Plenty has changed since former B.C. health minister Terry Lake took a job in the cannabis industry in 2017 and recreational pot became legal last October.
In his new role as vice-president of corporate social responsibility and communications for Quebec-based Hexo Corp., he is meeting more people who have turned to the plant for health and wellness or to just “add a little around the edges,” rather than alter their minds, he said.
After plenty of contemplation and research, he now counts himself among them, using CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, daily.
“I’m trying to judge for myself whether or not it’s having a positive impact on me and I can say that I think it is,” Lake said Thursday at the Vancouver Conference Centre, where the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo runs Friday through Sunday.
“I also know there’s a placebo effect with anything like that so, you know, I have to be careful about how I interpret that. But certainly, it doesn’t have any adverse effects and I really think that it’s helped me in terms of my ability to deal with stress and my ability to have a better sleep.”
Lake is exceedingly cautious when discussing any perceived medical effect of cannabis — he doesn’t want to steer anyone wrong — but said he’s enjoyed seeing the debate, discussion and anecdotal evidence about its benefits.
He’s keen to see more research to expand knowledge of the human endocannabinoid system, he said.
“That is fascinating to me, that there’s all this potential to take this very complex plant and apply it in a way that can really benefit people, whether they’re dealing with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s,” he said. “I think there’s so much ability to open up research now that we have legalization, so I’m very excited about that and I’ve learned a ton about cannabis and its applications.”
Just three months into legalization, Lake said it’s tricky to compare B.C.’s retail scheme with the other provinces. But it has been slow with its single government store and six private ones between Vancouver, Kamloops and Pouce Coupe, Lake said.
Lake pointed to the B.C.’s government effort to transition people from B.C.’s deeply rooted cannabis culture into the legal system, while giving local governments some control of how retail functions in their communities. That’s caused some lag due to the approval processes, he added.
“I think with time and maturity, the B.C. hybrid model of private and public retail will, in fact, be a very good system, but it is slow out of the gate, which is causing a lot of frustration for people here in B.C., and frustration for producers as well,” he said.
And then there’s the price. People used to buying 3.5-gram baggies of outdoor grow for less than $20 from city-licensed dispensaries won’t find such deals at the B.C. Cannabis Store, where the same quantity of the cheapest stuff starts at $23, plus $10 shipping.
Lake said no one seems to know, precisely, when those prices will comes down, but he believes it could take six to 18 months for producers to catch up with demand in some markets.
“I think all of us realize that the supply-demand curve will intersect with the retailers and ultimately the customer’s resistance to that pricing,” he said.
Otherwise, he fears, government won’t be able to compete and eventually force the illicit market out.
Meanwhile, Lake said he’s proud that Hexo has kept its commitment to serve medical patients through its Hydropothecary product line. On the recreational side, they’ve seen a great response to their oral sprays and have entered a joint venture with Molson-Coors Canada to produce cannabis beverages. They’re looking now at vaping technology and to food manufacturers, confectioners and cosmetic firms.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this market matures,” Lake said. “We’re seeing the stigma come down rapidly, we’re seeing people come into cannabis who you never thought would have come into cannabis, for different reasons. So I think some of us may be surprised at where the market is five years from now.”
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