Cannabis Industry Growth Opportunities Could Include Blueberries And Salmon
Imagine if our blueberries were infused with New Brunswick cannabis and exported as a high-margin beverage for consumers? What if we explored hemp as a high-protein feed source for our salmon industry?
New Brunswick’s cannabis sector is on a growth trajectory shared by the rest of the industry. “Cannabis 2.0” is coming, and these are the kinds of ideas that will create more profitable companies and skilled jobs in an industry focused on health and sustainability.
Most media coverage of the cannabis industry focuses on recreational and medical applications with psychoactive and physiological benefits like euphoria, pain relief, or opioid addiction recovery.
Industrial hemp is the traditionally unsexy side of the cannabis story, but that is quickly changing as we discover more innovative products. Industrial hemp is cannabis material that contains less than 0.3 percent THC (compared to 20 percent for some retail cannabis flower).
Hemp is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth and can be refined into sustainable products like rope, textiles, paint, insulation, food, biofuel, animal feed, and even biodegradable plastics.
The Three Faces of Cannabis
There are three dimensions to cannabis: medical, recreational, industrial. All three of these dimensions intersect as growers and processors are looking for ways to add value, whether that’s selling their low-THC stems to a textiles manufacturer or transforming one cannabis strain into both a topical cream and a beverage.
New Brunswick’s Cannabis Industry in Numbers
The last time the team at the New Brunswick Cannabis Office did a count, Atlantic Canada’s cannabis industry had 84 cannabis researchers at 13 colleges and universities, 28 research networks, 13 hemp companies, and 22 licensed producers and auxiliary SMEs.
“In New Brunswick, we are punching above our weight in terms of how many licenses we have and how many are pending,” says Rod Wilson, pharmaceutical industry veteran and Executive Director of the New Brunswick Craft Cannabis Association.
But the economic potential is much bigger than merely the number of companies producing or processing cannabis flower.
Introducing Cannabis 2.0: new value-added consumer products like beverages and sustainable hemp garbage bags are a significant driver of this industry’s renewed economic appeal.
Putting New Brunswick’s Bioeconomy to Work
Not only is the province home to a disproportionate share of cannabis business and research assets, but our natural bioeconomy also gives us a major advantage going forward.
Our province’s history is in creating, transforming, and exporting agricultural and agri-food natural resources. Our region’s low-cost fertile soil, biologically diverse ocean zones, deep seaports, and proximity to major markets are just some features that put us ahead of the curve.
Most people are familiar with our success with potatoes, value-added wood products, and peat, but we’re also the world’s largest exporter of wild blueberries, and our seafood products bring in more than $1.7-billion per year.
Serious money is made when we transform these products into higher-value products before export. Dozens of New Brunswick companies cultivate and process our natural resources into consumer products like nutraceuticals, soup bases, and cosmetics.
When you have a plant like hemp with seemingly limitless applications, we can start to draw connections between New Brunswick’s dense concentration of natural resources, research expertise, and processors. “You’re hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the world where those things come together better than New Brunswick,” says sector expert Chris Dickie.
Hence the thinking that homegrown fruits like blueberries could be infused with locally harvested cannabis and exported as a high-margin beverage, or hemp used as a high-protein feed source for farmed salmon.
If we look at New Brunswick’s cannabis industry through the Cannabis 2.0 lens, our province’s economic potential seems quite different. “Cannabis jobs” might be in food science, packaging, aquaculture, or law.
What’s the Problem?
Well, there are a few problems. More jurisdictions around the world are moving to legalize, which is both an opportunity and a threat.
“We should get our heads together with a view to how, not just New Brunswick, but Canada maintains a leadership position,” says Eric Cook of the Research and Productivity Council (RPC). “We’re a first mover. There’s some talk that we’re losing our leadership position. We don’t want to see that slip away.”
There also still exists a stigma around cannabis as a business. It’s quickly changing, but many Canadians still don’t like the idea of having a “grow op” in the neighbourhood. It’s easy to forget that “grow op” has created a dozen jobs and whose product might be used as a life-saving treatment for a veteran suffering from PTSD.
The last problem is a big one: the regulatory framework. Anyone who listens to our East Coast Cannabis Hour podcast knows there is no shortage of crazy stories from the hard-working entrepreneurs who worked years and spent millions of their own capital to earn their licenses to grow cannabis.
How about the time Work Safe New Brunswick classified Eco Canadian Organic as a tobacco company? Or the fact that cannabis companies can’t get insurance or loans? Or that time Health Canada asked an outdoor grower to rake up all of the cannabis leaves on the ground, weigh them, record them, destroy them, and report back?
What’s the Solution?
As the New Brunswick Cannabis Coordinator, it’s been my job to have conversations with the region’s cannabis experts and influencers. Everyone knows there’s a problem, and we all come back to the same solution: the industry needs a unified voice.
“We have a lot going for us, and what we need to do is get the right plan and direction in place and remove the barriers. At the same time, we need to watch the guide rails so that we don’t affect public safety or diversion from the black market”, says Rod Wilson.
If I’m speaking your language, reach out! There are some exciting developments in the works for Atlantic Canada’s cannabis sector and we’re looking for passionate and entrepreneurial folks to help solve these problems and seize the opportunity.
Article by Brennan Sisk from Huddle.