(Note: This is the first of a two-part series on how Canada’s provinces are reaching out to various stakeholders to help craft marijuana regulations. You can read Part 2 here.)
By Matt Lamers
Most of Canada’s provinces are soliciting input from medical cannabis companies, the public and other stakeholders to help shape the regulatory foundations of the country’s recreational marijuana industry.
The results could have a profound impact on existing and future Canadian marijuana businesses.
Officials with the provinces say they will incorporate the feedback into their rules on everything from where recreational marijuana can be purchased and consumed to how it is taxed, which types of businesses can sell it and how cannabis products should be packaged.
Provinces currently undertaking these consultations, or those with plans to do so this summer, include Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.
The consultations involve soliciting online feedback, conducting roundtables with stakeholders, hosting public forums or spearheading individual face-to-face meetings.
Saskatchewan is still weighing its options, while Manitoba is conducting a cannabis survey at this point (which it does not consider a “consultation” because only a limited number of randomly selected people can submit feedback).
British Columbia, which is home to 12 licensed producers, changed governments last week. The province’s new premier, John Horgan, has yet to announce specific consultation initiatives.
Alberta has been among the most proactive in soliciting feedback.
Its Cannabis Secretariat has held targeted stakeholder roundtables and sector meetings since May, with more to come this summer. An online survey and written submissions are also being accepted through the end of July.
“Between our public engagement and targeted stakeholders consultations, we are receiving a significant amount of information, all of which will help inform how we make decisions surrounding legalization in Alberta,” said Minister of Justice Kathleen Ganley via email.
Provinces ‘very open to discussion’
The federal government set the stage for the consultations by allowing the provinces to determine key regulations that will have an impact on both cannabis and non-marijuana businesses.
Cannabis Canada board member Cam Battley said his trade group is promoting the broadest possible participation in provincial consultations – not just by large organizations, but also licensed medical marijuana producers, the general public and smaller cannabis businesses.
He said Cannabis Canada has been in consultations with most of the provinces.
“The provinces have been very open to discussion with licensed producers,” said Battley, who is also executive vice president of Vancouver-based Aurora Cannabis, one of the largest marijuana companies in Canada by market capitalization. “They have been very wise in tapping our knowledge, expertise and experience in being able to successfully reduce and deliver legal cannabis under rigorous regulations.”
He added that a successful retail system “will ensure the opportunity for participation by large, medium and small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
Doing it right
Some provinces, like Ontario and Alberta, have sought input directly from cannabis executives over issues including insurance, economic implications and opportunities, distribution, retail and the legal age to purchase marijuana.
Stakeholder meetings in some provinces have included insurers, producers, consumers, medical dispensaries and at least one cannabis employment company.
On July 24, for example, the Ontario Legalization of Cannabis Secretariat consulted industry stakeholders. The roundtable meeting was part of a series of expert forums and engagement sessions being held this summer in the province.
Mike Gorenstein, president and CEO of Cronos Group, said Ontario officials are doing it right in their approach to consulting businesses, stakeholders and the public.
“They’re really considering a lot of options,” he said. “Part of the reason people aren’t sure what’s going to happen in Ontario is they’re talking to a wide range of stakeholders, taking in a lot of feedback to understand the pros and cons to every distribution method. Making sure we get input from everyone is very important.”
Ontario is home to 29 of Canada’s 52 licensed producers.
In Alberta, representatives of the cannabis industry have been a part of targeted stakeholder roundtables and sector meetings with the province’s Cannabis Secretariat since May.
Alison McMahon, CEO and founder of Edmonton, Alberta-based Cannabis At Work, said she consulted directly with the Cannabis Secretariat over some of the workplace challenges, such as certification for servers at retail outlets.
In discussions with the province, she expressed a want for “diverse and inclusive market opportunities, so there’s room for not just massive players, there’s opportunities from a small-business perspective to participate in the industry, from an entrepreneurship perspective.”
McMahon said the government should encourage employers to take proactive steps to have or update a drug and alcohol policy, “and to do some education within their organization so that employees understand what legalization means and what it doesn’t.”
She’s advocating for a “responsible vendor” education requirement for anybody who works in a cannabis retail environment, and for a knowledgeable and “certified workforce” model in Alberta.
“If we have people trained properly in dispensaries, that’s going to help serving people of the appropriate age and reinforce public safety principles as well,” she said.
‘Are they going to listen?’
Abi Roach, a board member with the Cannabis Friendly Business Association, has taken part in consultations. The association is part of a group planning to lobby Ontario in the coming weeks on behalf of private businesses. She wants retail in private hands, and lounges to exist and be permitted to sell single-serve portions.
She’s happy the province is creating a space for businesses and consumers to have input but asks, “Are they going to listen? That’s the question.”
She is concerned the government won’t apply what it hears from the public to its policies.
“I want the Ontario government to really listen to cannabis consumers,” she said. “In the end, if they fail to create a system that works for cannabis consumers, the whole thing will collapse. If people don’t want to use their system, they’re just going to keep the black market alive.”
Roach encourages consumers and business executives to participate in the consultations.
“Speak your mind. Let them know what you want. Not only businesses owners, but customers as well. It’s really important that we’re involved in the process, because if nobody says anything, they’ll just do what they want,” she said.
Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]