Business community bracing for green rush of legal cannabis

At the end of the business this coming Tuesday, the 60 employees of the Original Farm’s two stores start a paid vacation while their employer closes the business to wait for provincial approval to sell cannabis.

Allan Lingwood, compliance officer for the company, is optimistic that its stores at 3055-A Scott St. and 1402 Douglas St. will be back in business within six weeks, once a provincial licence is approved.

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When that happens, stores will be stocked with product available through the province. “We will provide as much product as they have available for us,” Lingwood said Wednesday. “We are optimistic about their supply levels.”

Like other existing cannabis dispensaries in B.C., the Original Farm had to decide whether to stay open or to close while seeking a provincial licence. It put its products on sale this month in anticipation of the closure.

Marijuana will be legal across Canada on Oct. 17. But only one store, a provincial government outlet in Kamloops, has all approvals needed.

The economic impact, opportunities and potential of cannabis was the subject of a Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce event at the Hotel Grand Pacific on Wednesday.

Catherine Holt, CEO of the Chamber, told an audience of 130 that an industry of this size comes across only once in a generation. “It is going to have profound effects, most of which we are still trying to anticipate and describe and understand.”

The panel discussed where additional entrepreneurial opportunities will exist in the evolving sector. A wider variety of cannabis products is expected — everything from wellness products such as skin lotions and massage creams to a range of beverages and edibles. The panel heard consumers are expected to change their consumption patterns away from smoking cannabis to getting it in other ways.

High-tech companies able to pinpoint the various properties in products will be needed to provide information to customers. Giant alcohol companies are getting into the market.

Existing businesses, such as food processors able to turn out products on a large scale, may find a place in this business.

“It is going to happen faster than we can imagine,” said Peter Guo, an enterprise risk services leader for MNP, specializing in the cannabis sector.

The next wave of this industry is “going to require a heck of a lot more skill sets,” he said.

Canada’s estimated annual cannabis demand by 2021 is pegged at 734 tonnes, Guo said. As of June, there was 97 tonnes in inventory. “The gap is still quite large,” Guo said, even though it has been shrinking. “But what we don’t know is if that’s truly accurate,” he said. Another factor is the scope of international demand, Guo said. Canadian suppliers already have contracts with companies around the world.

In the city of Victoria, there are 29 operating cannabis outlets, said Jocelyn Jenkins, city manager. Of those, 23 have been rezoned. A total of 14 have business licences and another 10 are pending.

A cannabis dispensary needs provincial approval to operate and B.C. is asking municipalities for their recommendations on specific applications.

Victoria was proactive early on in setting up its processes and regulations around this sector, Jenkins said. “We feel like we have all our ducks in a row.”

Terry Lake, vice-president of corporate and social responsibility and communications for marijuana producer Hexo Corp., and a former B.C. health minister, said that in Canada there is not a regulatory system in place that informs customers in detail about what they are getting in the content.

Cannabis can be used to help deal with the opioid crisis by using it as an exit drug rather than a gateway drug, and can have a positive impact on public health, Lake said.

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