Article by Nathan Mison, Edmonton Journal
Three years after the federal legalization of cannabis, Canada has yet to harvest this new sector for the economic opportunity it presents.
Despite the fanfare and excitement that welcomed legalization and the increasing revenue generated by licensed retail, the illicit market continues to account for over 50 per cent of cannabis sales in Canada. At a time when policy-shapers are looking for new ways to generate economic growth — particularly for the struggling tourism and hospitality industry where some businesses are reporting losses between 61-100 per cent — there is ready-made opportunity within the cannabis sector.
All it will take to unleash this economic opportunity is a little creative thinking from policymakers and some red-tape reduction — particularly at the provincial level.
We know that increasing accessibility and consumer choice is the most efficient way for us to succeed in displacing the illicit cannabis market. But it comes with the added benefit of generating more revenues, supporting Canadian-owned businesses, and taking advantage of Canada’s first-mover advantage within the global cannabis sector.
It’s encouraging to see that some provinces have begun taking the first steps toward increasing accessibility and consumer choice within their jurisdictions. We saw Ontario initiate limited-time curbside pickup and delivery services for licensed retailers, and now the Liquor, Gaming, and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba is hosting consultations toward legalizing and regulating cannabis consumption lounges and pop-up cannabis retail outlets and consumption sites.
With over 585,000 adult Albertans self-reporting cannabis use in Statistics Canada’s 2019 Q4 cannabis survey, it would be a promising step toward ensuring these consumers gravitate to the legal industry if Alberta were to follow suit and take action.
Think for a moment beyond the existing cannabis industry — beyond the cultivators, producers and retailers — and into the tourism and hospitality industry. How could Canada’s tourism and hospitality industry, which has been hammered by the pandemic, be facilitated into Canada’s cannabis industry?
Undertaken responsibly, visionary policy changes such as legalization and regulation of cannabis consumption lounges and pop-up cannabis retail outlets can create an entire new revenue stream associated with both domestic and international cannabis tourism.
Restaurants could offer guided cannabis culinary experiences without the presence of alcohol, where non-combustible, cannabis-infused delicacies highlight Canada’s regional agri-food specialties. Lounges could offer consumers dosage-controlled, non-combustible infused products and beverages in a manner similar to how alcohol is served at bars in all communities across the country.
Major events such as conventions, sports and concerts, could accommodate age-gated pop-up cannabis retail and consumption zones, offering responsible adult consumption of a legal product in a manner similar to how alcohol is sold to attendees at concerts and hockey games from coast to coast to coast. The opportunities are endless. We just need politicians who are creative enough to see them, and decisive enough to take action on them.
The transition to a cannabis-friendly tourism and hospitality sector does not have to be long, arduous or costly. A majority of the provinces and territories, led by Alberta, already operate with a private retail model. Amending existing cannabis retail applications, and using existing municipal zoning bylaws, cannabis consumption lounges can be operationalized in very little time.
Applications for time- and event-specific pop-up cannabis retail licences and lounge zoning can be developed quickly by provincial regulators by replicating the existing model for special liquor licences. And, given the expertise of Canada’s licensed, private cannabis retailers, venue- and time-specific extensions to an existing private retailer’s licence offer a strong policy tool for provincial regulators to offer safe, education-based cannabis experiences at live events.