There won’t be wreaths of smoke wafting overhead at this weekend’s Cannabis Expo at the cavernous Vancouver Convention Centre West.
It’s all business for more than 130 industry exhibitors, who will welcome an expected 10,000 of the curious on Saturday and Sunday, a month after the federal government introduced new regulations governing medical marijuana use, and less than a year before the expected legalization of recreational use for adults.
For the marijuana industry in B.C. and Canada, it’s the calm before a commercial storm — selling pot for medicinal use will be dwarfed by the trade in pot for recreational users.
“The people who have been in the industry for a long time are seeing that they need to position themselves differently now that we are close to legalization,” said Natasha Raey of Vancouver-based Expo organizer Lift Cannabis. “The time for sort of rah-rah activism is starting to quiet down. This is the time for, let’s position ourselves as a real, professional industry, so that everyone takes us seriously.”
Lift chief engagement officer Natasha Raey. Picasa / PROVINCE
Lift, an online meeting place for users and producers, organized a similar event in May that drew about 10,000 people at Toronto’s Convention Centre. Exhibitors in Vancouver include health-care professionals and entrepreneurs, among them cannabis producers licensed under the federal government’s Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, which took effect in August.
All the scrambling to get in at the ground floor of a — legally — new business calls to mind the heady days of the dot-com boom at the millennium’s turn. Welcome to the pot-com boom.
Among the events are a startup pitch competition, and a cannabis career fair. There will be tutorials on home growing, but this isn’t the event to come to for a contact high.
“We just try to show the industry through a more polished and professional view,” Raey said. “There will not be any cannabis displayed or for sale.”
Angling for a piece of the growing Canadian market is Vancouver-based Aurora Cannabis Inc., which serves 7,700 medical marijuana clients with product grown at a 55,000-square-foot facility northwest of Calgary. Aurora got its medical marijuana licence in November 2015, and began registering clients for its delivery service in January of this year. Clients must be verified by a health care practitioner under current law.
“All of our products are available to them online, over the phone, or through a mobile app that we just released this week,” said Neil Belot, Aurora’s chief brand officer.
Reflecting on success Neil Belot is chief brand officer at Aurora Cannabis, which just completed a $23 million financing with securities firm Canaccord Genuity to expand its Canada-wide online cannabis delivery service in anticipation of the feds legalizing recreational use next spring here in Vancouver’s Coal Harbour on September 14, 2016. Mark van Manen / PNG
While Belot and others at the expo talk about medical marijuana users, the real prize is the anticipated legalization of marijuana in Canada by next spring for adult recreational use. Scheduled speakers include Dr. Mark Ware, a medical cannabis researcher at McGill University and vice-chair of the federal government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, announced in July.
“The future is definitely bright for the recreational users,” Belot said. “Whether the government decides to pilot it out with a national mail-order program, we would be well positioned to immediately jump into that.”
As to the scale of the recreational market, Belot said, “We’re talking orders of magnitude larger (than the market for medical users). I would say in the millions of potential clients.
“I look at it similar to the lifting of the prohibition of alcohol. The main difference is, this was 100 years longer, a lot more time for pent-up demand to build, and for the underground market to develop and establish. This is really about legitimizing what’s already been happening.”
Belot is an MBA who comes to the industry by way of Bay Street and a seven-year stint working for several ministries within the Ontario provincial government. He said Aurora, traded on the Canadian Securities Exchange, just completed a $23-million financing through securities firm Canaccord Genuity, aimed at bankrolling a bigger grow-op — a planned 600,000-square-foot Alberta greenhouse.
Aurora also recently acquired a company called Cannabis RX, which provides counselling on medical cannabis at 17 clinics in Ontario. Belot said they just opened a clinic in Alberta and more are planned across Canada.
“We’ve launched other innovative services such as same-day delivery,” Belot said. “In certain areas in Alberta, patients can actually register through our online portal, get approved, demo the app, place an order and receive the product at their front door within a matter of hours. It’s definitely a new world.”
Health Canada rules set in August allow Aurora to provide its medical clients with dried cannabis flowers, which can be smoked or vaporized. The new federal rules allow medical marijuana users to grow their own, and Aurora has a hand in that as well.
“We want to help people do their do their own home grow. We’re going be announcing more details about Home Grown solutions by Aurora — providing starting materials, genetics for home growers, helping them access the system through our partnership with Cannabis RX, and also our ways to provide best-in-class home grown solutions.”
As with the earlier dot-com scramble, positioning seems to be the catchword going into the cannabis expo.
“There are a lot of brands starting to come out in the cannabis space,” said organizer Raey, who also comes from a business background with an MBA in health administration.
She acknowledged that the growing corporate presence marks a change in the marijuana world.
“It’s always a little scary to use the word corporatization,” said Raey, who describes herself as a conservative. “In the marijuana industry people are more into that sort of craft feel. That’s the thing we think about every day — what’s legalization going to look like and what are the players going to look like. But like any industry, you have farmers markets or grocery stores, people like to have choice.”
Tickets for the entire expo weekend are $15 if purchased online and $20 at the door. More information is at http://www.liftexpo.ca.