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Weed labs help in pandemic

Cannabis testing labs asked to join in COVID-19 fight

Cannabis companies, illegal less than two years ago, are now proving to be essential in more ways than one.

Last week, B.C. joined a growing number of places that have declared cannabis an essential service. That means retailers and producers can continue their operations amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring medical patients and recreational customers have access.

Now other sectors of the industry are being asked by the federal government to go above and beyond.

Health Canada is asking cannabis laboratories to shift into providing testing services needed in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

Rod Szarka, vice-president of marketing and business development at Keystone Labs, said the company has been testing much-needed sanitizers.

“For the last two weeks, we’ve been getting calls non-stop from people who have developed hand sanitizers or disinfectants and want to have them tested,” said Szarka.

“We do have the capabilities in-house to do that.”

Keystone, based in Edmonton, Alta., does a variety of testing for the cannabis industry.

The company was one of many cannabis labs to receive a letter from Health Canada asking if they had the capacity and interest in helping with coronavirus-related testing.

Szarka said they don’t have the capability to process tests specifically for the virus. However, they can certify sanitizers and disinfectants, for example to be 99.9% effective on bacteria.

Keystone, which started in 2005 as a pharmaceutical testing company, was granted a cannabis licence in 2015. The company does a lot of production facility testing, including helping licensed producers ensure their facilities are sterile after each new production cycle.

It has also been doing stability testing to help designate best before dates on oils and Cannabis 2.0 products.

Cannabis companies are also proving to be good neighbours.

With front-line, healthcare workers facing a critical shortage of personal protective gear, such as masks and gloves, some cannabis producers have offered their own stock.

The generosity is a silver lining to the shutdown of Canopy Growth’s two massive greenhouses in B.C., as they were able to donate thousands of items.


Challenges ahead

Even as legal retailers celebrate the provincial government’s historic declaration, they worry that staffing shortages will become an issue.

BDS Analytics, which specializes in cannabis market and trends reports, surveyed retailers all over North America. It found storeowners have a strong resolve to stay open, but are facing increasing staffing challenges.

For now, retailers have generally been able to cover the holes by assigning more hours to remaining staff or operating with fewer employees, said Greg Shoenfeld, the firm’s vice-president of operations.

“If the staffing becomes tighter, that will be a constraint,” he added. “To the best of their ability, they are planning to stay open.”

Nearly 60% of retailers said they have experienced staffing constraints. This number continues to increase.

In the Okanagan, local retailers have said staff members who are at higher risk of falling severely ill from coronavirus or who fear passing it along to family members are already staying home. Some stores have been forced to close.

For the lucky ones that have been able to remain open, sales are unprecedented as people stock up.

Shoenfeld said retailers have seen “tremendous, tremendous sales. Some characterized it as being as (busy), or busier, than 4/20.”

Good old-fashioned bud is the product of choice right now, especially in large formats, like ounces.

“By and large, the most common product category that retailers are indicating is moving fast is flower, some particularly called out CBD-heavy flower as going first,” he said.

Edibles are also proving highly popular.

BDS co-founder and CEO Roy Bingham noted cannabis consumption is clearly on the increase among consumers.

“They’re anxious about the future, they’re going to be spending a lot of time being home alone,” he said. “You can’t go to the gym, or do other things you might do to relax.”

The latest info from BDS is predicting an impending slowdown in the cannabis market as the recession deepens and cannabis consumers sit on their mountain of stock.

Cannabis and coronavirus

Initially, COVID-19 was merely an inconvenience for stoners.

With panicked shoppers buying out all the isopropyl alcohol, we couldn’t clean our bongs or vapes.

As infections spread, it’s fast becoming a much larger problem for everyone, including in the cannabis community.

For starters, the pandemic is causing the cancellation of events.

One of the country’s biggest cannabis events, 420 Vancouver, announced it was taking a hiatus.

“Though 4/20 is a protest, it is not a protest against health officials, and it makes sense to help them protect the public from the outbreak of an infectious virus,” said 420 Vancouver organizers.

