I trace my roots in the cannabis sector back to 2014. Recently, I crossed the 3-year mark in my current role at the Cannabis Council of Canada sometimes known as C3. It has been a heck of a journey considering that COVID emerged just one week after I started. One of the more remarkable things I try to remind the politicians and bureaucrats I meet along the way is how our cannabis sector pumped up Canada during COVID while a lot of other sectors were on the sidelines.
I have been on a personal cannabis journey too, where my awareness has grown by leaps and bounds during my three years at C3. In particular, my horizons have broadened around the extent to which the LPs should align with retailers in advocacy and lobbying efforts.
I started with a framing that was focused more narrowly on the needs of LPs (that is C3’s core) and with Ottawa as my primary target. Over time I came to realize two critical points.
First, an industry association for a sector with challenging economic conditions had the strong obligation to focus on commercial pinch points that affect businesses where the rubber hits the road. It turns out that a lot of that commercial action is at the provincial/ territorial (P/T) level where a tremendous amount of discretion has been granted for P/T distributors to put their own stamp on a nationally led legalization initiative.
The second key point was the recognition that for the non-cannabis consuming media person, politician, or public servant, the retail store is their key point of reference for legalization. That is especially true in markets where private, independent retail is present. That has frequently meant trying to get attention for our sector from people who were only really interested to ask why there were so many stores in their neighbourhood.
So as one of the leading communicators for our sector, I am frequently commenting on matters across the seed-to-sale spectrum. What a great honour and what an opportunity to create greater alignment.
“The aligned agenda across our sector includes improving the communications conditions within retail stores.”
In seeking changes to the Cannabis Act our organization led our communications with a call for an end to stigmatization and we used the way our retail stores are forced to project themselves in their neighbourhoods like some sort of nefarious trade is surely underway. That is only one of numerous areas where our association has made suggestions for change that would be widely beneficial to the retail sector, and therefore, there are amazing opportunities for aligned advocacy and lobbying.
A lot of people might be getting a bit tired of me constantly referencing the political adage ‘All Politics is Local’ but I know it to be true, and I also know how well-placed local retailers are in their communities to be powerful influencers. Lately, I have met some incredible independent retailers who are tearing it up in a difficult environment, and who have contributed a lot to employment and main street renewal. In addition to Business Improvement Area and Chamber of Commerce new business awards, many of these stores are reaching out to politicians and inviting them in to see what is actually behind the stigmatizing wrapper.
Speaking of local politics, I get a great chuckle out of the persistence of the High Ladies Podcast duo who have pressed their sometimes-reluctant local MP to come visit a retail store after having first met him in Ottawa during one of our Grass on the Hill outreach and lobbying missions. I love watching the emergence of the political antennae of people when they realize that their local politicians do work for them and can be influenced.
An Aligned Agenda
The aligned agenda across our sector includes improving the communications conditions within retail stores, gaining an increase to the 10mg limit on edibles, and getting co-ordinated enforcement to level the playing field with the illicit market. I recently spent three days speaking to budtenders and retailers, and I was so pleased to be able to point to the increase in cannabis beverage limits as something our organization championed. There was wide agreement about the need to work together to make more progress for our sector and consumers.
C3 intends to spread our wings this year and build our capacity to create greater alignment across Cannabis Act license holders, retailers, P/T distributors, and our shared consumers. We have built a lot and we need to fight hard to protect it. The recent 60-day consultation window that Health Canada rolled out represents the perfect opportunity to create alignment.
“Speak up and be heard.”
As the seasons change in Canada, there is one thing that remains constant and that is the need for our sector to speak up and be heard. This year, the federal budget acknowledged that it’s tough out there, but made only one housekeeping adjustment, and that’s it. We have had some words from the Prime Minister, Deputy PM, and Finance Minister Chrystia Freelend, but words are not enough.
Let us build greater collective capacity to make the much-needed change that our very survival depends upon.
George Smitherman is President and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada and can be reached at George@cannabis-council.ca.