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By the ounce  

Top cannabis stories of 2020

This past year was a busy one in the cannabis sector.

From all the news, I narrowed it down to the top five stories in the world of weed in 2020.

If you’d rather watch me discuss these stories on The Cannabis 101 Podcast with Dean Millard, you can see us on YouTube. https://youtu.be/Mz0JruNG0Wg

Here’s the list from No. 5 to No. 1:

Cannabis 2.0 becomes widely available

Chocolates, gummies, teas, sparkling water, mints, powders, snack bars, vapes, hash, shatter…

There is now a veritable cornucopia of cannabis products from which to choose, and the selection will grow in numbers and diversity.

Customers are gravitating toward Cannabis 2.0 products.

The Canadian Cannabis Survey 2020 from Statistics Canada found that edibles have become very popular. In fact, they are the second most used form of cannabis. Flower remains king, with 79% of men and 67% of women partaking that way.

As for edibles, more than half of women who used cannabis reported using edibles, compared to 47% of men.

Beverages have not yet caught on. They are the least used cannabis products for both men and women (7% and 5%, respectively).

With the COVID-19 pandemic, people who have been feeling a little uncomfortable about smoking and vaping, as a respiratory illness spreads, have turned to alternatives.

Massive layoffs and restructuring

This was a bad year to work for a licensed cannabis producer.

Hundreds of people lost their jobs this year at major LPs, as cannabis growers bled money and tried to limit the damage by shutting down production facilities and shedding employees.

It was often done under the awful phrase, ‘right-sizing.’

Aurora laid off 200 people in December at its flagship Sky facility in Edmonton, where capacity will be cut to 25%. They’ve also indefinitely paused operations at their Medicine Hat operation.

In June, Aurora laid off 700 people as it ceased operations at five facilities in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Alberta and Quebec and consolidated operations at four facilities in Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia.

Meanwhile, Canopy Growth announced in December the closure of five sites across Canada, laying off 220 people. Operations in St. John’s, Fredericton, Edmonton, Bowmanville, Ont., and Saskatchewan are affected.

In March, Canopy had unveiled what it called a “production optimization plan.”

That blueprint included the closure of two greenhouse facilities in Aldergrove and Delta, B.C., sending about 500 into unemployment. In May, Canopy further scaled back, laying off another 200 people in Canada, the U.S. and the UK.

The year wasn’t all doom and gloom. There were also major deals setting the scene for the future growth of corporate cannabis.

Tilray and Aphria announced in December plans to merge, which would create a new biggest cannabis company in the world. The deal is valued at $4 billion.

Aphria CEO Irwin Simon will preside while his counterpart Brendan Kennedy will become a board member.

The deal is anticipated to be sealed by the second quarter of 2021. The newly formed company will keep the Tilray name. The combined entity will now command 17% of market share in Canada, says Yahoo Finance.

(Prediction: Look for more of these deals in the near future, as cannabis companies consolidate to compete in an increasingly large global cannabis market.)

The world’s biggest ever legal outdoor crop

A B.C. cannabis company harvested the largest ever legal outdoor cannabis crop.

Speakeasy Cannabis harvested 60 acres of plants this fall at its operation in Rock Creek, located at the end of Highway 33.

Speakeasy founder Marc Geen, whose father was a big deal in the early days of Sun-Rype, said the previous record was 40 acres in Colorado.

He said the weather this year was perfect for growing weed — plenty of blue sky and hot weather, with no rain for 65 days.

“What I had imagined for years finally came true and was more spectacular and amazing than I had pictured,” said Geen.

“It is difficult, if not impossible to describe what standing in the middle of 60 acres of blooming, fragrant cannabis plants is actually like. Everywhere you look, big healthy crystal covered buds, the fruity pungent aroma hanging thick in the air, the satisfaction of seeing the results of so much work, I wish you all could have walked through.”

The harvest yielded more than 72,000 kilograms of dried, fresh frozen and biomass, which will be packaged as flower and turned into extracts at Speakeasy’s production facility.

The world is going to pot

Cannabis is growing around the world, and this year it gained even more momentum.

Israel laid out a roadmap to legalize recreational cannabis within a year.

Mexico is working on its own plan to legalize recreational cannabis; though it’s been delayed a few times.

And the U.S. election saw four more states legalize recreational cannabis use through referendums: New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota.

That makes 13 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, that allow (or will allow) legal adult recreational use of cannabis.

With President-elect Joe Biden slated to move into the White House in Jan. 20, federal changes may be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, those familiar with the global market say Europe is sitting where Canada was about five years ago, and expect big changes overseas. That’s also clear from the investment that many major cannabis companies in Canada are making in the EU.

We are watching Australia closely, as they are a world leader in cannabis research and have a legalized medical marijuana. The Australian Capital Territory is the only place on the continent that has legalized recreational cannabis.

Cannabis is declared essential

In less than two years, cannabis went from illegal to indispensable.

As COVID-19 forced lockdowns and closures in Canada, provinces across the country listed cannabis retail and production among essential businesses.

The federal government, meanwhile, deemed medical cannabis production essential — a designation that helped provinces and municipalities in their own decision-making about what was essential vs. non-essential business.

As the pandemic wore on, numerous provinces also eased tight restrictions. In B.C., for example, retailers were allowed to sell recreational cannabis through their websites, though customers still had to come to the store to pick it up.

Similarly, jurisdictions all over legal states in the U.S. also declared cannabis essential.

Companies in the cannabis sector proved to be essential in more ways than one.

