April 5, 2023

"Cannabis Related" X CannExpo

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By Onell Crawford

On March 24-26 I was invited to Cannexpo in Toronto by Rev. Kelly Addison and Thomas O’Neill to host “The State of the Industry”. This was the first Cannexpo ever, and was geared towards retailers, consumers, and budtenders. There were many exhibitors that focused on educating the consumers that entered the event.

I had the honor of interviewing the former Minister of Health, Deputy Premier of Ontario, and current CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada (Hereinafter referred to as “C3”) George Smitherman, whose background includes 10 years worth of elected services.

In speaking with George, I learned that he is a proponent for strong and reasonable industry standards. Through our discussion I understand his efforts to supporting the development and growth of the newly regulated cannabis market in Canada. George has taken on the responsibility, via C3, to offer resources on issues related to safe and responsible use of cannabis both medically and recreationally. His efforts continue to support education and eliminating organized crime from the cannabis economy while having strong convictions around keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors. He has also developed this company to support licensed producers by way of advocating for reasonable and sustainable changes within the cannabis regulatory framework.

I also had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Susan Dupej, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Guelph in the School of Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management. Dr. Dupej is also President of the Cannabis Tourism Alliance (CCTA), and in our discussion we spoke on the collateral damage to not having an industry accommodate this newly found regulatory framework. Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, where do people consume? Especially considering it is legal to consume recreationally. The importance of treating adults like adults and having safe places for adults to consume is a discussion that is needed to be had at the highest levels of government.

With a mandate to provide education and public safety, unaddressed conversations such as consumption lounges poses not only risk, but barriers to safe consumption for all. In addition, Susan is focused on the tourism aspect, which in my humble opinion, is a conversation that also requires deep understanding and conversation. With cannabis being legal federally in Canada, where would tourists feel safe to consume in a new country, province, or city? As Susan so eloquently mentioned, “…cannabis-consumption, in the context of tourism, is not a new phenomenon but the legal context  in which it takes place, is.” Now that we are somewhat out of the stale of the 2019 Pandemic, one would imagine that travel will increase, and along with that so will tourism.

Reverend Kelly Addison and myself had communicated prior to the show and she shared her desire to support the cannabis industry in Canada by offering coverage via the KGLTV which broadcasts education and advocacy across the country for cannabis culture and the community.

Thomas O’neill otherwise known as “the budder Baron” and myself also took some time out to have a conversation to discuss advocacy around dignified consumption and the introduction to non-combustable consumption models in Canada. Thomas is on the BoD of the CCTA and currently working on advocacy towards new cannabis consumption models in Canada. Thomas also held a cooking contest that was the first of its kind that mixed live stage demonstrations of culinary cannabis methods while simulcasting (live-streaming) the entire show onto social networking platforms in real-time that was able to successfully capture the spirit of the cannabis community. Thomas “Budder Baron” O’Neill is the managing partner of Aggressive Organics that offers infused catering, fine-dining, and canna-mixology experiences.

There were exhibitors there that were new to the cannabis industry with innovative products such as “Zomo” with their alfalfa rolling papers, Marigold and Tether that focused on marketing and budtenders as well as offering an event that was catered specifically to budtenders. If you have listened to my podcast you know I am a strong supporter for the frontline (the budtenders) so this was a great experience for them, albeit I was unable to get in, despite tempting offers to wear a disguise, due to not having a CannSell license. This was a heavily secured areas guarded by Kathryn Reilly and her partner Kelly Rasmussen. I spoke with Kathryn briefly at the show who is an innovator in the trade and consumer show industry for over 25 years.

I visited the Marigold Marketing and PR booth and had a candid conversation with the amazing team members at the booth about the state of the industry as well as their award-winning marketing and PR accolades. They represent some of the top brands in the cannabis industry and are a team of branding, social & PR experts that are extremely connected in the cannabis industry. We discussed their specialized marketing strategies as well as their PR and budtender engagements.

There were some well known names at the budtender event like Avicanna who has recently been awarded the rights to take over the medical cannabis distribution from Shoppers Drug Mart as well as CannMart, Kronic Relief, and of course Tether, who represents the Budtender community.

I had met some great brands and had a chance to chat with some about their experience and thoughts in the cannabis industry and why they decided to get into this volatile industry. Some of the answers surprised me and some were in line with what is needed in the space. Most, almost all, had the energy around providing a great product to the consumers and had the wherewithal to explain some details of the plant to the consumers that were in the show.

I had taken the time to interview a few people and get their take on why they entered the cannabis industry as well as some off the recording conversation with others. One of the groups that caught my attention was an indigenous brand that helped me understand some of the disparities within the legal cannabis framework that do not include them equally. I would like to dive into this further and understand the why…

There is so much talk around the war on drugs and how specific people have been marginalized and disenfranchised

Yet we are continuing to see these same disparities in the same industry that evolved from that oppressive behaviour.