Stephen Lund
CEO - Opportunities New Brunswick
Part of the Spotlight on Cannabis and the Bioeconomy

Balancing Cannabis Regulation and Economic Opportunity

Takeaways

  1. New Brunswick has been a leader in Canada’s cannabis industry, with significant collaboration between the provincial government, the private sector and research institutions.
  2. Cannabis research could have commercial applications in food, plant health, healthcare, textiles and construction materials, among others. As long as Canada does not stifle this sector with overregulation, we can build expertise in the research and commercialization of these applications in order to compete globally.
  3. Canada and New Brunswick are facing labour shortages due to aging populations. In order for the cannabis economy to develop sustainably, it needs to attract young people to work in and grow with it.

Action

Firstly, the Canadian government must set policies that make the legal cannabis market more reliable and safe for legitimate companies and consumers. Secondly, Canadian cannabis companies must meet and develop connections with their counterparts across the world. And finally, we must attract our youth to reduce the cannabis industry’s labour shortage.


How do you think New Brunswick is positioned in Canada’s cannabis industry?

New Brunswick is a leader in Canada’s cannabis industry. The first two cannabis research centers in the country were established in New Brunswick and the province also hosted the 2019 World Cannabis Congress, which attracted over 600 people from around the world. In collaboration with the Collège communautaire du Nouveau-Brunswick (CCNB), we also started the first post-secondary program aimed to build a skilled workforce around the cannabis industry. As a result, New Brunswick’s cannabis industry is currently employing an estimated 2,000 people, and this number is growing every day.

“New Brunswick’s cannabis industry is currently employing an estimated 2,000 people, and this number is growing every day.”

The province already has a strong cluster of research partners and has invested over $4 million in academic research across New Brunswick. This incredible network includes partners such as the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF), the Research & Productivity Council, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation (NBHRF), the University of New Brunswick and Genome Atlantic. We have also established a partnership with Hebrew University in Jerusalem and its Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research (MCCR). The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and as it grows domestically and internationally, we will form more business partnerships, leverage research opportunities and develop potential applications.


What lessons can other provinces learn from New Brunswick’s cannabis industry ecosystem?

When Canada legalized cannabis, a lot of people adopted a “wait and see” approach to understand how this would impact the country economically. New Brunswick was one of the first jurisdictions to consider cannabis legalization an economic opportunity.The province already had strong companies and a great track record in creating new clusters, whether in cybersecurity or smart grid technology. Once we decided to tap into the cannabis opportunity, we started to meet all the stakeholders in the field across the country. These were producers, agricultural companies, suppliers, research and development companies, as well as innovation clusters. Through leadership in different segments of the government and our liquor commission, we started to analyze the market, industry and jurisdictions to figure out where the opportunity in cannabis was.

New Brunswick has also been extremely proactive in developing global connections in the cannabis sector. For example, the province has reached out to contemporaries in the USA, the Netherlands and even Israel to discuss collaboration. Not only have we gone out and attracted large cannabis producers from around the world, but we have also set up Canadian producers such as Organigram, Zenabis and Canopy Growth.

“New Brunswick was one of the first jurisdictions to consider cannabis legalization an economic opportunity.”

While each province must develop its own cannabis strategy, I think New Brunswick’s proactiveness, partnership development and emphasis on quality research and innovation are its strengths.


Which aspect of the cannabis sector are you most excited by?

I am particularly excited by cannabis research and the spin-off opportunities coming out of it. There is still stigma associated with cannabis, which I think will continue for a while. However, social attitudes are changing, and I think we will see a much larger cannabis market after the introduction of edibles. Cannabis research has potential applications in plant health, genetics, food chemistry and even in the health sector.

“Cannabis could play a significant role in Canada’s and New Brunswick’s bioeconomy.”

New Brunswick grows a lot of crops, so we do have the agricultural and research expertise to take advantage of the entire cannabis plant. If you consider the whole plant, cannabis could have applications in textiles, paper, building materials, hygiene, food products and biomass. So, cannabis could play a significant role in Canada’s and New Brunswick’s bioeconomy.


How do you think Canada and New Brunswick can strengthen their business environment to support the cannabis industry?

On a per capita basis, New Brunswick has the best record of attracting new investment and creating new jobs in Canada. With respect to cannabis, the province has been in touch with major producers throughout the country since the very beginning. We already have five major producers in the province and anticipate that this number with grow to 10 by Q3 2020, with the next step being to develop new products.

In general, Canada has been great at start-ups, but not so good at scale-ups. Now that many of our key sectors such as artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, smart grid, information technology (IT) and cannabis are taking off, commercialization has to be our top goal.

“We have to promote the benefits of a legal cannabis industry. Canada needs policies that make the legal cannabis market more reliable and safe for legitimate companies and consumers.”

With cannabis in particular, we have to promote the benefits of a legal cannabis industry. Canada needs policies that make the legal cannabis market more reliable and safe for legitimate companies and consumers.Secondly, Canadian cannabis companies should be able to meet with their counterparts across the world and develop connections with them. Finally, we need to reduce the labour shortage most of our industries are facing across the country. With an aging population, Canada and particularly New Brunswick, has a lot of unfilled jobs. We need to recruit and retain new talent to our industries. As a new industry, cannabis needs to generate interest among Canadian youth who are exploring their future education and career opportunities.


Do you view the USA as a competitor or collaborator in the cannabis industry?

I think the USA is both a potential competitor and collaborator for Canada’s cannabis industry. While some people might initially consider American companies to be direct competitors, I think there are opportunities for both Canada and the USA to be successful in cannabis. In fact, with more countries getting involved in the legal cannabis market, I think we will see new and innovative applications, which will allow Canada and New Brunswick to carve out our own niche. We just have to be careful to not stifle our industry with regulation. As long as Canada and New Brunswick can be competitive from a tax, regulation and labour perspective, we can remain competitive in the global cannabis market.

“As long as Canada and New Brunswick can be competitive from a tax, regulation and labour perspective, we can remain competitive in the global cannabis market.”

I think Canada has been extremely cautious with legalization for all the right reasons. As we move forward and learn what works and what does not, we have to strike a balance between regulation and economic opportunity. We need to prioritize the health of our consumers and citizens, while unlocking economic opportunities for the country through the legal cannabis market.