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Media, Lobbying and Activism

February 21, 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, engaging with government, edible extracts, and policy.  Some of the transcription may have been altered slightly for clarity or length.

Previously, David spoke about engaging with the government and the public; what the industry is currently doing and ways it could improve its approach in the future. Here, Brown further discusses aspects of lobbying, such as the media and other forms of activism.  

Media, Lobbying, and Activism

Walker: Let's do one of these fun hypotheticals: Somebody puts $25 million in your bank account and says, ‘build a small team and see what you can do to improve regulations for the cannabis industry.’ Which regulations would you target and how would you get it done?

David: Let's use excise tax as an example. Arguably, the way the excise tax rate is set in Canada is one of the biggest failures of the legislation; the fact that it's tied to a per gram price instead of a percentage. If I had $25 million in my account, I would hire some marketing companies. I'd be taking out billboards and television ads. We can do that, right? We're not telling people to smoke weed. We're saying, ‘hey, here's some concerns of the industry.’ Does it seem fair to you that it cost maybe $2.00 a gram to grow and [the grower can] barely sell it for $2.00 a gram, yet the government's making hundreds of millions of dollars? That's where I would put that energy. Then you’d have politicians coming to you and say, ‘hey 30 constituents called me about this this week. How could we fix this?’

A public education campaign to bring the public up to speed with the kinds of issues that we all take for granted within our own little industry bubble, to ensure that the voters—which is what the politicians actually care about— are on the same pages as the rest of us.

One of the things about the media though, is that every media outlet has its own agendas and biases. Some are less pro-cannabis than others. You don't control the narrative as much if you’re only disseminating your information through the media, because it’s filtered through the biases of the writer, the editor, and the people who own the paper. The message that's going to be conveyed from that outlet might not be what you're trying to get across.

Whereas, if you're working with a marketing or an ad agency, you control that arena. You can put up billboards; you can run TV and radio spots. You can have internet engagement. Look at how manipulated social media is these days. If you had a marketing team that was spreading the right hashtags on Twitter, that the industry is overtaxed or something like that, that's the kind of thing that shifts the narrative. But frankly – and sorry, I might get in a little trouble for saying this - but frankly, I think that the people who are supposedly representing the interests of the industry, I think most of them are more focused on their own career and self-serving interests and this is just a vehicle for them. I think that that's a part of why you're not seeing effectiveness.

If you're someone who wants to just use this as a way to leverage yourself back into the political world, every meeting you have with an MP or the Ministry of Finance or provincial representatives, that's just a way to raise your own resume, even if it's not necessarily making any inroads. But ad agencies will actually work for you.

Unfortunately, the only engagement or lobbying at all come from groups like the retail council (RCCBC), the C3, or Craft Co-op here in BC. They’re good for providing the opportunity for government to have the ability to engage more directly with industry. That’s what industry groups should be doing at the at the government level. But it can't be seen as the magic wand or the end-all-be-all of how policy changes happen.

Activism with the Government

David: Government engagement is really just about creating a good ongoing conversation. It's rarely about making demands and banging your fist on the table. That's performative. It's really about sitting down with the government and saying, ‘hey, we're an agency that represents 20 producers or 100 producers or 100 retailers or whatever. Here are some of the concerns we're hearing for our members and we want to let you know.’ It's just a conversation. I don't see too much of that. I see the banging on the table and the posturing for social media, which seems to raise individuals’ profiles, but I haven't seen it actually push any of these issues to fruition. We've been posturing about excise tax for three plus years now and I haven't seen any real movement on it yet.

I would say that’s an example where it's just not working. I'll qualify that by saying I do think it's effective in ways, but clearly, there's more needed than just that to get it over the goal line. The 10 milligram is a great [example] as well. If the industry polled the general public about this 10 milligram thing, they would discover that the public is not with them, or in the least, the public doesn't see the issue. We have to step out of those bubbles and not just talk to other people who already agree with us.

Walker: There are still quite a few activists within the cannabis industry. Those who were the Trail Blazers for the first five years of legalization and those who worked hard towards legalization before that. They had to be that type of a personality in order to get us to where we've been, but it seems that personality is not necessarily well received at the table we're at now.

David: From my own perspective, observing this industry as long as I have now, that personality doesn't seem to translate very well to a successful business person. That's not to say that activism or advocacy isn’t needed. Absolutely it’s needed and it's a part of the conversation. But at this stage of a regulated industry, you need those business owners at the table as well. They're the ones who can communicate the real issues.

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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