With Canada poised to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide in 2018, the industry is ramping up to ensure it gets a running start when the gun goes off. Industry News sent Will Tremblay to the Lift Expo in Toronto to get the pulse from insiders as legalization nears.
As Canada’s federal government designs its road map to legal recreational cannabis, preparation for the emerging industry is surpassing legislation.
The business side of cannabis was front and centre at the third Lift Expo held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from May 26-28. The Toronto leg of the expo featured nearly 200 exhibitors, almost twice as many as the previous year.
“The exhibitor booths are almost double the size as well. We didn’t tell them to do that,” said Lift CEO Matei Olaru. “We can see the excitement and how much money they’re putting into their spaces.”
To accommodate the growing industry, expo organizers opened the first day of the event exclusively to those working directly with cannabis. The industry day was paired with the first Lift Cannabis Business Conference where industry experts led seminars on various topics from investment to retail sales.
“The industry is at a time where this sort of forum—where you can bring together everyone from investors to entrepreneurs to patient advocates—pushes the conversation and the industry forward,” says Olaru. “It was a good platform to get these different points of view together.”
Mericann, an Ontario-based licensed producer, was one of the exhibitors with a noticeably larger presence at the trade show.
“We went bigger and better as far as our display, marketing materials, and investor relation materials,” says Shawn Alexander, vice-president of investor relations for Mericann. “We had another year to make improvements in those areas, we’re still a start-up company in a start up industry. Our priority has been on production.”
A few days before setting up their booth at the expo, Mericann broke ground on a 217,000 square-foot expansion at its Langdon, Ontario, production facility, an 833 per cent increase in floor space. When complete, the expansion will allow Mericann to produce more than 20,000 kilograms of cannabis per year.
“The demand for medical cannabis here in Canada is far beyond what Health Canada anticipated,” says Alexander. “We’re scaling up big time to meet that demand for medical cannabis and that future demand for legal recreational cannabis.”
In April, Mericann took the company public, trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange as MARI. Like the stock, Alexander noted many cannabis investors are new to the stock market, which creates excitement as well as challenges.
“It’s unique from that point of view,” he said. “It’s unlike other industries, like mining, where you get much more experienced and established investors. You still get those folks in cannabis, but it’s much more of a mix.”
“The anti-cannabis stance of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged the Sisters of the Valley to expand into Canada.”
While Canadian cannabis companies are increasing production, the American segment of the industry is looking north. California-based Sisters of the Valley, also known as the Weed Nuns, recently expanded their line of CBD salves and tinctures into Canada. Sister Claire explained the anti-cannabis stance of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions encouraged the Sisters of the Valley to expand into Canada.
“It’s the uncertainty. What smart business person would have all their eggs in one basket in that kind of situation?” Claire asked. “If things were more supportive at the US federal level, maybe we would have done this at a later date.”
Cannabis At Work, a firm that provides education and strategies for managing cannabis in the workplace, used the expo as a vehicle to promote their recently-launched recruitment agency.
“As the market has come a bit more of an early maturity, and we’re formally approaching legalization, the time was right to launch the staffing division,” says Alison McMahon, founder of Cannabis At Work. “Everybody in this room could potentially be our client. Lots of people are interested in getting into the sector.”
As a new field of employment continues to emerge, McMahon noted the demand for skilled labour exceeds the available talent pool.
“There isn’t a shortage of finding trimmers, but educated labor; people with science backgrounds who have a PhD,” she said. “In some cases, they would have to relocate to a smaller community. There’s challenges with that we can help with.”
Remo, also know as the Urban Grower and namesake of Remo Brands nutrients, said the expo displayed the accelerated interest in Canadian cannabis, particularly with looming legalization.
“It’s a change I didn’t think would happen in our lifetime, and there’s more interest in cannabis than ever,” says Remo. “The investors are excited about it and the ordinary person is excited. Look around, we’re drawing people in like crazy.”
However, there are segments of the cannabis community that isn’t happy with the way legalization is unfolding.
“There are some hippie people who are kind of rebelling against everything that’s going on,” Remo said. “Their view of legalization is a free-for-all. The government’s view is heavy regulation. Hopefully we can find a happy medium, but we have to start somewhere.”
Lift was created with a mandate to provide current information about cannabis. When legal recreational cannabis becomes a reality, Olaru believes Lift’s mandate will become more relevant than ever.
“You’re going to have so many naive customers come into the industry for the first time. They’ll be easily influenced by advertising or disinformation,” he said. “I think a trustworthy resource to educate you on cannabis is going to become even more valuable for the consumer.”
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