Recreational cannabis has emerged as one of Canada’s fastest growing sectors since legalization, but restrictive regulations still inhibit economic growth, deter investment, and tighten margins for retailers and producers.
Industry advocacy bodies, such as the Cannabis Council of Canada and provincial retail cannabis councils, exist to lobby on behalf of retailers and producers at the different levels of government. Retailers can also get involved in lobbying to make an impact.
Where to Start
Andrea Dobbs is Managing Director of Village Bloomery, Vancouver-based cannabis stores, and is an active industry advocate. “In terms of retailers connecting municipally, provincially, or federally, the best place to start is to write to your local representatives,” she suggests. “Your voice matters and if you have concerns, educate yourself and start to speak up.”
Andrew Gordon, Vice Present of BC Craft Farmers Co-Op, Director at the Retail Cannabis Council of BC, and Growth and Development at THC Cannabis agrees. “Your MLA and your MP are your two key conduits to engage,” he says. “They’re required to take meetings with local residents and need that anecdotal information and data from retailers.”
However, retailers should be prepared for the stigma they may encounter, including at municipal town halls. “The amount of stigma and prejudice you will face is shocking, surprising, and still present,” Gordon notes. “Be mindful of all the nuances of the game in order to play well,” he adds. “Work with government in a mindful and respectful way.
“Be prepared to address points and have data available when meeting with your MLA or MP.”
Cannabis issues are not typically top of mind for government, but you can help them get there.
“Do your homework for who you’re engaging with,” Gordon says. “Understand what issues are important to them and be prepared to address points and have data available when meeting with your MLA or MP. Eventually you put together a good argument and build credibility. You can move through the ignorance, indifference, or inertia around cannabis and actually build policy that works, but you have to be willing to put in the work and time.”
Start at the Grassroots Level – And Don’t Forget to Vote
Besides contacting your MP or MLA, retailers can start by getting in active in their community and voting, especially if you believe in a candidate that has the right platform related to cannabis.
Gordon suggests that retailers start in their own backyards by winning over customers and staff and encouraging them to vote too. “They’re your first stakeholders. Get them active and aware of the issues they’re facing. They have access to MLAs and MPs too,” he says.
“Customers and staff have access to MLAs and MPs too.”
George Smitherman, President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada, preaches that all politics are local and grassroots advocacy is imperative. Every October, his association hosts Grass on the Hill at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. “We turn everybody in the cannabis sector into lobbyists for the two days. We enunciate issues in common and go on the hill and have meetings with MPs, political staffers, etc.,” Smitherman explains. The event gives anyone who is running a regulated private business the motivation, tools, and platform to get involved in advocacy.
Join Associations and Advocacy Groups
Matthew Greenwood is the owner of Up in Smoke cannabis store in Vancouver, board member at the Retail Cannabis Council of BC (RCCBC), and former president of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers. He and Dobbs believe it is essential for retailers to join and support associations if they want to stay current on advocacy issues and see lasting change.
“You must join your local advocacy group to get their materials,” Greenwood says. “We’re volunteers and if you want to benefit from our work or help, it is imperative you join and keep up your local fee. Advocacy is slow. It took four years to get the window coverings repealed. But in a week, I will once again see the city and the mountains from my shop counter, and it will be glorious.”
Gordon adds that associations create efficiencies when it comes to lobbying and policy changes. He encourages operators to join groups that advocate to all levels of government on everything from safety to operations, licensing, and advertising.
Dobbs suggests retailers do a quick Google search to find an advocacy group. She cites NORML Canada, Retail Cannabis Councils of BC and Ontario, BC Craft Farmers Co-Op, Canadian Women in Cannabis, Alliance of Beverage Licensees, and Cannabis Amnesty as examples.
Greenwood encourages retailers to just start by showing up with open ears to an advocacy group meeting. “I started in 2019 by showing up to an ACCRES board meeting as part of my investment in my company. My advice is don’t show up with anything other than your two ears and a desire to help. But knowing to show up is half the battle.”
Help Ensure the Future of the Industry
Retailers need to get involved in advocacy work if they want to invest in the future of the industry—and the time is now.
“Legalization had a huge impact on our industry,” notes Dobbs. “For the most part, those of us who have legacy roots are just catching our breath. It is as if a bomb went off and we’re just now picking up the pieces. The time is now to restart rebuilding a community of cannabis retailers who can come together on issues that impact us all.”
“Being involved with advocacy puts focus on the solution rather than the problem.”
The industry can be very lonely, and getting involved in advocacy work can also help reduce this. “It is far too easy to get into a dark lonely hole in the industry, especially when your life savings are on the line,” says Greenwood. “Being involved with advocacy helps me focus on the solution rather than the problem. I get to meet peers who turn into friends. We are all struggling with the same situation, but we’re sharing information, whether it’s processes, product, or marketing.”
Gordon reminds us that legalization is a process and industry has to work together to build up a ‘whole new league’ from the ground up. Put in the work and time and we’ll get there together.