Oh Canada, the Lessons We Could Teach You
By Maryam Mirnateghi
The New York Times published an op/ed yesterday, written by one of its editors titled, What Canada Can Learn from California on Marijuana Legalization. It is a great story written by a great journalist and published in a timely manner, what with Canada going legal today, eh! However, if you were an editor at the nation’s top newspaper why wouldn’t your team tap the knowledge base in Washington or Colorado, instead of California, which is still in its honeymoon phase?
California is a hot mess at the moment, which was sort of the gist of the Times’ story, but that also sort of kills its credibility as a source. Had the Times’ called me or one of my colleagues in Washington, we would have offered two lessons that those in Canada (and even California) might want to pay attention to. These lessons stem from the onset of somewhat unforeseen problems, which we are now forced to deal with, and which anyone fairly new to the cannabis industry might find surprising.
1. Beware of environmental problems: After less than a decade in business, the cannabis industry in Washington already has an ugly environmental record. There are two serious issues to contend with right away:
Grow waste: 1.5 million pounds of grow waste is being deposited in the state's landfills, largely a result of regulations created by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) during the industry’s initial roll out.
Single-use plastics: Washington now has a single-use plastic-waste problem, with 90% of the cannabis packaging being sold falling into this non-recyclable material category. By 2020 some experts estimate the entire cannabis industry will be generate well over one billion units of single-use plastic packaging waste per year if things don’t change. Again, this is partly due to regulations. The WSLCB mandated from the beginning that product be housed in a sealed, childproof package – hence, plastics.
2. Be wary of your edibles strategy: Have you seen the news from Washington lately? The WSLCB instituted a ban on cannabis gummies and hard candies one day, then the next put a moratorium on the ban for 30 days to discuss the ban's execution. This effects everyone from consumers and retail stores to the processing companies that make and brand the edibles, not to mention the producers who rely on the processors to buy their cannabis in order to make their now banned products. Cannabis is a legitimate industry and the entities governing it need to act in a manner that doesn’t injure it. Edibles are going to be an issue in Canada too.The idea is to ‘get it right’ from the start and then manage a long term strategy rather than play defense in the face of erratic changes.
Companies, regardless of industry, don't typically spend resources on R&D for new products and packaging without consideration for long-term viability. I'm sure many, if not all, of the edibles companies that will likely be put out of business by these new edibles standards would have planned accordingly had their products not been approved for the market by the WSLCB in the first place. And I bet if we worked to find an economically and environmentally sustainable way to package cannabis products and dispose of production waste, you’d be hard pressed to meet a producer who would rather use single-use plastic in packaging or fill landfills with their otherwise biodegradable waste. Contributing to global warming wasn’t part of anyone’s plan.
Each of these lessons we have learned in the state of Washington serve as pure examples of the fact that this legal cannabis market is an experiment. What’s being done today has never been done before (alcohol prohibition was a completely different situation and not comparable), and everyone involved in this industry from the business stakeholders to the WSLCB to our legislators and policy makers alike, are all learning together. On the fly.
Good luck today Canada! The early reports state that there isn’t nearly enough pot inventory to satisfy consumer demands. Hate to say it, but we’ve been there and done that too!