Will cannabis become an economic catalyst in Alberta?

Denver-based Marijuana Business Daily CEO Cassandra Farrington talks about the impact cannabis has had on Colorado and what Albertans can expect when it is legalized here.

'One of the most striking things is how normal it is,' says Colorado marijuana media mogul

Aphira, in Leamington, Ontario, shown here is one of a growing number of Canadian cannabis growers. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce held a forum Friday to talk about the growing economic impact of the cannabis industry. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Legal cannabis has changed a few things in Denver, but for the marijuana media mogul who covers the scene in Colorado, it's what hasn't changed that's most noticeable.

"One of the most striking things is how normal it is," said Cassandra Farrington, in an interview Friday on The Homestretch

"You can't really tell a difference of pre-[recreational] and post-recreational cannabis," she said. "You drive past a dispensary [and] it's like driving past a liquor store.

"It's a completely normalized thing that people don't even think about anymore."

Prior to her appearance on CBC Radio, Farrington was part of a forum held by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce that focused on the economic impact of cannabis on Alberta.

Farrington was one of a number of speakers at the forum, along with former Calgary Stampeders owner Ted Hellard, who is now the Executive Chairman of Sundial, a privately held, Alberta-based, Health Canada ACMPR-approved licensed producer of medical cannabis.

In her interview with The Homestretch, the message Farrington delivered was that the cannabis industry has had a dynamic impact on the Denver economy.

Legal cannabis has created a lot of jobs in Denver, says Cassandra Farrington, the Colorado-based co-founder and CEO of Marijuana Business Daily. (Denis Dossman/CBC)

"The job creation piece of it [has been huge]," she said. "And it's not just among retailers or growers — but there is so much opportunity for innovation and business development all around this industry that is fuelling huge job growth down in the U.S. and I'm sure will do the same here in Canada."

Farrington acknowledged there will undoubtedly be unforseen surprises in Alberta, as there were in Colorado when cannabis was legalized.

"One of the biggest issues was figuring out the regulation. There were some things in place that they had to work through — what didn't work, what was working well and what needed to be strengthened — and then managing those transitions," she said.

"There were times, for example, when the regulations would change and suddenly people would have to completely re-do their security system — or change their entire manufacturing process or testing activities, because of a change in the regulations, because they were not meeting public need.

"So in a lot of ways, Colorado sort of set the stage [for everyone else] and was that trial case.

"Every new regulatory regime is going to have its hiccups, because it's a unique blend of best practices from other places — and the society the regulations are being implemented in. There is going to be a scheme that is right for Alberta."

Sundial Growers plans to grow medicinal marijuana in Olds, Alta. (Judy Dahl)

No windfall yet

There hasn't been a real economic windfall yet in Colorado, she said.

"Right now, it's a completely medical market. It's been stable and sustainable — and that's been fine.The real opportunity is on that recreational side," she said.

"We have to wait for the Canadian recreational law to come online, which is going to be some time this summer, or fall — and at that point, we'll really be able to see.

"Right now, everything is purely speculative."

Mature market, immature supply

Hellard, whose company received $56 million in financing from ATB Financial this week, thinks now is a perfect time for Alberta to be getting into the cannabis industry.

"This is an incredible opportunity," he said. "It's one of the most mature consumer side businesses out there — it's been around for a long, long time.

The legalization of marijuana is just months away. While the city of Calgary and the province of Alberta are working on regulations, and companies are gearing up to sell and grow weed, there are still many questions and challenges for the new cannabis industry. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce tried to address some of those issues today. It held a forum focused on the economic impact of cannabis on Alberta. Cassandra Farrington was one of the speakers at the forum. She is the co-founder and CEO of Marijuana Business Daily, based in Denver Colorado. 7:48

"It's probably 50 billion [dollars a year] worldwide, 10 billion in Canada, but yet the supply industry — the grow part — is super immature."

Coming as the province attempts to climb out of a long recession, Hellard says he senses a strong degree of enthusiasm for cannabis.

"There's a real energy here to go after this industry," he said. "Maybe it has to do with a little bit of a downturn on the oil side, and so there's some desire here to build up a new business and a new energy."


With files from The Homestretch

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

Dave Gillson, CBC News