Exploring Canada’s cannabis sector

Exploring Canada’s cannabis sector
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MCN speaks with industry expert Jamie Shaw about cannabis sector regulation in Canada, the issues patients still encounter, and industry sexism.

Jamie Shaw is a Director of the British Columbia Independent Cannabis Association, an incorporated nonprofit body representing stakeholders from every stage of British Columbia’s cannabis sector. Shaw, who is also a founding partner at Groundwork Consulting and Director of Communications and Culture at craft cannabis producer Shelter, is Canada’s only court-certified dispensary expert; and has successfully lobbied for dispensary licensing regulations in several Canadian cities. She acted as an expert witness in the groundbreaking Allard trial, which saw patients in Canada granted the right to grow their own cannabis for medical purposes.

Shaw speaks with MCN about cannabis regulation in Canada, the issues patients still encounter, and industry sexism.

Has the rollout of Cannabis 2.0 in Canada, which has seen the legalisation of cannabis derivatives including foodstuffs, vape pens and drinks, been successful overall?

From a regulatory point of view, the government probably thinks so. Consumers as a whole have benefited, as they can now access edibles and drinks, but for medical consumers who have fought for the right to access these types of products it hasn’t improved much, due to the low doses and high cost. There are still a lot of barriers to entry for many who were previously in the illicit space and licensing can still be slow, but there have been small improvements; and the hope is by cannabis 5.0 or 6.0 we may have a system that works better for everyone.

Have you faced any significant challenges as a woman in the cannabis industry?

Not as much as some. Working in the illicit cannabis industry, I never really had any issues at all. While the community was certainly male dominated, it didn’t feel necessarily exclusive. Almost from the moment licences were available, however, it became very different. Suddenly, inexperienced men were in demand and in charge everywhere; while very experienced and knowledgeable women were sidelined and subordinated. I have been pretty lucky overall, but it has definitely been more difficult even to just feel heard in some situations.

What are the key challenges currently facing cannabis patients and producers in Canada? Has the disconnect between federal and provincial regulations been an issue?

The key challenges facing patients are still cost and consistency. For producers, there are a lot of little issues: I think this is typical of navigating most bureaucratic landscapes. For the most part, there have not really been too many issues specifically caused by the divide between federal and provincial regulations – although there have still been some, such as Quebec and Manitoba trying to ban home growing of cannabis plants. Where the provinces have inserted themselves as brokers, this has caused problems and led to costs going up.

Federal government rules require 60 days’ notice for product descriptions – even if the brand, cultivar name, and product type have already been approved separately – if it’s the first time they are appearing in combination. This is a problem for smaller growers who don’t want to get locked into dealing with a single distributor, as well as for aggregators. There has recently been a change which makes this easier in some situations, but there is still no faster way to get these types of new combinations of previously approved elements through. One major thing that hasn’t addressed very well at a policy level was the role of First Nations. While they are generally subject to some rules of the province they are in, First Nations territories also considered equal to the provinces in some jurisdictional areas. The lack of a clear delineation of these responsibilities and rights has caused some problems we have yet to sort out.

How could Canadian policy evolve in order to better support cannabis producers and consumers?

This is tricky, because on one hand, we really didn’t start from the right place. Instead of transitioning the existing market, the approach was to hand the reins to big publicly traded companies and conglomerates. This foundation has led to many of the problems we now need to solve; and it’s been moving in the right direction, but very slowly. The biggest changes that would help would be to allow security clearances to be the first step of the application process, removing the tax from medical cannabis, allowing stronger edibles for patients, and finding a way to allow provincial health care programmes to cover cannabis.

Jamie Shaw
BC Independent Cannabis Association

This article is for issue 3 of Medical Cannabis Network. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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