While some say the federal government is favouring a handful of licensed producers and excluding others from participating in legalization, several industry analysts say the opportunity to participate in the shaping of the future market is still enormous.
To create enough regulated space to satisfy the government’s stated intention of a legal, regulated cannabis program in Canada, the nation will need a lot of regulated production space.
One of the recommendations from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation is the need for the government and other organizations to quickly increase capacity in many areas, including production, distribution and retail, quality control and enforcement, and research and surveillance.
In terms of production capacity, the task force points to the existing regulated licensed producers under the current medical cannabis regime (called the ACMPR, formerly MMPR) as a way to satisfy this need for a tightly controlled, regulated supply.
However, with the non-medical market expected to dwarf the medical market, the task force’s final report recommended that the government use licensing and production controls to encourage a competitive market that “also includes small producers.”
According to the federal government, as of June 28, 2016, there were approximately 20 new applications being received each month.
Rosy Mondin, the Executive Director at the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada (CTAC), and an advisor to several cannabis related businesses, says those who want to shape the future of cannabis in Canada shouldn’t be discouraged.
“Don't give up,” says Mondin, “the legitimization of the commercial cannabis industry is still in its infancy. From innovation and entrepreneurialism and job creation to the ancillary business that feed the supply chain, the opportunities will present themselves.”
Learning how to engage with all stakeholders is key. Mondin—who acknowledges that her skills as a corporate lawyer helped prepare her to navigate some of the bureaucracy that is inherent in any newly forming regulatory system—says the often underlying theme of skepticism towards the government from those in the illicit cannabis industry shouldn’t be a self-imposed limitation.
“There's a way to engage with the community, with the politicians and with policymakers, that you learn from engaging and interacting in an open professional world. It can therefore be intimidating, and it takes a LOT of hard work, for example with the way one must communicate and interact with a completely new group of people.
“Drafting policy and recommendations is an acquired skill that comes with years of practice and experience. As well, the industry has been operating in a pseudo-decriminalized environment—particularly here in BC—under constant threat of criminal sanctions, and with that, comes a lack of trust, particularly with the political process.
“However, there has to be a meeting of the minds, whereby those in the unregulated cannabis industry open their minds to the way the new reality is going to be. And the people defining the new reality have to find a better way to engage with this group of unregulated participants. It is important to note that many from the industry have made incredible strides engaging with politicians at every level, and that should definitely not be discounted. There has been a lot of hard work done by many grassroots cannabis consumers, patients, activists, and advocates to get to where we are today.”
Deepak Anand, the Executive Director at the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association (CNMMA, an industry association that helps liaise with and lobby the government for applicants seeking to producer medical cannabis commercially in Canada), agrees that there’s still ample opportunity.
“If you look at the recreational market coming online—based on everything we’ve been telling the government, everything the government’s been hearing from any other sources—there’s absolutely a need for a number of players to come online. So anyone on the sidelines wanting to get in on the industry, I think should certainly still try and apply. Now is a great time because the government is going to need to fill this gap.”