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Lift & Co: Dispatches from the Cannabis Industry’s Front Line

6/1/2022
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As the sun was setting behind the steel and glass skyline of Toronto’s waterfront, wafting smoke and herbaceous scents closed the curtain on a conference marking the end of pandemic disruption, the industry’s coming of age – while facing the inevitable existential dread of maturity – and the inexorable march of legalisation around the planet.

To paraphrase Dickens – himself touching upon the themes of duality, revolution and resurrection during a time of radical change – it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Canada, a pioneering force within the nascent cannabis industry and the de facto template and inspiration for many hesitantly following in the country’s footsteps, witnessed sales of CAD4.2 billion in 2021. This was a spectacular growth trajectory for a narrative starting in dimly-lit back alleys to reach corporate boardrooms, suburban cul-de-sacs and ageing boomers on a journey of self (re)-discovery.

With specialist dispensaries catering to a wide range of demographics dotting most central Toronto streets, and cannabis 2.0 products such as beverages, gummies and concentrates pushing the boundaries of innovation, positioning, occasion and need-state targeting, cannabis in the country is not just readily available but, most importantly, fully normalised and legitimised.

And yet, that haze on the horizon also marks shortcomings, cautionary tales and downside risks. Excessive and plain packaging neuters branding propositions and negates equity. Massive investments in production capacity became investor fodder without consideration of a pragmatic roadmap to consumption and the creation of strong, sustainable brands. Format, packaging and THC limitations undercut legal offerings.

Such miscalculations are not just undermining the industry’s progress, but have also resulted in thousands of job losses and a notoriously resilient illicit market dissuaded from crossing over from legacy operations. As some of the biggest companies in the industry are struggling for survival, having prioritised early entry over long-term strategies and unique value propositions, the inevitable question is raised – Is the green wave running out of steam?

The answer is a resounding no. The still untapped huge potential was shining through in the panels discussing the rise of craft and craftmanship, in the smiling faces sharing their entrepreneurial dreams in the conference after-parties and, perhaps most importantly, in the corridor discussions deciphering the next steps in the long, global journey towards legalisation.

From Mexico to Berlin and from Barcelona to Thailand, Canada will be essential not as a flower exporter but as an exporter of expertise, insights and know-how for a world finally getting ready to embrace change.

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Source: Euromonitor International 

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