The owner of one of Vancouver’s only legal dispensaries is urging cannabis producers to stop using environmentally harmful palm oil in their products, and is threatening to stop carrying certain cannabis oil products if LPs don’t change their supply chains.
The informal campaign has met with early success, said Mike Babins, who runs Evergreen Cannabis Store in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, demonstrating the power retailers have to pressure suppliers when there are so few brick-and-mortar stores open in certain key markets. So far, there are only eight legal dispensaries licensed in Vancouver.
Mr. Babins, whose store was the first to receive a license in Vancouver, began e-mailing and calling LPs several weeks ago, after finding out through an LP sales representative that palm oil was being used as the Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) carrier oil in certain cannabis oil products.
Palm oil is frequently criticized by environmentalists due to deforestation and damage to orangutan environments that accompanies the palm oil industry. The other main MCT carrier is coconut oil.
“I called up all the companies I worked with and said, ‘look I don’t want to throw you guys under the bus, but I’m not carrying your product if you’re doing palm oil, so I need you to find that out for me,” Mr. Babins said.
"Certain ones wrote back saying, ‘we're having meetings about this, we're going to figure out a way to change it, we can't give you a timeline, but it's a priority now, we're doing it.’ Others said, ‘we're going to speak to the company we're working with… and we're going to have them ensure they're only giving us coconut oil.’"
In an email from HEXO Corp., forwarded to Cannabis Pro by Mr. Babins, a member of HEXO’s Customer Experience Team said Mr. Babin’s complaint had spurred the company to action.
“Our supplier has since indicated that the MCT oil we use does contain palm oil after all… Given this information, we will work with our supplier to ensure our products going forward do not contain palm oil. We are grateful that this has come to our attention,” HEXO wrote to Mr. Babins.
The image of small retailers dictating supply chain terms to billion-dollar companies is unusual. However, with so few retail outlets, LPs are willing to listen to their customers, said Mr. Babins.
"Just because we happened to get licensed first, I happen to have a loud voice right now,” he said. “I've found a lot of times, since the industry started, that just by me explaining something to the reps and they go tell their bosses the financial outcome of this, it's so much faster than trying to lobby for a legal change."
Along with pushing for companies to use coconut oil, Mr. Babins is also asking his suppliers to use vegan gelatin for their gel caps. Again, he’s making an economic case to LPs.
“I’m in Kitsilano, and one in four people who come in here won’t buy your product, including half of my staff and myself. I can’t even tell people I’ve tried it,” said Mr. Babins. "That’s like half a penny to switch, and that’s 25 per cent more people who can buy the product.”