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Engaging with the Government

March 13, 2024

Walker Patton, the Chief Commercial Officer at Woody Nelson, recently sat down with David Brown, the founder of StratCann, to speak about current Canadian cannabis news, policy, and predictions. A transcript of this interview has been adapted into a mini-series of articles, discussing topics that range from farmgate, engaging with the public, edible extracts, policy, and effective lobbying.  Some of the transcription may have been altered slightly for clarity or length.

Here, David speaks about lobbying and effective ways to engage with the government, including the approach the industry is currently taking and ways this could be improved in the future.  

Engaging with Government

David: [Taking money from the illicit market] isn't Health Canada's only priority. Legalization is seen as three key pillars. One is keeping [cannabis] out of the hands of kids. Two is establishing a regulated industry to ensure that those adults who do choose to use cannabis have access to a safe legal source. Three is to take money and control away from the illicit market. Health Canada is always trying to balance those three. The industry needs to get beyond just thinking that saying ‘if you don't let us do X, Y or Z, then the black market wins’ is some kind of mic drop. It's not.

I've sat in meetings with industry representatives who have made arguments about edibles and Health Canada's perspectives. There are legitimate public health concerns with higher dosage edibles. We've seen this in other jurisdictions that didn't properly regulate this. There are legitimate points that Health Canada has that if the industry can do a better job of acknowledging, hearing, and then responding to those with their own data, it would be a more effective approach to having that conversation. That’s an example that can be expanded to all of the conversations I see industry having.

I also think that the industry becomes a little too distracted by the federal government. There are absolutely some major things that the federal government has got wrong and that needs to be addressed. That's not to say that the industry should pretend like everything's fine at the federal level. But sometimes I worry that the big home run issues of excise tax and 10 milligrams on edibles, people are spending far too much time and energy on that when they could probably be a lot more effective in engaging with their local governments to make tweaks at the provincial level that can also improve their financial viability as a business. If you are effectively lobbying your provincial government, there is an opportunity to then make your provincial government your ally in that conversation with the federal government. In my conversation with some of my contacts at Health Canada, British Columbia is actually a good example of a province that is pushing pretty hard on some of these issues, like excise tax.

That's an example where the BC government is taking these industry concerns and pushing them to say, the Ministry of Finance in Ottawa. I think the industry has to be able to organize, but they also have to figure out how to be more effective at utilizing the limited resources they have. Maybe not just throw money at the shiny thing of like, ‘we're going to hire a lobbyist to lower an excise tax rates.’ If you only have a certain amount of resources and you're only throwing it at that one thing, then there's a whole lot of other issues that are maybe easier to address that are being completely ignored.

The industry has to refine their lobbying process, refine their engagement process; be a little bit more savvy with it.

There are two big issues that tie into this that are holding the industry back. One is public and government perception that the industry is awash in cash. That's something that’s sort of an albatross on the industry because of the stock market boom in the early days. Another thing holding the industry back is we were all on easy mode in the early days of legalization. This file was the darling at every political level. There are a lot of people who thought that was the norm and didn't understand that was the exception to the rule.

In 2017, as a writer, I could call just about any politician at any level from municipal to federal and probably get face time. It was incredible. I recognized at the time that's kind of weird. That's not how it really works. I'm not surprised now when I reach out to politicians - it's a crapshoot if I'm actually going to get a response from them. That's more what it's like normally. The industry has to recognize that too. Learning from other similar industries; seeing the path they took to get to the place where they have that that level of [government] engagement. But the government sees the industry not only as awash in cash, which is unfair, but they also see the industry as a bit immature and unrealistic. Part of that is informed by the demands: ‘you have to give us this.’ The government’s perspective is ‘no, we don't’.

The reality is, this is just kind of what legalization and normalization look like. We're no longer the darlings of the conversation, or politicians, or the news. We're just another consumer-packaged good like anything else. It’ll take a long time to get to a place where you have the political capital and the ability to really effectively lobby.

About David Brown

David Brown is the founder of StratCann, a cannabis industry news and events company based in British Columbia. David has been working in the Canadian cannabis space for about ten years now, as a writer, event coordinator, policy advisor, and all around industry facilitator. David was a founding member of Lift Cannabis from 2014-2018, a Senior Policy Advisor with Health Canada’s cannabis branch from 2018-2020, and the founder of StratCann in 2020 where he has been working as a writer and policy advisor ever since.

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