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This is the second in a two-part series on the future of the cannabis industry. The first, NB cannabis industry on growth trajectory after ups and downswas released on February 22. Brennan Sisk is the Coordinator of the New Brunswick Cannabis Office.
Imagine if our blueberries were infused with New Brunswick cannabis and exported as a high-margin beverage for consumers? What if we explored hemp as a high-protein food source for our salmon industry?
The cannabis sector in New Brunswick is following a growth trajectory shared by the rest of the industry. “Cannabis 2.0” is coming, and these are the kinds of ideas that will create more profitable businesses and skilled jobs in an industry focused on health and sustainability.
Most media coverage of the cannabis industry focuses on recreational and medical applications with psychoactive and physiological benefits like euphoria, pain relief, or recovery from opioid addiction.
Industrial hemp has been the traditionally unsexy side of cannabis history, but that is rapidly changing as we discover more innovative products. Industrial hemp is a cannabis material that contains less than 0.3% THC (compared to 20% for some retail cannabis flowers).
Hemp is one of the fastest growing plants on earth and can be refined into sustainable products like rope, textiles, paint, insulation, food, biofuels, animal feed and even biodegradable plastics.
The three faces of cannabis
Cannabis has three dimensions: medical, recreational, industrial. These three dimensions intersect as growers and processors look for ways to add value, whether it’s selling their low-THC stems to a textile manufacturer or turning a strain of cannabis into topical cream and drink.
New Brunswick’s cannabis industry by the numbers
The last time the team New Brunswick Cannabis Office counted, the cannabis industry in Atlantic Canada had 84 cannabis researchers at 13 colleges and universities, 28 research networks, 13 hemp companies, and 22 licensed producers and ancillary SMEs.
“In New Brunswick, we are punch above our weight in terms of how many licenses we have and how many are pending,” says Rod Wilson, pharmaceutical industry veteran and executive director of the New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Association.
But the economic potential is far greater than just the number of companies producing or processing cannabis flower.
Presentation Cannabis 2.0: New value-added consumer products like beverages and trash bags made from sustainable hemp are a major driver of the renewed economic appeal of this industry.
Putting New Brunswick’s Bioeconomy to Work
Not only is the province home to a disproportionate share of cannabis-related commercial and research assets, but our natural bioeconomy also gives us a major advantage for the future.
The history of our province lies in the creation, processing and export of natural agricultural and agri-food resources. Our region’s low-cost fertile soil, biologically diverse ocean areas, deep seaports and proximity to major markets are just some of the features that give us an edge.
Most people know of our success with potatoes, value-added wood products and peat, but we are also the largest exporter of wild blueberries in the world, and our seafood products bring in more than $1.7 billion per year.
We make a lot of money when we process these products into higher value products before export. Dozen of New Brunswick businesses cultivate and transform our natural resources into consumer products such as nutraceuticals, soup bases and cosmetics.
When you have a plant like hemp with seemingly no limits appswe can begin to make connections between the dense concentration of natural resources, research expertise and processors in New Brunswick.
“You have a hard time finding anywhere else in the world where these things come together better than in New Brunswick,” says sector specialist Chris Dickie.
Hence the idea that locally grown fruits like blueberries could be infused with locally harvested cannabis and exported as a high-margin beverage, or hemp used as a high-protein feed source for farmed salmon.
If we look at New Brunswick’s cannabis industry through the Cannabis 2.0 lens, our province’s economic potential looks quite different. “Cannabis jobs” can be in food science, packaging, aquaculture, or law.
What is the problem?
Well, there are a few issues. More and more jurisdictions around the world are moving towards legalization, which is both an opportunity and a threat.
“We should think together about how not only New Brunswick, but Canada maintains a leadership position,” said Eric Cook of the Research and Productivity Council (RPC). “We are a pioneer. They say we are losing our leadership position. We don’t want to see that go away.
There is also still a stigma around cannabis as a business. That’s changing fast, but many Canadians still don’t like the idea of having a “culture” in the neighborhood. It’s easy to forget that the “grow op” created a dozen jobs and whose proceeds could be used as a life-saving treatment for a veteran with PTSD.
The last problem is a major one: the regulatory framework. Anyone who listens to our East Coast Cannabis Time podcast knows that there is no shortage of crazy stories of hard-working entrepreneurs who have worked for years and spent millions of their own capital to get their cannabis cultivation licenses.
How about when WorkSafe New Brunswick was classified Canadian Organic Eco as a tobacco company? Or the fact that cannabis companies can’t get insurance or loans? Or that time Health Canada asked a outdoor cultivator pick up all the cannabis leaves on the ground, weigh them, record them, destroy them and make a report?
What is the solution ?
As New Brunswick’s Cannabis Coordinator, it was my job to have conversations with the region’s cannabis experts and influencers. Everyone knows there’s a problem, and we all come back to the same solution: the industry needs a unified voice.
“We have a lot to do, and what we need to do is put the right plan and the right direction in place and remove the obstacles. At the same time, we need to monitor the guide rails so as not to affect public safety or the diversion of the black market,” says Rod Wilson.
If I speak your language, contact me! Exciting developments are underway for Atlantic Canada’s cannabis sector and we are looking for passionate and enterprising individuals to help address these issues and seize the opportunity.