Lift Expo Show Floor Marked by Calls for Cannabis Action and Unity

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Clear calls to action were seen throughout the halls at the latest Canadian cannabis conference.

The most recent edition of the Lift & Co. Expo, held this past weekend in Toronto, brought multiple calls to action among cannabis industry stakeholders.

In panels at the show and in conversations with the Investing News Network (INN), experts used this year’s event to urge all types of cannabis companies to collaborate in high-level lobbying.

During the event, a distinct theme appeared: the need for firms in the cannabis market to better advocate for themselves in front of the Canadian government.

Industry needs unified advocacy to get government attention
In a May 14 panel at the conference, a group of front-end industry leaders gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look at meetings with government representatives in an attempt to present and argue in favor of the policy changes they see as vital to the cannabis industry.

According to George Smitherman, executive director of the Cannabis Council of Canada (C3) and a former elected official in Ontario, he has received word from government officials about the need for a unified voice when it comes to the changes the industry wishes to see.

Landon Tresise, director of government relations at Aurora Cannabis (NASDAQ:ACB,TSX:ACB), said his arguments are diminished if he speaks on behalf of Aurora exclusively.

“When you go and speak to (the) government, speaking from just Aurora’s point of view isn’t always enough, it needs to be the entire industry,” Tresise said.

Similarly, Trina Fraser, a partner at the law firm Brazeau Seller, said the cannabis industry will see its arguments travel further if they are shown to aid public safety instead of economic benefits.

C3, an organization that represents the interests of its member cannabis companies in Canada, recently confirmed its plan to set up a ticketed advocacy event in Ottawa at the end of the month; its goal is to place cannabis stakeholders in front of elected government officials to try to lobby together.

“I think the need for change has become more urgent,” Fraser said in conversation INN. “If we come together, if we present a clear, cogent case for change as a collective voice, the government is listening. And if it aligns with the government objectives, we will see changes made.”

Cannabis Act review won’t bring changes fast enough

Smitherman told the audience his level of urgency for change has drastically shifted — he sees several players that are running out of time and can no longer afford to wait around for the reforms they want to see.

INN previously spoke with Smitherman about the Cannabis Act review that the government is currently undertaking and how this long-term examination may play a role in the future of the industry.

Now Smitherman believes the industry needs to look beyond this singular government process.

“That review, when it starts, is going to take 18 months to produce a paper report — not regulation change, not legislation change,” the C3 leader said. “That’s a very, very slow approach to change for an industry which has a rather dire need for more immediate relief and change.”

“My job is to try and find whatever avenue I can to get a fix for things,” he said.

Fraser told INN it will be vital for the leading cannabis companies to come together to advocate for themselves and others, even though they remain fierce competitors in the market.

Both Smitherman and Fraser celebrated recent proposed changes around excise taxes and beverage limits, which have aided the industry at-large, and pointed to these victories as signs of encouragement and recognition.

“But in the grand scheme of things, they’re increments,” Smitherman said. “They’re not the whole prize, if you will.”

Group effort would help edibles market succeed

Niel Marotta, president and CEO of Indiva (TSXV:NDVA,OTCQX:NDVAF), took the stage on May 12’s Lift Cannabis Business Conference to kick off another call to action — he gave a speech on the dire need for the government to adjust the 10 milligram THC limit rule and increase it to 100 milligrams per adult-use package.

“Here we are more than two — almost two and a half years — since edibles have become legal, and we have a half-billion-dollar market failure because we’re missing out,” Marotta told INN.

The executive stressed that he thinks this market limitation is affecting the public safety mission of Canada’s cannabis legalization efforts. “This is a major failure of the Cannabis Act,” he said.

However, the problem also relates to missing financial opportunities for companies like his. “For us, obviously, it helps our business to be able to sell higher potency,” the Indiva executive said.

Indiva sells US edible products in Canada from Wana Brands and Bhang Chocolates, plus its own branded items.

“We need to make this change,” Marotta told INN. “And the only way to get that change is not by just having me on a soapbox. That’s a start, (but) it’s really by getting stakeholders from all over the industry to work together.”

When asked about the benefits of an organization like C3, Marotta said most of the bigger licensed producers are currently involved, and the regular meetings provide a good opportunity to share strategies and information.

Marotta wants to shift the dialogue cannabis companies are having about joining organizations like C3.

“I don’t know that it takes necessarily 100 percent participation to get things done,” he said. “But I would turn it around and say to folks that aren’t part of it, ‘Why aren’t you part of it?’”

Investor takeaway
Shawn Pierce, president of strategic events, meetings and incentives at MCI Group, which oversees the branding of Lift & Co., told INN he views the cannabis event as a natural place for the industry to strategize advocacy efforts.

The executive said it’s natural to want immediate, significant changes in the market. “But the reality is you need to be incremental with the government to get some some forward momentum,” he said.