Tag Archives: compete

The (Arrested) Rise of Craft Cannabis in Canada

By Steven Burton
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It’s no secret that the rollout of cannabis legalization has underperformed in countries like Canada. Since legalization in October of 2018, industry experts have warned that the projections of the big cannabis firms and venture capitalists far exceeded the expected demand from the legal market.

Today, major production facilities are closing down, some before they even opened, dried flower inventory is sitting on shelves in shocking quantities (and degrading in quality), and an extremely robust illicit market accounts for an estimated 80% of the estimated $8 billion Canadian cannabis industry. None of those things sound like reasons for optimism, but while some models for cannabis business are withering away, others are beginning to put down stronger roots. Crucially, we are beginning to see new business models emerge that will be able to compete against the robust black market in Canada.

The Legal Cannabis Industry Can’t Compete

Legal rollout in Canada could easily be described as chaotic, privileging larger firms with access to capital who were able to fulfil the rigid – and expensive – regulatory requirements for operating legally. But bigger in this case certainly did not mean better. The product these larger firms offered immediately following legalization was of a lower qualityand higher price than consumers would tolerate. In Ontario, cannabis being shipped to legal distributors lacks expiration dates, leaving retailers with no indication of what to sell first, and consumers stuck with a dry, poor quality product.

The majority of existing cannabis consumers across the country prefer the fresher, higher quality and generally lower priced product they can easily find on the illicit market. That preference couldn’t be clearer when you look at the growth of inventory, which is far outpacing sales, in the graph below:

Source: Government of Canada

Which brings us to the crux of the matter: when it comes to building up the Canadian cannabis industry, what will succeed against the black market that has decades of expertise and inventiveness behind it?

Rising From the Ashes: Craft Growers and Other Small-Scale Producers

The massive facilities like Canopy’s may be shutting down, but our friends over at Althing Consulting tell us that those millions of square feet facilities are being replaced by smaller, more boutique-style cultivation facilities in the 20,000 ft tier, which are looking to be the future of the industry.

Consumers have consistently shown a strong preference for craft cultivators and other small-scale producers who produce higher quality, more varied products that are more responsive to consumer needs. It also hasn’t hurt that prices are also coming down: Pure Sun Farms in Delta, BC is consistently selling out of their $100/ounce special, which is highly competitive even with the illicit market.

This vision of the industry matches up better with the picture we’ve been getting from other legalization projects around the world. It also squares with other indicators of success. Despite the small market capture of the legal market, industry employment numbers are still relatively high, especially when compared with more established legal consumer products markets such as beer. In fact, craft cannabis growers now employ nearly as many people as the popular craft brewing sector here in British Columbia.

But in order to make the craft cannabis market actually competitive in both the regulated and unregulated spaces, the government will have to address four major challenges.

Challenge #1: License Distribution is Uneven and Chaotic

A December 2020 report by Ontario’s auditor general contains admissions by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), Ontario’s cannabis industry regulator, that they lack the capacity and resources to manage the number of applications for private cannabis retailing. Problems relating to the issuing of licenses, including long delays and difficult requirements, are widespread across provinces. One way this becomes clear is by looking at the very uneven distribution of stores across the country in the graph below.

Source: MJBiz Daily

Challenge #2: Basic Regulatory Compliance is Complex and Time-Consuming

Smaller-scale micro cultivators, whose good quality craft product remains in high demand, still face prohibitive barriers to entry into the legal market. Licensing from Health Canada is one onerous challenge that everyone must tackle. Monthly reporting requirements have in excess of 477 compliance fields. Without additional support to navigate these requirements – including automation technology to ease the administrative burden – these smaller producers struggle to meet the minimum regulatory standards to compete in the legal market.

Challenge #3: A Long-Distance Road to Compliance and Safety Means Higher Costs

Even with all regulatory requirements satisfied, cannabis cultivators can’t sell their product from “farm to fork” (to borrow a phrase from the food industry). Many growers ship their product to be irradiated in order to ensure they are below the acceptable microbial threshold set by Health Canada. While irradiation positively impacts the safety of the product, new evidence shows that it may degrade quality by affecting the terpene profile of the plant. Furthermore, only a few facilities in Canada will irradiate cannabis products in the first place, meaning that companies have to ship the finished product sometimes thousands of kilometers to get their product to market.

Next year, Health Canada looks set to lower the limit on microbials, making it virtually impossible to avoid cannabis irradiation. If Health Canada follows through, the change will be a challenge for small-scale cultivators who strive to prioritize quality, cater to consumers who are increasingly becoming more educated about terpene profiles, and seek to minimize the environmental impact of production.

