Article by Bill Kaufmann, Calgary Herald
As the Alberta government’s top numbers man, Dr. Lyle Oberg said he had a glimpse of the kind of cannabis cash slipping through its fingers.
“While I was finance minister, the amount of money being lost to the black market in cannabis was massive,” said Oberg.
“If you want to wipe out the black market, you have to have access to cannabis.”
A decade ago, as a small and large-C conservative politician, Oberg wouldn’t have uttered those words.
After serving as minister in several portfolios under PC governments and an unsuccessful bid at the party’s leadership, Oberg bolted to the Wild Rose Party, disappointed in his colleagues’ devotion to fiscal conservatism.
But he’s since joined a number of former right-wing politicians and police chiefs to cross the aisle, of sorts, and take up a post in the legal cannabis sector.
Since late 2017, he’s been chief policy and medical officer of Kelowna-based licensed cannabis producer Flowr.
“I won’t say I had an epiphany, but it was close,” he said.
That came in the form of discussions with what he calls “very credible people and huge, huge advocates” of medical cannabis, supported by a wealth of anecdotal evidence of the plant’s health benefits.
Oberg is well aware of the growing roster of public figures who once fought a war on drugs against pot, including former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson and his one-time Toronto counterparts Bill Blair and Julian Fantino, who’ve more recently advocated for or advised on the legalized drug.
Former Alberta attorney-general Jonathan Denis — who once battled illegal grow ops — provides legal advice to the sector and, along with ex-PC government culture minister Lindsay Blackett, is a member of the Canadian Cannabis Chamber.
Oberg, 59, said his medical background sets him apart.
“A lot of them don’t necessarily have the same qualifications — I was 50-50 a politician and a medical doctor,” he said.
“If it’s simply money as a reason to get into it, it’s not so great.”
Flowr, he said, is definitely in the business of making money, having recently landed a contract to supply the Alberta recreational cannabis market and recently delivering 100 kilograms of dried flower from its Kelowna operation.
But he said the company is going well beyond that with plans to open a unique, 50,000-square-foot medical cannabis research facility in the central Okanagan city this fall, partnered with Hawthorne Gardening Co.
“It’ll be the first of its kind exclusive to cannabis in North America, if not the world,” said Oberg.
In it, particular strains of the plant will be tested for their benefit in addressing specific medical needs, he said.
“If a two-to-one CBD-THC ratio helps a sleep disorder, for instance, we can actually breed a plant to do so,” said Oberg.