Health Canada asked cannabis laboratories to shift into providing testing services needed in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus, including testing sanitizers and disinfectants.

Cannabis companies also proved to be good neighbours.

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

Agree? Disagree? Email the author at [email protected]. You can also subscribe to the oz. email newsletter, which comes out on Fridays.





Cannabis lullaby



Horgan snubs native group

When it comes to the grey area of unlicensed cannabis stores, the provincial government strategy seems to be to plant their heads in the sand.

Last week, Premier John Horgan chose not to attend a virtual roundtable with Indigenous leaders to talk about their place in the legal cannabis industry.

A consortium of chiefs from different First Nations invited Horgan and Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to a virtual event to discuss a path to self-determination for First Nations through legal cannabis distribution.

Neither politician responded, despite multiple attempts by organizers to secure an RSVP.

The Indigenous group — All Nations Chiefs, represented by Shxwa:y’ First Nation, Cheam First Nation, Soowahlie First Nation and Sq’éwlets First Nation — say they were “disheartened” by the snub.

“Today, we remain on the fringes of an industry that we should have the equal right to participate in,” says Darwin Douglas, councillor for Cheam First Nation and CEO of All Nations Cannabis.

The event was set up to discuss the delays and barriers impacting their involvement in Canada’s cannabis sector. The group says it wanted to secure government guidance and support to enter the industry as legal distributors. To that end, the communities drafted a licensing proposal for government feedback and direction.

“We needed government to come to the table to help us understand how to legally participate, so we brought the table to them with this event. We even set the table with our licensing proposal, but they still didn’t come,” says Douglas.

In response, the Ministry of Public Safety declined an interview; instead, they sent a statement saying:

“the province is committed to supporting Indigenous participation in the emerging legal cannabis industry and always willing to sit down with Indigenous Nations to talk about opportunities.

“We recognize that some Indigenous Nations may have differing views with respect to jurisdictional responsibilities outlined in federal cannabis legislation, and are committed to understanding these perspectives,” says the statement.

Meanwhile, members of a loose organization of legally licensed cannabis retailers have also said they are frustrated by the province.

Under the name Class Action Cannabis, the group points to months of email correspondence that has gone nowhere over a lack of enforcement against unlicensed shops and mail order marijuana sites.

The emails obtained by the oz. show retailers have been trying to work with officials. They’ve communicated their concerns with both the RCMP’s Community Safety Unit and the BC Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch — but they’re bounced back and forth as government defers to the RCMP and police defers to the government

And nobody claims responsibility.

“If you have not spoken to the MLA or MP about your concerns that may be an option as well,” says one RCMP staff sergeant in the email chain.

Yet, an email from Farnworth says it’s not up to him.

“The province does not provide operational direction to police forces,” he states.

Farnworth told them he’s “sympathetic to the alleged impacts” on their business, and he acknowledged storefront and online illegal operators are an ongoing problem.

However, he rejected proposed financial aid measures to help legal stores, saying it would be impossible to determine which particular legal retail operators are actually impacted.

The RCMP did not responded to a request for comment.



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Tories need high-er thinking

It’s high time for the Conservatives to let go of their outdated views of cannabis.

They need to distance themselves from baseless claims, such as those made on social media this week by failed Conservative Party leadership candidate Peter MacKay.

MacKay took to Twitter to attack legalization, one of his favourite drums to beat.

“It surely has not gone well in Canada ... the black market and criminal element is flourishing, the negative impacts on mental health and increased addictions are starting to be felt while national productivity slips further ... why did we do this again??”

MacKay may as well have cited the Boogeyman as his source because his claims are just as made up.

The black market is far from flourishing.

Legal cannabis sales have made a deep dent into illicit sales, now accounting for more than half of all weed transactions, according to Statistics Canada

Legalization is also creating a brain drain for illicit operators as talented growers are wooed by the opportunity to bring their genetics to the legal market under micro-licences that are perfect for smaller craft brands.

As for mental health, there are actually groundbreaking studies underway, and legalization has created an unprecedented opportunity for researchers.

For example, the Mental Health Commission of Canada recently announced $1.4 million in funding for 14 different community-led research projects on the relationship between cannabis and mental health, including some of the first Indigenous-led studies.

While legal adult use has increased since legalization, cannabis use among Canadian teens has gone down. There are no real stats on whether addiction has increased, decreased, or stayed the same.

Finally, MacKay makes a passing reference to slipping national productivity — as if droves of Canadians are now couch-locked in an Indica-induced stupour instead of making the country’s gears turn like the good little cogs they are.

He seems to be leaning on the age-old stereotype that people who use cannabis are lazy no-good slackers. Reality doesn’t back his unreasoned bias

Perhaps MacKay was drunk when he wrote his tweet?

This isn’t the first time he’s spouted off about his off-base views on legalizing cannabis. During the Conservative Party leadership race back in February — which he lost to Erin O’Toole — MacKay made clear he doesn’t support legalization, and further called it “a complete failure.” 

“It was forced,” he said. “It was the back-of-a-napkin promise that the current prime minister had made. There’s now simply more marijuana available to more people, including young people.”

It’s time for Conservatives to put this kind of baseless talk away.

In fact, fiscal conservatives should fully endorse legalization. It provides individual freedom and responsibility, opens a new free market, and reduces government spending on petty drug enforcement.

As for current Conservative leader O’Toole, he has his own cannabis skeletons in his closet.

We’re giving away a limited edition oz. tuque. To enter our upcoming draw, email [email protected] with your most groan-inducing dad joke.



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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.

 

 



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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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