Article by Sam Riches, Growth Op
Another week, another story about the missteps of the Canadian cannabis industry. Following in the Guardian’s footsteps from last month, The Motley Fool has published a story titled, “Here’s How Canada Blew its Chance to be a Cannabis Leader.”
It follows a well-trodden path. The main stumbles? A tightly regulated government framework that focuses on minimizing harms rather than market development, overzealous company evaluations fueled by stock promoters that set impossible standards, the limited deployment of retail options in Canada’s most populous provinces, the delayed rollout of infused products with higher profit margins than flower, startup companies buying up huge swaths of land and locking into contracts with limited understanding of distribution and demand, and an end product that many find overpriced and unappealing, at least in its earliest incarnations.
These are some of the main missteps. But context is required. This is still a nascent industry and Canada is waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Undoing cannabis prohibition and ushering in one of the most significant changes to public policy in recent history was never going to be easy.
When Uruguay became the first country to legalize cannabis in 2013, few were predicting that it would take the government years to get authorized, regulated cannabis into pharmacies, but it did. There, cannabis consumers must register with the government, their identity and buying history logged via a fingerprint scanner, before they are able to make a purchase. Customers are limited to 40 grams a month and can choose between two standardized product offerings, both of which contain low levels of THC.
Canada, by comparison, is a cannabis utopia. With the rollout of Cannabis 2.0 products earlier this year, consumers can now buy everything from infused beverages and candy to topicals, live resin and hash. Not to mention a wide selection of flowers, oils and vaporizers.
The tenets that dictated Canada’s push toward legalization are also being realized: youth consumption is down, adult use rates have not increased and the illicit market is shrinking.
Speaking at the UN commission in March, Michelle Boudreau, the Director General of Controlled Substances Directorate for Health Canada, told the world that Canada’s plan, which required defying international treaties to get started, is working.
“The illegal market has already lost 30 percent of its market share, and we have seen no corresponding increase in the overall size of the market. This represents nearly $2 billion in sales that did not go to criminal organizations,” she said, adding that the rates of cannabis use among youth and young adults have remained stable and there’s been no increase in illegal movement across international borders.
Speaking of the border, the U.S. has now approved medical or recreational cannabis in more than 30 states. But the industry is still waiting for that federal domino to fall. While neither presidential candidate has been especially encouraging on the cannabis file, the success of the individual States that have welcomed the cannabis industry might force their hand, especially after the pandemic’s unquestionable effect on the American economy.
In Canada, the cannabis sector has contributed more than $8 billion to the national GDP, it has opened up new research possibilities so we can better understand the benefits and harms of this plant, and it has created a distribution network of safe and regulated products. In becoming the first industrialized nation to legalize weed, Canada is creating a roadmap for the rest of the world to follow.