This past November, I attended the Lift Expo & Co., North America’s largest cannabis consumer trade show. The 250+ featured exhibitors covered all realms of the cannabis industry from growing and manufacturing to education and licensed producer consultation to product marketing and packaging. With over 100 speakers throughout the weekend, this was an incredible learning and networking opportunity that inspired me to not only share my learnings but become more engaged in the cannabis industry.
Cannabis has been legal in Canada for three years and throughout this period, the industry has been rapidly growing and adapting its production, retail, and consumption to suit the diverse needs and wants of its demand.
Through its legalization, the Cannabis Act was implemented with three main public health goals:
- To keep cannabis out of the hands of youth
- To keep profits out of the pockets of criminals
- And to protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis.1
Since October 17th, 2018, there has been more research and evidence to show the health implications of cannabis use on adolescents, a decrease in violations under the Cannabis Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act related to cannabis use and/or possession, and an increase in legally obtained cannabis products by adults.2 Cannabis legalization has allowed us to grow our understanding of cannabis and see its social and economic benefits.
The purpose of the Cannabis Act is to keep people safe while using cannabis products; however, unlike regulations on alcohol, current cannabis regulations severely limit the producer and consumer from what cannabis products are offered and how these products are distributed and sold.
When I listened in on The Rise of Cannabis Edibles & Beverages Panel, they discussed the accomplishments and challenges of producing, distributing, and consuming edibles. As someone who is not actively aware of the shifts within the cannabis industry, it came as a surprise that one of the biggest challenges for edible retailers is the 10mg maximum Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) amount per unit. While this amount seems like a lot to a non-cannabis user, it can have very little or no effect on regular cannabis users.
While many will see this as no challenge for recreational users – why are they using cannabis in the first place? All kinds of reasons. However, it is a challenge for medical users who require a prescribed dosage of cannabis per day.
While edibles can be a great alternative to smoking or vaping cannabis, many regular cannabis users do not want to eat an entire cannabis-infused chocolate bar just to get high, especially those who use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Therefore, regulations on maximum THC amounts have posed a major challenge to consumers and producers who want to meet the demands of their customers.
The panel of speakers agreed that changing these restrictive regulations would help improve the range of THC amounts in edibles and beverages not only for those who know they need or want a higher dose but also for those who are trying to find which amount suits their needs and wants.
Changing these regulations would not only allow producers to increase their products on the marketplace and give more variety to the consumer but also help normalize cannabis legalization and its use.
Since cannabis is relatively new to the legal marketplace, we are still in the process of normalizing its use and accepting its legality. While we are making progress in this, there is no doubt a stigma still attached to cannabis, cannabis consumption, and cannabis users.
Cannabis stigma refers to the negative stereotypes about cannabis users, social norms deeming cannabis to be deviant and unjust behaviour, or rejection and judgement from our social circles based on cannabis consumption.
Cannabis stigma refers to the negative stereotypes about cannabis users, social norms deeming cannabis to be deviant and unjust behaviour or rejection and judgement from our social circles based on cannabis consumption.
Cannabis is slowly being legalized in more areas across the globe, representing a form of acceptance for its production and consumption. However, the cannabis stigma will continue to linger due to systemic perceptions and representations of the drug through societal and cultural norms and pop culture. Cannabis is often represented as a recreational and comedic drug in films like Pineapple Express (2008)or television shows like That 70’s Show (1998-2006), but it has also been portrayed as taboo with ‘classic’ films like Reefer Madness (1936) that are still widely known today.
Needless to say, cannabis, cannabis consumption, and cannabis users have been misrepresented. While we are getting better at accepting these factors, cannabis stigma is still affecting the legal regulations of its production, distribution, and consumption, which affects the overall development of the industry.
As an eco-conscious consumer, I’m interested in how businesses and industries are tackling sustainability and waste management issues. While I’m not the only consumer interested in the environmental integrity of the cannabis industry, environmental sustainability is often pushed aside for destigmatizing cannabis and building the industry’s social sustainability.
My main purpose for attending the Lift & Co. Expo was to spark conversations about environmental sustainability in the cannabis industry. “In the first year of legalization, 10,000 tonnes of cannabis packaging was generated in Canada, most of which ended up in landfills.”3 50%-70% of cannabis packaging is not recyclable, solidifying the urgent need for the cannabis industry to make a systemic change in cannabis packaging to be sustainable and recyclable.
However, with destigmatization top of mind for the industry, it is all the more important to normalize the legalization of cannabis and create social acceptability for cannabis, its consumption, and its users. Normalizing cannabis will create a systemic change within societal norms, further allowing the cannabis industry to prioritize sustainability in other areas like environmentalism.
While health and safety for individuals will always be a top priority in cannabis regulations, we should also prioritize the health and safety of our planet to ensure the industry is environmentally sustainable, as well as creating sustainability for itself as an industry.