As seen in IPolitics on October 23, 2020
Much ink has been spilled about the coronavirus pandemic: on the costs, both social and financial, and on how to respond, from border lockdowns to stay-at-home orders.
We’ll soon have a clearer picture of the financial burden that COVID-19 has placed on Canada so far, but the over $350 billion already budgeted for the federal response to the pandemic — and a sharply increased unemployment rate of nine percent in September, as disclosed by Statistics Canada — certainly doesn’t paint the rosiest of pictures.
As the conversation has now shifted to recovery, a noticeable trend has emerged with the reading of the federal speech from the throne: Cannabis has been completely left out of the conversation.
Yes, that same vaunted, legal cannabis industry that was brought in to much fanfare by the Trudeau government, and that directly employed well over 2,500 Canadians per year (pre-pandemic), particularly in rural communities. That same legal cannabis sector accounted for over $1.5 billion in household spending in 2020’s second quarter (for both medical and recreational purposes), to say nothing of the over-threefold multiplier affect the industry’s ancillary services have contributed to the nation’s economy.
The hardworking men and women in Canada’s cannabis industry — those on the front lines of displacing the illegal market — have not seen much by way of help from our multiple levels of government over the two years since cannabis was legalized on Oct. 17, 2018.
Instead, they’ve overcome significant obstacles and red tape, often different from one jurisdiction to the next, to establish an adult-use cannabis regime that educates consumers and allows them to safely access and consume the product.
And even when challenges are overcome, governments at various levels have rolled back the hard-fought solutions brought forward by the legal industry, as was seen in Ontario when the government reversed course on curbside pickup and delivery for licensed cannabis retailers, leaving them the only retailer operators in the province unable to offer such services during the pandemic.
Back on May 8, Industry Minister Navdeep Bains announced the Industry Strategy Council, with its mandate to “(assess) the scope and depth of COVID-19’s impact on industries and inform government’s understanding of specific sectoral pressures.” With representation from several industries — agricultural, digital, manufacturing, tourism, health, clean technology, retail, transportation, and resources — it would seem the government recognizes the need for an “all-of-Canada” approach to the post-COVID economic recovery.
And it’s that very realization that makes the inclusion of Canada’s legal cannabis industry in the economic recovery plan all the more important.
Multinational consulting firm Deloitte has estimated that the total market potential for cannabis, including ancillary businesses, to be $22 billion in Canada. Globally, market-researcher Prohibition Partners has forecasted that the industry could be worth $2.47 billion in Europe by 2024 (nearly exclusively in the medical market), $12.7 billion in the Latin Americas by 2028, $1.55 billion in Oceanie by 2024, and $1.85 billion in South Africa by 2023.
With work well underway to legalize cannabis for medical purposes in Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand, and the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes fast approaching in Luxembourg, Canada is in a unique position to capitalize on its first-mover advantage to create economic opportunity here at home, while working to export its regulatory regime for the adult use of cannabis abroad. This would help serve domestic goals of establishing sensible cannabis policies abroad while navigating international treaty and convention obligations and ensuring Canadian companies do not lose competitive advantages as the global market expands.
With potential applications in adult-use cannabis, food tourism, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, natural health products, textiles and advanced manufacturing, the time is now for the development of intellectual property in Canada before the global “boom” in cannabis.
It will take the support of politicians at all levels of government to capitalize on the economic opportunity offered by Canada’s legal cannabis industry. Still, stakeholders are ready to work in partnership with governments at all levels to make a meaningful contribution to our economic recovery from COVID-19.
It’s high time we include cannabis in discussions of Canada’s plan for that recovery.