John Prentice is president and CEO of Ample Organics. Jay Rosenthal is co-founder and president of Business of Cannabis
As Canada heads towards the era of recreational cannabis, it is against a backdrop of headlines focused on stock prices coupled with public-health and safety concerns. The Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) has asked for additional job training for its members, and workplaces throughout Canada are concerned about if and how legal cannabis might impact their work force.
Recent research commissioned by Business of Cannabis in partnership with Nanos Research shows that an overwhelming majority of Canadians, while broadly supportive of legalized recreational cannabis, do not yet believe that the industry is doing enough to ensure safety and responsible usage.
This fact should be cause for both concern and immediate action by the industry.
Canadian licensed producers (LPs) and affiliated companies have a global opportunity for growth – but only if these public concerns are addressed and trust is developed.
Globally, Canada has a "first mover advantage" in the cannabis industry – which is expected to soon reach US$31.4-billion – although other industry experts estimate that the global cannabis market may be worth up to US$200-billion. While there are currently 29 countries that recognize some form of medical cannabis, only two of those countries – Canada and the Netherlands – export cannabis for medical use.
The uniquely Canadian approach to legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis is focused on the development of a strong and strict regulatory environment that produces safe, quality-assured, medical-grade cannabis. Thus far, it has been a solid approach, but "better" is both possible and necessary.
An increased focus on safety is, of course, an economic benefit to the industry, but there is also the ancillary benefit of goodwill. As an industry poised to be an economic force in the country, the goodwill of Canadians is essential. Building goodwill requires the public to understand and genuinely believe that the industry cares about them, their families and their workplaces, not just their own profits.
This is especially important given that, until very recently, cannabis was considered an illegal drug and industry. So where to from here?
A consistent theme throughout a recent industry conference was the absolutely essential nature of standardized quality assurance procedures and the role that they play in building public trust. Similarly, ensuring each step, from seed to sale to retail, is tested, tracked, traced and transparent to regulators.
Currently, 70 per cent of the licensed producers in Canada rely on Ample Organics' software to track and report their cannabis. With this system, each plant receives a serial number that follows it through cultivation, into production, harvesting, processing, packaging and directly to the consumer, who receives it as medical cannabis.
In the event of a recall, the individuals who received an affected plant can be contacted directly. This level of product traceability is the most advanced in the modern pharmacological world and will be applied to Canada's recreational cannabis market in order to satisfy Health Canada's stringent auditing and recall requirements.
Health Canada recently released new proposed regulations designed to increase consumer safety including the requirement for third-party testing to check for pesticides, but the cannabis industry should pro-actively advocate for more expanded testing rather than wait for measures to be imposed.
The cannabis industry needs a better and more informed dialogue with Canadians to let them know that in addition to working to ensure that the cannabis products on the market are the highest quality possible, they are also actively engaged in education around responsible use.
The conversation about what the industry is, how it operates and how it plans to ensure public safety and responsible usage, in order to be authentic and compelling, needs to come from within the industry. In the pivotal months before legalization, the cannabis industry should actively seek to drive a public conversation on education, safety and increasing public knowledge about the industry.
As an industry that has defined itself thus far through creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, it is certainly a surmountable challenge.
While the year will be long remembered as the time cannabis became legal in Canada, we are hopeful that it will also be remembered as a time when the Canadian public began to understand, trust and appreciate that the cannabis sector had left behind it's "Wild West roots" and emerged as a responsible, trustworthy sector.