Pot industry sees high times on horizon with Trudeau victory
Industry jockeys for potential windfall with promise of marijuana legalization and regulation
Any way you look at it, this is a good time to be Herb Dhaliwal.
The former Liberal MP watched his party reclaim his old Vancouver South seat from the Conservatives on Monday night in a federal election that saw the party win a majority.
As chairman of a medical cannabis company, the 62-year-old woke up Tuesday, handily poised to reap the benefits of one of prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau's core campaign promises: the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
Bumper crop for pot-trepreneurs
The industry's prospects may have looked uncertain under the Conservatives; the consensus is that those days are over.
"One of the big risks before was government risk; we didn't know what the government was going to do and there was a lot of uncertainty," says Dhaliwal.
"Hopefully with this new government, we'll have a better sense of direction and that will help all businesses involved in this area."
That understated response doesn't quite cover the sheer excitement in Canada's burgeoning pot industry at the news of Trudeau's win; Dhaliwal is, after all, a former politician.
Suffice it to say that stocks of medical marijuana companies soared.
Pot-trepreneurs around North America are speculating on what legalization might look like and — just as importantly from a financial perspective — how regulation might play out.
Suits versus hippies
As CEO of Oakland-based ArcView Group, Troy Dayton matches marijuana producers with investors looking to take advantage of decriminalization in 23 American states and the District of Columbia.
His financiers have put $54 million US into 81 companies in the past three years alone.
If the U.S. example holds true, Dayton says Canada can look forward to a clash of cultures as an underground economy goes mainstream: suits versus hippies.
He says the same thing happened in the organic food and renewable energy sectors.
"You have an industry that's really dominated in the early phases by people who have some sort of cultural connection and care about the outcome and the impact it can have," he says.
But the scent of money is almost as powerful — and just as intoxicating — as marijuana.
"It's really interesting to see these two very different business cultures work with each other and build really interesting new corporate cultures," says Dayton.
No specific plans; many proposals
Trudeau hasn't given any timeline for plans to introduce legalization, and his campaign platform didn't include any specifics for regulation. He also hasn't specified his plans for medicinal marijuana, as opposed to recreational pot.
Four U.S. states have legalized the sale of recreational marijuana. Colorado is on pace to take in $125 million in legal marijuana tax revenues this year. That's so much money that the state may give some of it back to taxpayers.
Dayton says if Canada does go ahead with legalization, the new government has to be careful not to overreach; setting taxes too high will drive consumers back into the well-established underground.
Canada already has a system of licensed marijuana producers. But the Conservative government was notoriously slow to license applicants.
The company Dhaliwal chairs, National Green Biomed, is currently awaiting approval. They've already donated $1 million to researchers at UBC for the study of therapeutic effects of cannabis.
He won't speculate on the possibility of a legal recreational marijuana market, but says Trudeau's election should open the way to research and growth on the medical side of the industry.
This bridge brought to you by pot
Vancouver's experience with an explosion of medicinal marijuana dispensaries is probably the best indication of the kind of chaos, innovation and jockeying that might be expected in Canada's pot market in coming years.
Business people new to pot have set up chains of stores, as have colourful old growers with trafficking pasts. Marijuana activists are competing with storefronts allegedly operated by the Hells Angels.
And with the introduction of a licensing scheme, city council hopes to sort the good from the bad — earning some hefty revenues in the process.
The day after the election found Bruce Linton in an understandably chatty mood. His publicly traded company, Tweed Marijuana Inc., boasts of being the first "multi-licensed" marijuana producer in Canada.
He thinks the Liberals will act quickly to reap the economic harvest from a cash crop.
"Do you wait and do it on the last day, or do you try and do it near the first day so you can get it right and get the tax benefits?" he asks.
"And then you start pointing to the airport you built with those taxes and the bridges, and all the infrastructure."