Locally, the Growing Summit in Kelowna has also been postponed.

The conference, which was to bring together legacy and legal growers, was scheduled for March 31 and April 1 at The Laurel Packinghouse downtown.

“It was important to make a decision given the news of the last 20 hours,” organizers said in an email.

Many conferences set for Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere internationally, have been postponed or cancelled.

Cannabis sales, meanwhile, have spiked as consumers begin to stockpile. It’s a trend being seen all over the country.

Spiritleaf in Vernon said it has seen an uptick in sales, adding they are taking steps to protect staff and customers from COVID-19.

“We have removed our sensory jars as these sample containers are handled frequently by staff and customers,” said the store in a statement posted to Instagram.

“We want you to know that our store is and always has been cleaned regularly, and touched up throughout the day by our amazing staff, ensuring all high-traffic areas are sanitized regularly.”

Spiritleaf offered a few tips for people staying home:

  • Stock up — you’re allowed 30 grams of cannabis per transaction.
  • Call in your order to speed the process up in store.
  • Use a local delivery service with a 19-plus driver.

As the pandemic drags on, it’s likely that cannabis stores will be forced to close. It also has the potential to lead to a weakened legal supply chain due to a shortage of masks and gloves — requirements for staff at licensed producers.

Keep in mind that for many, cannabis is medicine. Health Canada suggests filling prescriptions and ensuring you have a good supply of the medications you need.

While the purchase and carry limit is 30 grams, you can have as much as you want at home.

Here are five practical tips:

Don’t pass the Dutchie: Now is not the time to share the same joint or vape with others. We are being advised to create social distance to slow the spread and flatten the curve.

Don’t panic: Getting paranoid about things while high is not fun. If you’re aware that you tend to overthink things negatively, then take a break or switch to CBD strains.

Don’t sellout: Those who own weed stocks are panic selling. Portfolios across the board are hurting, so don’t dump all your investments while they are plummeting. Markets recover, like people after they get sick.

Do prepare: The infection rate is said to be 30-70%, so make sure you are gradually building up your pantry, closet and freezer with things you will use. Having the munchies and no food is not fun.

Do relax: If you can work from home now, enjoy the experience. If you’re in the position to take a vacation or sabbatical, this is the time. Creating social distance also means you can spend time at home with family without the pressure to always be on the go.

The Growing Summit hits downtown Kelowna: March 31-April 1

Cannabis summit coming

An upcoming conference in downtown Kelowna will bring together legacy and legal cannabis growers.

Organizers of the Growing Summit, held on March 31 and April 1 at The Laurel Packinghouse, say this is a perfect time to make key connections at “a pinnacle-moment” for the industry. 

“An important focus of the conference is networking and building community,” said Stephanie Ostrander, chair of the summit’s planning committee.

“We recognize this is how craft growers will succeed in this corporatized industry – by working together and building buying power, sharing the cost of services like QA (quality assurance), accounting, security and information-sharing.”

In the early days…

To many, it became brutally apparent early on in legalization that the evolution from conspicuous grow-ops to big ol’ mechanized factories was going to be bumpy. Poor quality flower from some of the biggest names – fill in the blank(s) – left even the staunchest supporters grumbling.

Yes, there were diamonds in the larf: 7Acres, Whistler Cannabis Co., Tantalus Labs. But overall, large-scale factories weren’t ideal due to the often underwhelming quality and higher price compared to the black market. 

Now with Cannabis 2.0 products more widely available, competition is even tougher. That means consistent quality is paramount to bringing repeat business. Those who buy the majority of buds are the discerning type. Craft cannabis is definitely a thing.

A conference in the heart of the B.C. Interior to talk about how to grow really great pot is a timely event for anyone serious about gleaning insight.

B.C. bud has a reputation for a reason. 

The venue itself is a historic symbol of the Okanagan Valley’s growing prowess. And maybe you’ve heard of a little place called Nelson.

