Canada sets up advisory group to address issues in and build the cannabis industry

The Canadian government has set up a special advisory group to bring industry leaders and government officials around the same table in a bid to address the problems the country’s cannabis industry is facing.

The nine-member Cannabis Industry Forum, chaired by Hugo Alves, CEO of Auxly Cannabis Group, will advise the federal government on ways to tackle the industry’s challenges and how to take advantage of opportunities to grow Canada’s legal cannabis industry.

The other companies represented in the group are Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis, SNDL, Oceanic Releaf, Organigram Holdings, High Tide, Quebec Craft Cannabis and Cannaworld Ventures.

The creation of the forum was first promised in the Canadian government’s spring 2022 budget. It was touted as a way for government and industry to “work together to grow the legal cannabis sector in Canada”.

The budget said: “As a relatively new sector of the Canada economy, it is important that the federal government and all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities that are facing Canada’s legal cannabis sector.”

However, the government waited months, as the cannabis industry struggled, to set up the group.


Sharing perspectives and making recommendations


The government only revealed in late February, when it formally announced the creation of the forum, that it had already quietly begun preliminary meetings a year earlier. It also provided input to the expert panel that recently tabled a report recommending wide-ranging amendments to Canada’s cannabis law.

When he announced the forum’s creation, minister of innovation, science and industry François-Philippe Champagne said he wanted Canada to become an innovator and leader in the cannabis industry. “For Canada to be a leader in this global economy, we require the ability to adapt to new industries and sectors that benefit Canadians,” he wrote. “The Cannabis Industry Forum helps create innovative solutions to barriers that exist in this industry.”

Speaking as an individual rather than as chair on behalf of the forum, Alves said Canada needs a diverse, regulated cannabis industry that is viable and sustainable, but many in the industry are in difficulty.

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    “I think there are different perspectives about root causes and potential solutions, but I think there’s no disagreement among any of the stakeholders that legal industry participants are struggling to survive economically,” he told CannIntelligence. “And that’s resulted in hundreds of failed businesses, a record number of public insolvency and thousands of lost jobs.”

    Alves said the forum is an opportunity to provide the government with more perspective on the economic struggles the industry is facing. For example, the forum has already recommended the government change the existing excise tax on cannabis to a 10% ad-valorum rate.

    He would also like the government to reduce or remove the regulatory fee charged by Health Canada, to ease regulations on communication with consumers about products, and to allow higher THC limits in edibles so the legal industry can better compete with the illegal market – the last being something the recent report recommended against doing.


    Real change or just ‘window dressing’?


    Brad Poulos, a professor at Toronto Metropolitan University who studies the cannabis industry, said there are limits to what the forum can accomplish because the federal government oversees only part of Canada’s cannabis industry.

    While the federal government deals more with the production side, it is the provinces and territories that would have to address problems caused by the distribution system.

    Poulos said the expert panel report on Canada’s cannabis legislation and the government actions that follow risk having more of an impact on the country’s cannabis industry than the forum. “A lot of it, I think, is window dressing, quite frankly,” he said.

    Alves is more optimistic: “I’m very positive about the impact that the forum can have, and I think it provides us a good avenue to share perspectives with government stakeholders and other public stakeholders and to make them aware about not only the challenges we face but also the important role that we play in accomplishing the objectives of the Cannabis Act.”

    – Elizabeth Thompson CannIntelligence contributing writer

    Photo: Enrique Hoyos

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    This article was written by one of CannIntelligence’s international correspondents. We currently employ more than 40 reporters around the world to cover individual cannabis and cannabinoid markets. For a full list, please see our Who We Are page.