Buzz of the town: O’Cannabiz Expo & Conference

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Vancouver conference presenters offer thoughts on a wide range of topics

The O’Cannabiz Conference & Expo saw the convergence of industry experts–from producers to entrepreneurs, tech companies, accounting and law firms, and representatives from indigenous communities–all sharing a vested interest in Canada’s cannabis market.

From networking sessions to expo booths, meeting rooms and Q/A-style sessions, the event on Dec. 9 to 11 touched on some of the hot-button topics from the industry. Plenty of interest was on offer, but four discussions that drew notice were, “Edibles, Infused Foods & Beverages: Hurdles”, “Rewards Ahead; Soft-Sell: Building Your Brand Within Regulatory Limits”, “Weed the People”, and “Cannabis–The Indigenous Opportunity.”

Panel members relayed that they are patiently awaiting Health Canada’s decisions when it comes to edibles. The focus of the session, Edibles, Infused Foods & Beverages: Hurdles, was predominantly on infused beverages, from wellness teas marketed to household caregivers to non-alcoholic beer and wine drinks where cannabinoids can replace alcohol content, yet still act as a “social lubricant”.

Worrisome statistics provided to attendees by Mr. Terry Donnelly, CEO of Hill Street Beverage Company, surrounded the alcohol-related death and disease toll as it compares to cannabis. He stated that alcohol is responsible for 250 different diseases, and kills an astonishing number of people each year; while cannabis has no recorded deaths associated with consumption. Ultimately, the panelists agreed that the infusion industry has the potential to reduce or replace alcohol consumption. In areas where cannabis has already become legal, rates of alcohol use is on the decline, says Chuck Smith, CEO of Dixie Brands.

During the second panel, “‘Soft-Sell’: Building Your Brand Within Regulatory Limits”, the regulatory issues that were discussed among the panelists were attributed to marketing and advertising, or building one’s brand, as well as regulations regarding cannabis research in the medical sphere.

Other issues that cannabis companies are facing include navigating a hostile social media landscape and combating stigmatization in various communities, especially medical. Many speakers reported feeling that strict regulations regarding packaging and advertising are actually doing a great deal of harm to the industry due to the limitations around providing information to consumers. Where branding is concerned, for example, companies recognize that the cannabis industry will never be this small again, and focus is imperative, as is practising one’s craft, and realizing the beauty in the “art of going second.”.

Meanwhile, the documentary film, Weed the People, from Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake trumpets a message echoed in the indigenous communities of Canada: leaders are operating first from the social benefits side of things, and second, for economic interest.

The film discusses why cannabis must be an active part of the scientific community. Executive producer Epstein told session attendees there is a need for a social “deprogramming about this plant.”

What the general public is now learning about the cannabis plant and its healing potential is knowledge that indigenous people have possessed for thousands of years. The application of this plant internally, for combating disease, or topically for treating skin conditions, is knowledge that First Nations people have possessed and continue to apply today.

This knowledge is “engrained into who [they] are as a people,” says Jamie Kunkel, owner of Smoke Signal Retail Chain Owner and a member of Central Ontario’s Mohawk band. Many groups from Canadian First Nations bands are now seeing mutually beneficial community development by the socio-economic benefits of the plant.

For example, production facilities on reserve land are employing indigenous people and bringing capital into the communities, as well as other efforts to allocate funds towards medical research for diseases such as diabetes, as practised by Chief Christian Sinclair of Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba.