British Columbia

From high-end to high-tech, budding cannabis companies undeterred by volatile start to legalization

Lift and Co. Cannabis Expo hits Vancouver for second time since pot was legalized in 2020. Despite a challenging year for companies looking to break into the industry, there's still optimism the tide will turn.

Lift and Co. Cannabis Expo hits Vancouver for second time since pot was legalized in 2018

Adi Naali and Zohar Kerem stand behind a machine they developed, which analyzes cannabis buds for strains and potential contaminates. Their goal is to make the product available to medical centres, dispensaries, and users. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The halls of Canada's largest cannabis expo are lined with pot-infused businesses that are about as diverse as the strains you might find at your average government-run dispensary.

On one end, exhibitors at Haven Street — a shop whose branding resembles that of a high-end perfume shop — promote their line of cannabis teas.

On the other, engineers demo a high-tech device that analyzes the quality and strain of buds by "smelling" them, and then transmits the data to an app on your smartphone. It's like Shazam for weed.

"When you consume your cannabis, you want to make sure there's no undesired components, no mould," said Adi Naali, co-founder and CEO of Quana, the company that developed the gadget.

The Quana device can detect moulds and pesticides in cannabis. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Quana, Haven Street, and countless other companies are all vying space in the cannabis sector, an industry where stakeholders still contend there's plenty of opportunity. This, despite an underwhelming start to the post-legalization era, which has been riddled by poor revenues and investor pains.

The key to success? Making your business stand out, according to industry experts.

Growing pains

The current Lift and Co. Cannabis Expo marks the second time the event has landed in Vancouver since legalization. The chief revenue officer for the event admits the year that passed in between wasn't what many had hoped for.

"[There were] high expectations, and a slow roll out," said Jon Kamin. "Retail took a lot to get going in terms of licensing in most of the country, so I know that's been a source of frustrations for the brands and the consumers," said Kamin.

"We've seen some companies doing exactly what they should have been doing, and the revenue is just not flowing in as fast as they had originally anticipated."

The Lift and Co. event is the largest cannabis expo in Canada. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Lower than expected revenues for major pot producers like Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth have seen their stocks plummet.

But Kamin expects the lows have been hit, and the tide will begin to turn.

"As retail becomes more accessible to more people, there's more distribution channels. As the black market in various jurisdictions across the country is increasingly pressured, it's forcing people to go to the legal side of the market, it's really all upside," he said.

"The companies across the country that are building strong brands right now will see the benefits of that going forward," he said.

Kate Abernathy, a marketing director for vendor Indiva, says the edibles market is a game changer for many vendors and producers. She expects regulations will evolve to make them more accessible. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Opportunities and change

Some companies looking to cash in are those investing in edibles, and cannabis-infused drinks — items that were legalized in October and were front-and-centre at this year's expo.

"Edibles provide so much more accessibility to individuals, not everyone wants to smoke," said Kate Abernathy, a marketing director for vendor Indiva, a company that specializes in chocolates, and is working on pot-infused sugar and salts. "Bringing edibles into market is a game changer for a lot of individuals."

But there are still limitations to how these companies are able to market themselves. Health Canada regulations currently require all cannabis requirements to be sold in plain packaging — something insiders hope will change over time.

"I would like to see more branding, a little bit more freedom from brands to differentiate themselves within the space," said Kevin Lee, business development manager for ND Supplies, a cannabis packaging company.

"The rules are rules. Health Canada has rolled it out as best they can, it might not work for everyone, but at the same time, it's an evolving industry," he added. "Changes will come."


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