Pubdate: Mon, 17 Jul 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: A1


Cannabis stigma disappearing as legalization nears, insiders say

Ottawa entrepreneur Chuck Rifici dove in to the medical marijuana
business with trepidation five years ago.

"When I was first looking for investors and researching the creation
of Tweed, you would whisper 'marijuana' in a Starbucks, talking to
people," he recalls.

"Mainstream discussion of being involved in the cannabis industry
carried the fear of reputational risk."

If the plan to grow medical marijuana in an old chocolate factory in
Smiths Falls failed, Rifici figured he would be labelled as "just the
pot guy."

Those concerns now seem quaint. Tweed Inc. in Smiths Falls has
expanded into the world's largest medical marijuana company, Canopy
Growth Corp. Rifici now runs a business that finances fledgling
cannabis ventures, and there are plenty of them. With Canada expected
to legalize recreational marijuana a year from now, the industry is

It's also pushing into the mainstream.

These days, Rifici doesn't think twice about strolling into his
children's school wearing one of his cannabis leaf T-shirts. Like
other executives at Canadian cannabis companies, he says public
attitudes are shifting quickly.

That's reflected in the stream of business people, financiers,
executives from the pharmaceutical industry and high-flyers from
government and politics getting involved with cannabis-related companies.

It's expected to be lucrative, although estimates vary wildly about
the potential size of the pot market and whether it will eventually
rival sales of alcohol.

Health Canada estimates that between four million and six million
Canadians will use cannabis next year.

The growing number of Canadians obtaining a doctor's certificate to
legally purchase medical marijuana has helped pave the way for social
acceptance of cannabis in general, says Cam Battley, executive
vice-president of Aurora, an Alberta-based medical marijuana company
that is expanding to supply the recreational market, too.

"The speed of social change in attitudes to medical cannabis has been
remarkable," says Battley. "Three years ago, there was still stigma
associated with medical cannabis, and only a handful of doctors would
prescribe it." "I think you will find that once cannabis is legal for
adult-consent use, those who are hesitant or concerned about it will
find it's not the end of the world," says Battley, who formerly worked
in the health field as a policy assistant to a federal minister. "In
fact, I suspect it will turn out to be more of a normal event.

"It will become reasonably mainstream, as long as people use it
responsibly. And I think we will come to see it very much in the same
light as beer, wine and liquor."

Marc Lustig, who founded CannaRoyalty Corp., says his family and
friends in Vancouver questioned his decision to quit his job as an
investment banker to found a company that invests in cannabis-related
businesses for both the medical and recreational markets.

"They said, 'You are running a very successful investment banking
firm, and now you are becoming, what, like a pot-slash-dealer-slash
CEO? What are you doing?' "

Lustig, who has graduate degrees in molecular biology and business
administration from McGill, says they're all supporters now. His dad
found that medical marijuana helps his arthritis.

Some of his 40-something friends who tried cannabis vape pens were

"The last time that many of these people used cannabis was bad weed at
university 20 years ago.

"We are bringing products that are just so much better; they are
cleaner, there is science going into this, the effects can be managed."

The growth will be in cannabis products that don't require smoking,
from vape pens to lotions and patches, Lustig says. And a target
market will be people like himself.

"Our company isn't doing this because we want to make the gummy bear
that makes people the highest . ... Ultimately, I think the biggest
market will be young professionals, parents . ...

"People may substitute a glass of wine for our products, which are
very professional and high quality."

That's already happening in Colorado, says Chris Driessen, president
of Organa Brands, which bills itself as the world's largest consumer
cannabis company, selling vape pens, gummy candies, drinks and other
products in more than 1,200 dispensaries in the U.S.

Colorado was the first U.S. state to legalize recreational pot,
opening stores in 2014.

In the posh Denver suburb where Driessen lives, parents are as likely
to puff on a vape pen loaded with marijuana oil as they are to sip on
a craft beer at neighbourhood barbecues, he says. "It's just part of
the fabric of society. The stigma has been removed."

Driessen's wife is a high school teacher. They have three children
aged 3 to 7. They teach their kids that marijuana is for grownups,
just like having a glass of wine, using the biggest knife in the
drawer or staying up past 9 o'clock, he says.

"The sky hasn't fallen," he says with a laugh. "Life is pretty good in
Denver, Colorado."

Whether using cannabis will soon be as socially acceptable as quaffing
a beer in this country is debatable.

Only a minority of Canadians use marijuana now. Use is concentrated
among young people. (The Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey from 2015
found that 10 per cent of people over 25 reported using cannabis once
in the last year, compared to 30 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 and
21 per cent of those aged 15 to 19.)

There are also pressures working against the mainstreaming of

The recreational pot industry will be heavily regulated, including
strict controls on advertising.

The landscape of Canada's new world of legal pot isn't clear. Key
details, from where pot will be sold to what types of products will be
allowed, will be spelled out later in federal regulations or decided
by the provinces.

Federal politicians emphasize that the purpose of legalization is to
take profits out of the hands of organized criminals, keep pot away
from children and ensure Canadians are not saddled with a criminal
record for possessing small amounts. They do not want to promote
consumption or the "commercialization" of the industry.

And few other emerging sectors have the challenge of creating
legitimacy when the product they are selling was illegal for decades.

There's a Wild West feel to the cannabis industry. That's partly
because companies are jostling to be the next big thing. But it's also
because legal upstarts are displacing a massive network of illegal
cannabis entrepreneurs who are used to being both underground and underdogs.

The transition is alarming to some marijuana activists, and illegal
growers and sellers are hesitant to come out of the shadows.

Decades of protest and civil disobedience helped push Canada to the
verge of legal marijuana. That work was appreciated, but it's "the old
game," says Jeremy Jacob, who co-founded the Village Dispensary in

It's time for activists to become experts in bridge-building,
regulatory compliance and lobbying, Jacob told a recent cannabis
business conference in Toronto. A mechanical engineer by trade, Jacob
is the president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis

Yes, illegal dispensaries have formed their own trade group. So have
illegal growers, who want to ensure "craft" producers such as those
who have made B.C. bud famous have a place in the legal market.

The move toward the mainstream is also reflected in evolving language.
Cannabis company executives don't tend to talk about weed or pot. Some
also reject the word "marijuana" as pejorative. The term cannabis
doesn't carry the stigma associated with decades of reefer madness.

And cannabis business people are about as likely to use the word
"stoned" as liquor company executives are to talk about how their
products make customers drunk.

The modern marijuana landscape is littered with euphemisms like
elevate, lift, relax and energize. Toking on a joint has been
transformed into a "well curated smoke session," in the description of
one Canadian company, Tokyo Smoke. It's a "cannabis and lifestyle
brand" that is partnered with Aphria, a large Ontario medical
marijuana producer.

The Tokyo Smoke store opening this week on Toronto's trendy Queen
Street West will sell coffee, clothes and cannabis paraphernalia that
is far removed from the utilitarian rolling papers and bongs sold in
head shops for decades. A stylish odour-proof bag to store your stash
can be had for $80, and a designer water pipe that looks like a
modern-art sculpture is $750.
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