Challenge #4: It is Virtually Impossible to Market Improved Products

Finally, there is a marketing problem. Even though the regulated market has made dramatic improvements in terms of product quality from legalization two years ago, Health Canada’s stringent marketing restrictions means that cannabis producers are virtually unable to communicate these improvements to consumers. Cannabis producers have little to no opportunity to reach consumers directly, even at the point of sale – most legal sales are funneled through government-run physical and online stores.

What Can a Thriving, Legal Cannabis Market Look Like in Canada?

The good news is that change is being driven by cannabis growers. Groups like BC Craft Farmers Co-Op are pooling resources, helping each other navigate financial institutions still hostile to the cannabis trade, obtain licenses and organizing craft growers to advocate to the government for sensible regulatory changes. As a result of their advocacy, in October, the federal government initiated an accelerated review of the Cannabis Act’s restrictive regulations related to micro-class and nursery licenses.

Now, more co-op models are popping up. Businesses like BC Craft Supply are working to provide resources for licensing, quality assurance and distribution to craft growers as well. Indigenous growers are also showing us how cannabis regulation could work differently. Though Indigenous cultivators currently account for only 4% of Canadian federal cannabis licensees (19/459), that number looks to be growing, with 72 new site applications in process self-identified as Indigenous, including 27 micro cultivators. In September, Williams Lake First Nation entered into a government-to-government agreement with the province of British Columbia to grow and sell their own cannabis. The press release announcing the agreement includes the following statement:

“The agreement supports WLFN’s interests in operating retail cannabis stores that offer a diverse selection of cannabis products from licensed producers across Canada, as well as a cannabis production operation that offers farm-gate sales of its own craft cannabis products.”

More widespread adoption of the farm-gate model, which allows cultivators to sell their products at production sights like a winery or brewery, has a two-fold benefit: it better supports local, small-scale producers, and it offers opportunities in the canna-tourism sector. As the economy begins its recovery alongside vaccine rollouts and restrictions on travel ease, provincial governments will have the chance to leverage the reputation of unique regional cannabis offerings (i.e. BC bud) through these farm-gate operations.

While the cannabis legalization story in Canada has had its bumps, the clear path forward for greater legal market success lies in increased support for micro-cultivators. By increasing support for these small-scale producers to navigate regulatory requirements, more will be able to enter the legal market and actually compete against their illicit counterparts. The result will be higher quality and more diverse products for consumers across the country.

Canadian Companies Continue European Cannabis Moves

By Marguerite Arnold
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There is a lot of European news afoot from the big public Canadian companies between all the headlines about Israel. Namely, established cannabis companies in the market already continue to shore up their presence across multiple member EU states.

What is at stake? Establishing some kind of European foothold in an environment where licensing and production costs will not bust the bank- and what will be the first government-set, pre-negotiated bulk price for medical cannabis flower. For all the high-flying news of even hundred million-dollar (or euro) investments, right now the biggest hunt is on for ways to trigger sales figures that continue to grow steadily in the customer column.

There is also a dawning realization that prices are going to start stabilizing if not falling after the German government finalizes its selection of bid winners.european union states

As a result of all of this, to compete against each other and streamline distribution and supply chain costs, the larger Canadian companies in the market are clearly angling to set up efficient distribution networks- even if that means buying pieces of them one country and property at a time.

How well that will work in the longer run remains to be seen- but it is a play that is starting to show up in other European developments (from the Israeli side). That said, the latest news of the big guys in the field make sense within this context, if none other.

Canopy Growth Announces UK and Polish Moves

Spectrum Cannabis, the European-based medical brand of Canopy Growth chalked two more achievements off its Euro “to do list” in January. At the beginning of the month, Spectrum announced it was preparing to enter the UK market via the creation of a joint venture with Beckley Canopy Foundation, Spectrum Biomedical.

In Poland, the company also announced the successful shipment of its high-THC whole flower “Red No.2.” The Polish government began allowing sales late last year.

Neither development however should be a surprise to those watching the strategy of either Canopy or for that matter several other public Canadian cannabis companies. Aurora, for example, announced its first successful shipment into the country on the same day that the Polish government changed the law. On the British side, the combined forces of changing the regulatory scheduling of cannabis and allowing the drug to be dispensed by prescription have certainly changed the game on some levels. Brexit is about to play havoc with most imported products, and cannabis is no exception to this.Canopy_Growth_Corporation_logo

In this sense, the challenges facing both British and Polish patients right now are also fairly analogous. Importing is the only way to get the drug to patients, and the cost of import is also prohibitively high for most. Then of course, there is actual approval beyond that, which is also a problem everywhere cannabis has become legal.

