Big business of cannabis highlighted at Ottawa Expo

A trade expo in the nation’s capital is showcasing how big the marijuana business is and will be when recreational use of the drug is legalized in July 2018.

Number of users expected to double when recreational marijuana is legalized in July

The first Ottawa Cannabis & Hemp Expo is taking place in the nation's capital to allow people to learn about the medical marijuana business and how the business could change once the drug is legalized for recreational use in July 2018. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

A trade expo in the nation's capital is showcasing how big the marijuana business is and will be when recreational use of the drug is legalized in July 2018.

Licensed producers, soil experts and companies that sell marijuana paraphernalia are exhibiting their products and expertise at the first ever Ottawa Cannabis & Hemp Expo this weekend.

The show is not only educational for current and prospective marijuana users, but also fights the stigma attached to the drug's use, said Kevin Blackburn, the show's manager.

When you're on different a certain point when it doesn't work anymore, you're open to other options.- Gabriele Schaaff, who is considering becoming a medical marijuana user

The trade show includes a vaping lounge, which is only accessible to medical marijuana card holders, Blackburn said.

Even though it is a marijuana expo, cannabis and other products containing THC are not being sold or displayed, organizers said. The expo is restricted to those 19 or older, the age the Ontario government announced last month a resident would have to be to purchase marijuana.

That age is one year older than the minimum age recommended by the federal government.

Number of users set to more than double

"The estimates are between three and five million Canadians are using cannabis on a regular basis, on a daily basis in Canada," said Peter Jamieson, key account manager with OrganiGram, a Health Canada licensed marijuana producer in New Brunswick.

Once recreational marijuana is legalized, the number of people using it is estimated to grow by another six million, he said.

Because the number of users is expected to more than double, Jamieson believes there will be years of production shortages.

There is also growing demand for cannabidiol oil, which doesn't have high THC levels and won't give someone a high like medical marijuana, but is consumed for pain relief, he said.

Alternative treatments to traditional medications are something Gabriele Schaaff was seeking when she went to the trade show. She suffers from chronic headaches.

"When you're on different medications…at a certain point when it doesn't work anymore, you're open to other options," she said.

Schaaff said she was impressed at how the show was focused more on the medical uses of the drug, rather than the recreational.

Gabriele Schaaf attended the first Ottawa Cannabis & Hemp Expo on Saturday, October 28, 2017 to learn about alternative treatments for her chronic headaches. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

Different strains for different conditions

Not all marijuana is created equal and one company is helping medical marijuana users find the strain that's right for them.

Lift collects anecdotal information on various strains that prospective or current medical marijuana users can view, said Peter Carscadden, Lift's director of business development.

"You as a user can go and see a particular strain and see what people are using it for and how effective it's been for them."

He also sees the potential for Canada to become a destination for marijuana tourism after July, but acknowledged there could be difficulties when the drug is more widely available and used. Ottawa police have spoken out about concerns more people could drive while high.

"People do want cannabis and I think they're going to need to learn what exactly the risks are and we'll need to continue to educate both the public and the people providing it to make sure they know what they're getting into," Carscadden said.