa held a panel for alumni and friends at a rustic downtown Toronto venue, for a year-in-review of the triumphs and pitfalls of legalization.

The panel consisted of leading innovators in the cannabis industry: Lisa Campbell, CEO, Lifford Cannabis Solutions; John Fowler, Founder, The Supreme Cannabis Company, Inc.; Alison Gordon, CEO, 48North Cannabis Corp., and Mark Zekulin, CEO, Canopy Growth Corporation. The panel was moderated by Adam Dodek, Dean of the Faculty of Common Law at the University of Ottawa.

Here are 7 takeaways from the session:

1.The biggest surprise of the year?

Private retail,” said Lisa. There is opportunity available for private retailers, but Ontario has been slow to respond to the demand. Ontario only has 24 stores, while there are over 300 in the West. According to the panel, we need to harness the opportunity currently out there.

2. Did we miss out by skipping over decriminalization and heading straight to legalization?  

Consensus: no. From a legal perspective, decriminalization is technical and not always effective; for example, when you are able use but not sell the product, it only emboldens the illegal market. And in case, there was a type of pseudo decriminalization in Canada prior to legalization given the lack of strict enforcement.

3. Why did we not hear any cannabis talk in the recent federal election?

According to Alison, we should have talked more cannabis at the federal election; after all, legalization is a success story in Canada. John agreed. Canada should have taken a victory lap given that legalization has led to the biggest politically-driven job creation initiative in recent Canadian history.

4.In the first year of legalization, who are the winners and the losers?

Winners: the rural communities who were able to pick up good business, even prior to legalization due to their progressive leadership. The growth of cannabis related businesses have revitalized such communities, said John.

Losers: the consumers, due to the lack of choice, brand, quality and access of cannabis. Lisa projects that soon cannabis will bottom as a commodity, and there will be a demand for craft cultivation.

Another lost opportunity according to John is the lack of global leadership displayed by Canada. All eyes are on Canada, but there is complacency within the nation. Canada is not pushing international boundaries and setting an innovative model for the world, despite being in a position to do so.

5.Why is there still a thriving black market claiming 30% of cannabis sales and how can this be remedied?

First, there is a lot of misinformation permeating the market. Meanwhile, the government is regulating from a place of fear and not allowing dissemination of knowledge and information about why consumers should choose legal cannabis. The industry needs a platform to communicate with the consumers.

Second, it is difficult to grow well at scale, particularly given the regulatory responsibilities on producers. We need to overcome this regulatory challenge.

Finally, in the initial task force, we proposed a data-driven approach to cannabis regulation. We have since, deviated from this approach. We must revisit it and encourage an inclusive and transparent branding environment.

 6. Is there a model out there that is getting cannabis policy right?

Alberta and Saskatchewan! They have found a way to set up an open market system. Ontario has included cannabis use under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act,[1] and this limits where you can use cannabis. If Ontario can incorporate cannabis into the hospitality industry like in Colorado by providing spaces like cannabis lounges, it would help with the tourism industry and present the next generation of business opportunities.

7. What’s in store for year 2?

We can expect added efficiency, as producers start mastering the art of legal cultivation at scale. We will also see an immense growth in storefronts, which will be positive for producers, but will present a challenge for entrepreneurs, according to John.

Finally, Canada will enter into the next stage of its legalization story with the introduction of “Cannabis 2.0”. The induction of edibles, extracts and topicals will present a new way of connecting with consumers. Canada should strive to take on a leadership role at the advent of such change. Things are happening in Canada that aren’t happening anywhere else in the world, according to Mark.

The panel concluded on an optimistic note that ensnared the entrepreneurial minds in the room when John shared a simple but powerful sentiment: cannabis will never be smaller, than it is today. 

[1] 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 26, Sched. 3