(Tilray’s Philippe Lucas will be a panelist at the Georgia Straight’s upcoming event, Grassroots: An Expo for the Cannabis Curious on April 7 and 8, 2018. Get your tickets now.)
In another sign that Canada’s booming marijuana industry has gone corporate, dozens of companies have registered as paid lobbyists ahead of Ottawa’s plan to legalize the drug’s recreational use next spring.
As of March 19, the federal government’s lobbyist registry listed 88 paid positions with interests in marijuana or cannabis. The companies named range from small, independent businesses like Vancouver’s Eden Medicinal Society to large corporations, including the Loblaws chain of more than 2,000 supermarkets across Canada.
An analysis by the Straight revealed the vast majority of lobbyists remain focused on medicinal marijuana, while 24 can be described as focusing entirely or partly on recreational cannabis.
One sector of the industry noticeable in the registry for its relative absence is that of storefront dispensaries. Their leading industry association, the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD), once had paid lobbyists in Ottawa but abandoned those efforts years ago.
Looking for individual dispensaries, there are barely more than a handful of storefront chains with lobbyists in Ottawa, and just two from B.C. Those are Eden Medicinal Society and the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club.
Philippe Lucas is vice president of patient research and advocacy at Tilray—a Nanaimo-based company authorized to grow and distribute medicinal marijuana—and interim executive director of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council (CMCC), a national industry association of authorized producers.
Of the 88 registered lobbyists, 10 are associated with Tilray and seven are on CMCC’s payroll.
In a telephone interview, Lucas said the primary goal is simply for cannabis to be treated like any other medicine.
He told the Straight that priorities include securing health-insurance coverage for medicinal cannabis, removing taxes on prescription purchases, and facilitating government approval for new product formats such as oral-mucosal sprays.
There is one Tilray lobbyist with a registry description that mentions recreational cannabis.
“We have been lobbying for increased patient access through regulated storefronts as an additional delivery option for licensed products,” Lucas confirmed.
No one group with listed marijuana interests has more lobbyists in Ottawa that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). The national organization of physicians and health-care professionals has 31 people spending at least some of their time talking to politicians and bureaucrats about marijuana.
CMA did not respond to an interview request. According to the registry, its areas of lobbying related to cannabis include production and distribution regulations, prescription guidelines, and research of medical applications, among others.
The federal government’s mail-order system for medicinal marijuana has grown since its implementation in 2014 but is likely still moving less marijuana nationwide than Vancouver’s illegal dispensary industry.
During the second quarter of 2014 (the first three months following a revision of regulations), licensed producers together sold 408 kilograms of medicinal marijuana, according to Health Canada statistics. That had increased to 1,371 kilograms one year later, in mid-2015, and went up to 3,082 during the first quarter of 2016, the latest period for which data is available. By the Straight’s conservative calculations, Vancouver’s roughly 80 dispensary storefronts move somewhere between 2,660 and 8,040 kilograms of pot each quarter.
According to CAMCD president Dieter MacPherson, one reason the lobbyist registry might be short on names from the dispensary industry is because storefront operators predict Ottawa will leave nuts-and-bolts regulations for the distribution of recreational marijuana up to the provinces.
“The federal government and its legalization platform is going to be setting a stage that the provinces then get to dance on,” he said on the phone from Victoria. “Lobbying dollars spent at the federal level may not be as effective.”