Last week, several hundred eager cannabis entrepreneurs and thought leaders converged at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Ontario for the aptly-named Grow Up Conference & Expo. Canada is only weeks away from the launch of legal adult-use cannabis sales, and the excitement was apparent throughout the various panels, exhibits and networking lunches.
“Canada can own [the market],” keynote speaker Kevin O’Leary told a captivated crowd. “That’s potential I’ve never seen in my investment lifetime.”
The Canadian serial entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” star added that while he doesn’t have any money in plant-touching cannabis companies at the time, due to cannabis’ designation as a Schedule I narcotic in the United States, he’s chomping at the bit to get in when he can. However, he doubts he will see full legalization in America within his lifetime.
“Medicinal is much more interesting,” O’Leary said. “The size of that market is absolutely immense.”
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Cannabis Now Founder and Publisher Eugenio Garcia, who spoke on a panel at the Grow Up Conference about brand development, said that he was initially swayed by O’Leary’s assertion that the real money is medicinal cannabis given the nature of federal prohibition, but that “after sleeping on it, I truly believe the culture of cannabis will overcome prohibitionist politics.”
“Kevin was right in saying that the huge opportunities for the institutional investors of the world lie in a pharmaceutical approach to cannabinoid delivery with pills and serums, but a very big chunk will still be in the social aspect of smoking a joint, using the vaporizer, having an edible and the inspirational therapeutic aspect of the plant,” said Garcia. “Maybe the industry has to take a hard look at itself and move away from the word ‘recreational’ and even ‘adult-use,’ opting for a different term altogether.”
Allocating resources in booming markets outside of the United States seemed to be a popular plan among the many budding entrepreneurs, both Canadian and American alike, attending Grow Up.
Eric Olson, co-founder and VP of global sales for DynaVap, a Wisconsin-based vaporizer technology manufacturer, agrees that gaining an international foothold has been a crucial part of his company’s business plan.
“We are in 110 countries and we are just now beginning to focus on the U.S.,” Olson explained. “We wanted to ensure our infrastructure and brand strategy was strong while the [American government is] still figuring things out.”
That’s not to say that interest in legal markets in the United States wasn’t present during the Grow Up conference or among Canadian attendees.
For example, Toronto-based cannabis educator and influencer Jonathan Hirsh said that he believes that an industry still in its infancy will simply need more time to flourish.
“With the brink of legalization [in Canada], it’s super exciting because we have so many opportunities both locally and across the border,” Hirsh said, “but I do think some Canadians are wary of seeking investments from the U.S. due to the shaky regulatory nature that exists there.”
Still, Hirsh was optimistic, saying, “We do believe our neighbors to the south will catch up, it’s only a matter of time.”
The bulk of the Grow Up event was focused on cannabis cultivation and production, but topics such as branding, healthcare, investments, compliance and social responsibility were also touched on. One popular panel, titled, “How the Cannabis Act and the Legalization of Marijuana Affect Travel to the U.S.” offered tips to locals should they run into trouble with rogue U.S. Border Patrol officers intent on administering bans to Canadians entering the country who are involved with the industry, which included removing content from cell phones that may be implicating.
“This is a real issue, and everyone — from executives to consumers — need to be cognizant of the fact that what will soon be legal in Canada is not yet legal in the United States,” said panelist Amanda Ross, of Toronto law firm Cooper, Sandler, Shime & Bergman LLP. “We do not endorse lying to Border Patrol officials, but people do need to be aware of their risks and rights.”
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