Transforming a culture: from prohibition to acceptance

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As of October, legal cannabis will become part of the Canadian landscape. The way you feel about the shift, of course, depends on your perspective – consumers, investors, law enforcement and health professionals are all engaging in animated conversations about the new normal. 

Yet, according to Pierre Killeen, the vice-president of government relations at HEXO (formerly The Hydropothecary Corporation), there are important issues that are still largely overlooked in the public discussion.  

For example, he says, the health and safety benefits of a legalized cannabis regulatory framework cannot be overstated. Today, the majority of people using cannabis are in the dark about the nature of the products they’re putting in their bodies. But products to be sold through outlets, such as those of the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch and Société des alcools du Québec, must meet stringent safety and quality assurance standards. 

Similarly, dosage is currently a wild card that can range from “Is this oregano?” to off the charts. New standards mean this will change, allowing consumers to manage intake responsibly, in the same way that alcohol comparison charts alert consumers to the difference between a glass of light beer and a glass of tequila. 

Just as importantly, he says, legalization will change the culture of prohibition and consumption. “Most people think that cannabis is smoked. That is yesterday’s illicit market. We have a whole industry focused on a future where it is consumed through other non-smoking means, such as sprays, edibles and beverages. From a public health perspective, we’re making it possible for the 15 per cent or so of Canadian adults who say they use cannabis to move away from the risks associated with smoking.”

On a societal level, tax revenue will have a profound impact on public service budgets. While the cost of preparing police forces to identify cannabis-impaired drivers has been the focus of much media attention, overlooked is the $300 million in tax revenue generated by cannabis sales in Washington state last year alone. “At a time when provincial governments across the country are challenged to provide health care and other services to an aging population, this is an important new source of revenue,” says Killeen.

Further, while more recent figures are unavailable, the 2002 Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs stated that the annual cost of drug enforcement in Canada was estimated to be between $700 million and $1 billion. (In 1999, 43 per cent of drug-related charges were for possession of cannabis.) 

Economically, the legalization of cannabis will benefit many parts of Canada that need new industry the most: small, rural communities such as Masson-Angers in rural Gatineau, Quebec, where HEXO, a licensed producer listed under Canada’s MMPR framework, is located. “Our growth rate is so steep that whenever I tour someone from the media around one of our facilities in Masson-Angers, they comment on the fact that we have so many young people working – chemists, accountants, lawyers, project managers and engineers,” reports Killeen.

Meeting the challenges inherent in a successful transition from prohibition to legalization at this magnitude requires extensive public education, he says. “Legalization is not the same as social acceptance. We wouldn’t be having these conversations if it weren’t for courageous medical patients who went to the courts for their right to consume cannabis free of criminal sanction, and a prime minister and political party that fulfilled a campaign promise.

“For the Canadian cannabis industry and for Canadians, October 2018 is not the end of our journey. Rather, it marks the next stage in the transition to the cannabis economy – that of normalization,” Killeen says. 

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...we’re making it possible for the 15 per cent or so of Canadian adults who say they use cannabis to move away from the risks associated with smoking.
— Pierre Killeen, Vice president of government relations at HEXO

Women entrepreneurs a force in a growing industry

Master Grower Agnes Kwasniewska oversees all aspects of plant production and greenhouse operations at HEXO including strain selection, seed germination, nourishment, lighting, ventilation and cultivation. She’s in charge of the company’s number one aim: producing the highest-quality cannabis, with uncompromising standards.

As a woman leading the cannabis industry forward, she is far from alone. In April, HEXO hosted the keynote event at Women Grow Toronto, which attracted more than 200 female entrepreneurs. Keynote speaker Arlene Dickinson shared lessons from her entrepreneurial journey as well as her insights into the future of the cannabis industry in Canada.

HEXO was also a key partner of the 2018 Businesswomen of the Year Awards, as well as the annual Riverkeepers Gala in support of sustainable environmental initiatives around our waterways.

Noting the leadership roles that women play at HEXO – including on the board – vice-president of sales Sonia Isabel says, “We believe in paying it forward. It’s always inspiring to see so many women come together to develop this new industry.”