Fun and games

Keep in mind that the Growing Summit isn’t like an HR conference… no offence to HR people.

It’s a cannabis conference and this isn’t all serious business. There is fun to be had hanging out at “the sidewalk scene.” 

This event does draw some of the finest growers so expect to be handed a sample or two. 

All meals are served at the venue and there are plenty of opportunities to make friends. 

If you are interested in going, use the promo code “420S” for 20% off the price; food is included. 

(If asked, say you heard it from the oz.)

Quick hits

Hobo is king of cannabis in Vancouver. Take a tour of their Vancouver flagship store. the oz.

He shoots, he scores! Eight-year-old wins $200 worth of cannabis products at youth hockey tournament. CTV News

Cannabis can be a leader in gender equality. The Cannabis 101 Podcast interviews Her(b) founder Gill Polard. the oz.

Dad jokes

I got an email from Google saying "At Google Earth, we are able to read maps backwards!" and I thought;
"That's just spam!"
A priest, a minister, and a rabbit walk into a blood bank...
The rabbit says, “I think I might be type o.”
I asked my sheepdog how many sheep we had, he said 40.
"What? We should only have 37!" I replied.
"I know" he said, "I rounded them up."


Email questions or tips to [email protected] 

A mug o' cannabis tea

Settling in for the night is more pleasant with a cup of tea.

This week, I sipped on a mug of CBD-infused Everie Peach Ginger Green Tea. It tasted… well, just peachy, and it felt warmly pleasant. It even got a giggle out of me.

I shared a literal pot with my partner; we both felt the evening cup had a mellow calming effect with a light high. It came on delightfully fast.

There is 10 mg of CBD and a tiny amount of THC in each of the three bags that came in the package. 

Another Hobo location 

Vancouver’s cannabis retail market now has a leader by numbers.

Hobo Cannabis, a retail venture of Vancouver-based Donnelly Group, now has majority market share in Vancouver, with the launch of its fourth location.

The store is in Vancouver’s shopping district on Robson Street. It’s the company’s fifth location in B.C. — as Hobo operates one of the only two stores currently open in Kelowna.

Hobo is expanding, too. It has three upcoming Ontario locations, including the first legal cannabis retail store in Timmins, as well as a location in Ottawa’s historic ByWard Market and another planned in the suburb of Nepean.

The shop Hobo had initially opened in Ottawa is no longer listed among its properties. 

THC breathalyzer is hard

Apparently, it’s not easy to develop a roadside cannabis breathalyzer test. 

Researchers at UBC Okanagan have been working on it for years. There is now a race to get to market, but there are still roadblocks to the detection tech becoming ubiquitous.

Engineering Prof. Mina Hoorfar, who runs UBC Okanagan’s Advanced Thermo-Fluidic Lab, has been working on a device for several years using her ‘artificial nose’ technology.

She supervised a study of the five leading styles of THC breathalyzers that are either currently commercialized or under development. The review was led by doctoral student Hamed Mirzaei.

“Despite its large potential, breath analysis still has several technical difficulties,” says Mirzaei.

“A healthy person can exhale a complex mixture of inorganic gases and many of these chemicals are from sources such as smoking, food consumption, bacterial microflora, work environments and medication.”

In other words, we ain’t there yet.

Five minutes and you’re high

Edibles can take forever to kick in, which is a drag when you want to get a buzz in the evening, but have to consume much earlier. 

It’s an unpredictable science that can put you in a weird situation.

However, major cannabis producer Aphria says it has drinks that get you high in five minutes flat.

The company’s scientists say they’ve developed water soluble “beverage enhancers” that cause a quick kick into the effect.

Email questions or tips to [email protected]

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About the Author

David Wylie is publisher of the oz. — a cannabis newsletter that covers the growing legal weed industry from the Okanagan Valley.

He has been a journalist for nearly two decades, working in newsrooms all over Canada.  

David is active as okanaganz on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Subscribe to the email newsletter at okanaganz.com.

An ounce of info goes a long way.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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