While both developments of course, are good news for the company, this does not mean that the initial going will be easy or smooth for any company, including one as skilled at strategic market entry in core countries across the continent for the last several years as Spectrum has reliably proven to be.

Green Organic Dutchman Gets Cultivation License In Denmark

TGOD has now gone where other Canadian Euro cannabis players have gone before– namely it has joined the national trial program and several other Canadian cannabis companies before it (see Spectrum Cannabis for one) in Denmark.

Why are so many public cannabis companies attracted to the tiny country? The first is that the country, like Switzerland, in fact, is not as bound by EU rules as say, Germany and France. It can “experiment” in ways that are notably different from its neighbors.

As a result of this and a change in the law that began a multiyear trial to experiment with regulation and medical efficacy, cultivation licenses are also easier to obtain than in other places. There are also other plusses to establishing a presence in the country if not the continent including a strong social care system, and a research environment that promises to produce great results on the medical efficacy discussion continent wide.

CannaVation logo

Jefferson University Cannabis Innovation Competition Accepting Submissions

By Aaron G. Biros
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CannaVation logo

Thomas Jefferson University’s Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp announced recently that it is co-sponsoring the third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition.

Jefferson Innovation’s 2018 JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is currently accepting submissions of innovative business models for a chance to compete on October 3, where finalists will each present their business ideas in a 10-minute pitch. Winning submissions could get one free provisional or utility patent application and business and clinical consulting services. The competition will be accepting submissions through August 20, 2018.

Finalists will compete for a $10,000 grand prize, legal support and business consultation services.  According to the announcement, in addition to the grand prize winner, up to two other teams could win $5,000 in financial support, one free provisional or utility patent application and consulting services as well.

to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center
Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center

According to Zoe McKinley, director of entrepreneurship and social impact initiative at the Lambert Center, the competition is designed to have a national focus, not just on the Pennsylvania cannabis industry. “We are excited to shine a spotlight on Pennsylvania, and Thomas Jefferson University specifically, as a hub for research in medical cannabis, but like the competition, the Lambert Center has a national and even international focus,” says McKinley. She says this is also the first year that the JAZ tank is exclusively focused on cannabis.

Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Rose Ritts, notes “the competition is about creating a platform for emerging concepts to get a toe-hold on the path to potential commercialization. Anything that will improve patient access or outcomes …or improve the industrial hemp market in the U.S. is definitely of interest,” says Ritts. “We welcome companies to jump into the Challenge, and we also welcome investors or anyone thinking about getting into this space to be in the audience for our event on October 3.”

Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer
Dr. Rose Ritts, Jefferson’s Chief Innovation Officer

The challenge is an annual healthcare startup competition, where new businesses with particularly innovative ideas and technology solutions for the legal cannabis space submit their business models to a panel of judges for review. “This event will bring together the most inventive minds to pitch their solutions to stakeholder problems in the still-emerging medical and medicinal cannabis and industrial hemp industries,” reads the announcement. The Lambert Center is seeking applicants in a wide variety of business areas, including patient access, product design, plant science, information management, horticultural technology, sustainability, transportation, security, workforce training, community outreach, banking and public education.

Lambert Center Director Charles Pollack, MD sees the massive growth potential of the legal cannabis industry. “At our Center we are dedicated to identifying new approaches to developing cannabinoid-based therapies that help patients with various debilitating symptoms and diseases,” says Pollack. “Our JAZ Tank Challenge may identify the next great idea in medicinal cannabis.”

CannaVation logoThrough the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis and Hemp, Jefferson is the first major university in the US to provide a comprehensive academic resource for the medicinal, medical and industrial applications and business of cannabis and hemp. The Lambert Center, the first of its kind in academia, provides “expert-developed, unbiased information to clinicians and patients about medical cannabis and cannabinoid-based therapies,” according to their website. They want to “support the development of entrepreneurial and socially responsible business and clinical approaches within the emerging medical cannabis industry and explore and develop new ways to use hemp in medical, industrial, and consumer products,” reads the website.

McKinley mentions they are looking for creative approaches to solving problems in the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industry. “These could be anything from new products or supply chain innovations to patient support tools to energy management systems that lower the environmental impact of grow facilities,” says McKinley. “We are hoping to see companies that have already launched, or are ready to very quickly.” The third annual JAZ Tank Challenge: CannaVATION Edition is accepting submissions through August 20. Click here for more information.